The Saints opened their European account with a two-try win over the Scarlets in front of a healthy Franklin’s Gardens crowd.
As they had done in Milton Keynes three weeks ago Saints started brightly. Ben Foden looked to jink his way through traffic and George North was worked into a bit of space on the left wing. And regardless of where they were or what was in front of them Saints were also seeking to keep the ball alive, and it was this intent that created the game’s opening score.
Scarlets may have done well to disrupt a home scrum on the visitors’ 22, but they could not stop Sam Dickinson popping the ball up to the looping JJ Hanrahan. The Irishman’s incision created an overlap and Ken Pisi was the man on hand to finish things off.
However that was a rare poor moment in defence from the Scarlets, whose line speed was forcing the Saints to play quickly and make a couple of handling errors. The turnovers this created enabled Scarlets to put together a very dangerous period of play towards the end of the opening quarter.
Runs from DTH van der Merwe and Aaron Shingler required try scoring tackles, but while they did not get across the whitewash the visitors nevertheless got on the scoreboard themselves through Steven Shingler’s 14th minute penalty.
The fly half had a second opportunity three minutes later, only to hook his shot left. It was a let-off for sure, and Saints made the most of it. Scarlets recovered the drop-out, but a turnover won by Alex Waller on the floor saw the visitors in disarray and seemingly seven more points down.
Pisi cut a superb angle into space, and Foden combined with North and Luther Burrell repeatedly to put the England centre over the line. But North had been held by Michael Tagicakibau in the build-up, and in trying to free himself put his boot onto his opposite number’s shoulder.
There was enough evidence for referee Romain Poite to overturn the try and sin-bin Saints’ Lion, and instead of conceding a demoralising try Scarlets found themselves a man up and still within a score.
Scarlets made the most of the available space on Saints’ left wing to pin the hosts back, but Tom Wood showed North-like speed in chasing a Lee Dickson box kick to both make a tackle and win a penalty against Tom Williams.
Hanrahan missed the tricky shot, and another five minutes later, and some poor discipline from the visitors went unpunished. But an off-side in midfield saw Hanrahan send a superb touchfinder to the five-metre line, which the pack came within the distance of a held up ball from rewarding with the subsequent drive.
So North came back on with the Saints having had the better of his spell off the pitch but no reward for their efforts. Instead it was Scarlets who ended the half with more points, Shingler landing his second penalty after another van der Merwe run had put Saints onto the back foot.
Shingler’s accuracy at the end of the first half had brought the deficit to just a point, but a pair of mistakes soon after the restart saw Saints retain their lead, firstly by missing a penalty and then sending a wild pass way in front of the wide open van der Merwe five metres out from the hosts’ line.
Then the Scarlets got the score they wanted. It was a great try that saw plenty of interplay and good running lines, but more of a hint of a forward pass, too. Nevertheless the five pointer stood, and even though Shingler missed the extras the visitors were in the lead for the first time.
But then their poor discipline put the Scarlets into trouble immediately, an illegal attempt to stop a maul conceding both a penalty and a lineout in the corner. The shift drive was too much for the Scarlets’ pack to handle and up came Waller with the ball.
It was a great effort from the pack, but the touchline conversion into the wind was a tad tricky to say the least, and even though Hanrahan’s effort started on target it was soon blown left of the uprights.
By the time the hour mark came the wind had been supplemented by rain, and the boot started to dominate as both sides sought to play the territory game. And in that Scarlets had a massive fillip when Jamie Gibson was yellow carded, the culmination of a build-up of team indiscretions.
However it was the Saints’ scrum, bolstered by the addition of Burrell into the back row, that earned the next three points, Paul Hill’s power forcing Phil John to rotate like the Newcastle Swing Bridge and concede a penalty for Hanrahan to convert.
Hanrahan’s next call into action was in front of his own sticks, winning a penalty through some aggressive defence at a breakdown for Stephen Myler to clear. The pressure continued, however, and an infringement at a lineout handed Aled Thomas his first shot at goal.
This came back off the upright, Saints recovered, Hanrahan had his clearance half charged down and when Gibson caught the throw a penalty saw the hosts down into Welsh territory. The danger gone, Saints saw out the clock deep in the right areas of the field.
SAINTS - Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Hanrahan, Dickson (capt); A Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Craig, Day, Gibson, Wood, Dickinson
Reps - Williams, E Waller, Hill, Paterson, Harrison, Fotuali’i, Myler, Tuala
SCARLETS - Thomas; Tagicakibau, Owen, Parkes, van der Merwe; S Shingler, G Davies; Evans, Phillips, Edwards, Ball, Paulino, A Shingler, J Davies, Barclay (capt)
Reps - Myhill, John, Taylor, Price, Rawlins, A Davies, King, Williams
6mins SAINTS Try K Pisi Con Hanrahan 7-0
14mins SCARLETS Pen S Shingler 7-3
17mins SCARLETS Miss pen S Shingler
19mins SAINTS Yellow card North
22mins SAINTS Miss pen Hanrahan
27mins SAINTS Miss pen Hanrahan
38mins SCARLETS Pen S Shingler 7-6
HALF-TIME SAINTS 7 SCARLETS 6
42mins SCARLETS Miss pen S Shingler
51mins SAINTS Try G Davies 7-11
54mins SAINTS Try A Waller 12-11
63mins SAINTS Yellow card Gibson
68mins SAINTS Pen Hanrahan 15-11
74mins SCARLETS Miss pen Thomas
FULL-TIME SAINTS 15 SCARLETS 11