Scarlets reach Challenge Cup semi-finals after dramatic win over Clermont
Scarlets scored a late converted try to claim a thrilling 32-30 victory over 14-man Clermont to reach the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup for the first time.
Sam Costelow fired over a touchline conversion following Ryan Conbeer’s try with five minutes to go as the hosts snatched a memorable win at Parc-y-Scarlets.
It was rough justice on three-time champions Clermont who overcame the 24th-minute sending-off of centre Irae Simone to turn a 15-3 deficit into a 30-22 advantage before Scarlets’ late rally.
Johnny Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and Costelow scored Scarlets’ other tries with Costelow kicking a penalty and two conversions – including the match-winner. Halfpenny also added a penalty and a conversion.
Alivereti Raka (two), Giorgi Beria and Simone replied for Clermont with Anthony Belleau slotting over two penalties and a conversion, and Jules Plisson adding a conversion.
Belleau and Halfpenny exchanged early penalties before Scarlets thrilled the home crowd by scoring a wonderful try.
On halfway, the hosts nicked an opposition line-out before swift handling gave Steff Evans the opportunity to show his pace down the right flank. The wing burst away before kicking ahead for Halfpenny to win the race for the touchdown.
Scarlets soon had another try. An under-pressure Baptiste Jauneau threw out a poor pass which resulted in both Costelow and Steff Evans hacking the ball forward before Costelow collected a favourable bounce to score.
Halfpenny converted to give his side a handy 15-3 lead at the end of an entertaining first quarter but Clermont showed their mettle with Damian Penaud chipping over Halfpenny’s head and when the ball bounced loose, Simone picked up to score.
Two minutes later, Simone turned villain as his head-high challenge on Halfpenny saw the Scarlets’ full-back receive lengthy medical attention before leaving the field with the New Zealand centre ordered off.
Costelow took over the goal-kicking but missed with the resulting penalty from 40 metres and his side suffered another setback when lock Vaea Fifita was sin-binned for dragging down a maul.
Clermont capitalised to take the lead for the first time. Their powerful forwards built up a head of steam before a well-judged cross-field kick from Belleau saw Raka gather with Belleau converting before adding a penalty.
Scarlets immediately struck back by taking advantage of another French error when Williams picked off a telegraphed pass from Alex Newsome to run 30 metres with Costelow’s conversion leaving the home side 22-18 ahead at the interval.
Within four minutes of the restart, Gareth Davies was sin-binned for a trip and Clermont were immediately back in front when Raka bounced off two defenders to score his second try.
Kieran Hardy came on in place of Davies as Scarlets returned to 15 but the third quarter was dominated by the French visitors, who penned their opponents in their own half.
The hosts suffered a major blow when number eight Sione Kalamafoni was helped off with a leg injury before Clermont scored their fourth try when Beria drove over from close range.
Scarlets looked beaten but Costelow kicked a penalty before Conbeer squeezed over in the corner for Costelow to deliver the final blow and set up a home semi-final against Glasgow Warriors or Lions.
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