European Challenge Cup: Scarlets 20-17 Cheetahs – Welsh side continue unbeaten record in Europe

Johnny McNicholl has played 10 internationals for Wales
Johnny McNicholl has played 10 internationals for Wales
Scarlets (10) 20
Tries: S Evans, McNicholl Cons: Halfpenny 2 thought: Halfpenny 2
Cheetahs (3) 17
Tries: Van der Westhuizen, Kapepula Cons: Masuku 2 pen: Masuku

Scarlets booked their place in the Challenge Cup knockout stages with a hard-fought win over South African side Cheetahs.

Scarlets scored tries through Steff Evans and Johnny McNicholl with Leigh Halfpenny adding 10 points.

Cheetahs responded with tries from Louis van der Westhuizen and Dan Kapepula.

Scarlets finish the four-game qualifying campaign against Bayonne next weekend.

The six highest-ranked clubs in each of the two Challenge Cup pools, plus four clubs dropping down from the Heineken Champions Cup, qualify for the last 16.

Scarlets are top of Pool B with three wins and 14 points, including now a double over Cheetahs, as they were again inspired by Vaea Fifita in a scrappy affair.

Dwayne Peel’s side will now aim to finish the campaign with a win in France.

With a home last 16 tie already guaranteed, Scarlets will finish in the top two of the pool which would set up a potential quarter-final in Llanelli as well.

History makers

There was an all-female officiating team in charge, for the first in the competition’s history.

Scotland’s Hollie Davidson refereed the match in Llanelli, with Sara Cox (England) and Clara Munarini (Italy) acting as assistant referees.

Claire Hodnett (England) and Helen O’Reilly (Ireland) acted as the television match official and citing commissioner respectively.

Halfpenny opened the scoring with a penalty before Rhys Patchell’s clever grubber kick was collected by wing Evans for the opening try.

Cheetahs fly-half Siya Masuku responded with a penalty before flanker Jeandre Rudolph was denied a try in the corner by Ken Owens.

Scarlets number eight Carwyn Tuipulotu was shown a yellow card, rather than a red, for taking out Cheetahs flanker Siba Qoma in the air.

Cheetahs took advantage of the extra man early in the second half when hooker Van der Westhuizen was driven over with Masuku converting to level the scores.

Scarlets were restored to 15 men but Cheetahs continued to press with wing Kapepula slicing through the bemused home defense with Masuku again converting.

Scarlets introduced Wales prop Wyn Jones for his first game since the victory over Zebre on 15 October.

The knee injury ensured Jones also missed Wales’ autumn series. The prop played for returning Wales boss Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions in their 2-1 series defeat against South Africa in 2021 and was looking to impress again.

Scarlets rose from their slump with a well-executed try with the forwards providing the hard yards and slick handling allowing wing McNicholl to cross. Halfpenny converted to level the scores again.

Prop Jones orchestrated a couple of turnovers, one of which allowed another replacement, Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies, to make a searing break.

His kick set up an encouraging attacking position which allowed Halfpenny to slot over his second penalty which proved to be the match-winning kick.

Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel: “I am delighted to get the win. We have played a lot better and lost this year and it was a bit of a slugfest.

“I didn’t think we were great. My initial thought was that we looked a bit tired from the Cardiff game where they were high emotions and we had tired bodies this week

“Sometimes you have to win ugly and that’s what I feel we did tonight.”

scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Joe Roberts, Jonathan Davies (capt), Steff Evans; Rhys Patchell, Dane Blacker; Kemsley Mathias, Ken Owens, Javan Sebastian, Morgan Jones, Sam Lousi, Vaea Fifita, Dan Davis, Carwyn Tuipulotu.

Replacements: Shaun Evans, Wyn Jones, Sam Wainwright, Jac Price, Tomás Lezana, Gareth Davies, Sam Costelow, Ioan Nicholas.

Cheetahs: Andell Loubser; Dan Kapepula, David Brits, Reinhardt Fortuin, Munier Hartzenberg; Siya Masuku, Rewan Kruger; Schalk Ferreira, Louis van der Westhuizen, Aranos Coetzee, Rynier Bernardo, Victor Sekekete (capt), Jeandre Rudolph, Siba Qoma, Friedle Olivier.

Replacements: Marko Janse van Rensburg, Alulutho Tshakweni, Hencus van Wyk, Mzwanele Zito, Daniel Maartens, Branden de Kock, Robert Ebersohn, Tapiwa Mafura.

Referees: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)

Assistant referees: Sara Cox (England), Clara Munarini (Italy)

TMO: Claire Hodnett (England).

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