The Saints needed a bonus point win from their trip to Llanelli to be in the mix for a European Rugby Champions Cup quarter final spot, and that was exactly what they got as they overcame torrential rain and a dogged Scarlets outfit to score four tries to one.
The rain may have been coming down in droves, but both sides showed their ambition from the off, Saints spreading the ball at every opportunity, Scarlets shifting the point of attack repeatedly with their short offloading game.
Things looked promising early on for Saints, George North, Jamie Elliott and George Pisi all bouncing off tackles as they made metres through the middle, and there was a let-off as Tom Williams dropped what would have been a long-range interception try.
But there was physicality, too, no more so than a massive double-hit from Phil John and Tom Price on Jamie Gibson that forced an early departure from the flanker. Any disruption that this may have caused was well hidden, and after resisting some pressure from the Scarlets pack it was the visitors who got first on the scoreboard.
Initially a promising position looked lost as Scarlets won a Saints lineout against the throw. But the backs showed great reactions to put the Scarlets’ wide men under pressure, forcing Morgan Allen to send a 50/50 ball away and into the grateful arms of Harry Mallinder, who escaped a despairing last tackle to score the try.
Defence may have brought the first try, but it was definitely good attack which created the second score a minute into the second quarter. Alex Waller made good metres up the middle to come within sight of the posts, and when the ball went wide Courtney Lawes intelligently let it go rather than stretch for a possible catch, allowing Pisi to hand off the last man and slide in at the corner.
Aled Thomas got Scarlets on the board in the 28th minute, which prompted the hosts’ best spell of pressure in the game so far, keeping the ball alive with a series of short off-loads that spread play from one side of the pitch to the other.
Saints held out, Mallinder clearing superbly. And then when the lineout was overthrown Tom Wood started a good attack that saw forwards and backs make metres and Mallinder show good awareness to keep the ball alive on the left wing. So it was unfortunate that just as the try line was looming a strong tackle on Tom Kessell forced the ball to go forward and give Scarlets a scrum.
However the hosts had a scare when a penalty was conceded and the ball sent to the corner. But Aaron Shingler saved his team by winning a turnover after North had come into the line to ultimately relieve the pressure.
Coming off the top may have caught the Scarlets somewhat by surprise, but as the rain kept on hammering down the visitors’ pack kept things tight in their first attack of the second. A great chase of a Mallinder grubber forced Mike Collins to slice his clearance, and with an advantage Saints powered forward and ultimately over the line, Sam Dickinson coming up with the ball.
Dickinson was denied a second a couple of minutes later by Tom Price’s superb work at a maul to get underneath the number eight. This position had been created by Maselino Paulino’s moment of madness that had seen the second row be shown a yellow card, but while the rest of his pack did well to resist the initial charges they were unable to prevent North scoring in the left corner.
Pisi’s half-break put Saints onto the front foot, with Mallinder cutting a great line to take the offload at full pace and sending the scoring pass for North to cap his return to his old stomping ground.
There was plenty of noise from the home fans as the replays had shown that the try was perhaps a bit more controversial than it had first appeared, but with the conversion attempt already taken it did not matter, and with the bonus point secured Saints rang the changes.
Scarlets were doing the same, which brought a new intensity and some decent spells of possession in dangerous positions. Replacement wing Josh Lewis was the hosts’ key man, forcing try saving tackles from Lee Dickson and Ben Foden, but when Dickson saw yellow for killing the play the under-manned Saints conceded a try in the final play of the game, Rhodri Jones forcing the ball over from close range.
Still, by then it was too little, too late, for the Scarlets, and Saints headed up the M4 satisfied with the job they’d done.
SCARLETS Collins; Williams, King, S Shingler, van der Merwe; Thomas, G Davies; John, Owens (capt), Lee, Price, Paulino, A Shingler, Boyde, Allen
Subs - Myhill, Evans, Jones, Rawlins. Phillips, A Davies, Lewis, Hughes
SAINTS Foden; Elliott, G Pisi, Mallinder, North; Myler, Kessell; A Waller, Hartley (capt), Hill, Lawes, Day, Gibson, Wood, DIckinson
Subs - Haywood, E Waller, Denman, Paterson, Fisher, Dickson, Hanrahan, Burrell
REFEREE Pascal Gauzere
12mins SAINTS Try Mallinder Con Myler 0-7
21mins SAINTS Try G Pisi 0-12
27mins SCAR Pen Thomas 3-12
HALF-TIME SCARLETS 3 SAINTS 12
46mins SAINTS Try Dickinson 3-17
48mins SCAR Yellow card Paulino (dangerous play)
55mins SAINTS Try North 3-22
73mins SAINTS Yellow card Dickson (killing the play)
79mins SCAR Try Jones Con Thomas 10-22
FULL-TIME SCARLETS 10 SAINTS 22