By David Williams
Scarlets coach Glenn Delaney was left wondering what might have been after his side blew two great chances in the final 15 minutes to notch a first win in Toulon.
The Welsh region followed the Dragons in bowing out at the quarter-final stages of the European Challenge Cup as they were beaten 11-6, but it could have been different.
Steff Evans lost out in a foot race with opposite number Gabin Villiere as he was hauled down five metres short after a sprint from half-way and then replacement centre Tyler Morgan knocked on as he was being driven over from a close range line-out.
Delaney pledged his side would be “six points better” next time they go to Stade Felix Mayol, although he said he couldn’t fault the effort put in by his players.
“I’m immensely proud of the effort, but as a group we’re disappointed. We spoke after the game about key moments at the end when we had an opportunity,” he said.
“We had a couple and we have to take them. We’ll be honest about it, but I can’t fault the effort – it was huge.
Scarlets may have been knocked out of the Challenge Cup by Toulon, but this last gasp tackle from Leigh Halfpenny deserves to do the rounds. 👏 pic.twitter.com/4yYMoIP6mg
— RugbyJOE (@RugbyJOE_UK) September 19, 2020
“It was an immense effort and tactically I thought we were playing the game well. We knew it would come down to one chance and we would have to make sure we were good enough, but sadly we just didn’t quite nail it.
“When you’re playing in big games against outstanding teams, it comes down to fine margins. We got close, but we’ll be critical about it.
“We want to make sure the next time we come here, we’re six points better than we were tonight.”
Wales coach Wayne Pivac was handed two injury concerns ahead of the upcoming internationals in the autumn with Leigh Halfpenny being forced to take a second half HIA after being knocked over in a tackle, while Johnny McNicholl had to be helped off the field after badly twisting his right ankle.
Toulon were allowed 5,000 fans in the stadium and there were even a few Scarlets supporters watching them for the first time since lockdown. That was at least something to cheer Delaney.
“It was brilliant to be in front of people and what a brilliant place to be. I thought the fans were magnificent,” he added.
“I think they were really enjoying the rugby and we had a couple of ours in as well, which was great to see. It’s just nice to be in a stadium with people and hopefully we’ll get that chance again.
“For now, though, we’ll lick our wounds, get tight together as a group, and try and map out the next campaign, which we hope will be a big one.
“There has been a lot of change over this European campaign. I keep saying it, but the world is a different place now.”
Ken Owens won a third minute turn over that allowed Halfpenny to put the boot into his old club and notch the first points of the game.
Toulon then threw the kitchen sink at their visitors and it looked as though full back Daniel Ikpefan had to score until Halfpenny felled him with a fantastic tackle.
Sergio Parisse then had his try ruled out by the French TMO and things got even better for the Scarlets when Halfpenny landed a second penalty and Baptiste Serin missed from 45 metres for the home side.
That allowed the Scarlets to change ends six points to the good and they could have stretched their lead three minutes into the second half when Halfpenny had another shot at goal.
AGOS – ETO!! 😩
A’i dyna gyfle olaf y Scarlets?
Will we see another opportunity for the Scarlets?
11 Toulon v @scarlets_rugby 6
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) September 19, 2020
While he missed the target with that one, replacement outside half Louis Carbonel finally got Toulon on the board in the 53rd minute with a penalty.
Carbonel then sparked the move that ended with Parisse crashing over in the 53rd minute after three other players had been involved. Carbonel then added a second penalty to open up a five point gap.
That could easily have been closed in the final quarter. Steff Evans lost out in a foot race with opposite number Gabin Villiere when he was hauled down five metres short after a sprint from half-way.
Then replacement centre Tyler Morgan knocked on as he was being driven over in a maul from a close range line out into which the Scarlets back line joined in.
Carbonel got Toulon on the board with a 53rd minute penalty and then added another in the 70th minute after inspiring the Parisse try.
The Scarlets lost Halfpenny to an HIA late in the game and then saw Wales wing McNicholl pick up a bad ankle injury.
They almost snatched a late try from a driving line-out, but Tyler Morgan lost the ball as he went over the line.