Connacht 8 Scarlets 30: A defence of their unforgettable PRO12 title win that began with two heavy home defeats, fizzled out with another drubbing at the Sportsground for Connacht.
Pat Lam’s charges may yet sneak into the Champions Cup through the play-offs but that looks a tall order as they prepare for a likely trip to England on the weekend when Leinster, Munster, Ospreys and Scarlets will be battling it out in the semi-finals for the PRO12 crown.
Though they may be returning to the Sportsground at the end of the month for a Champions Cup play-off decider, the atmosphere on Saturday night suggested this was the end of the Lam era.
It was, accordingly, an emotional night, not just with the departure of the coach who won them that first trophy but also a few members of his management team and near to a dozen players who will be moving on.
Supporters, though, were able to put the performance behind them and brave the elements afterwards to pay tribute to Lam and the departing players as four years of a rollercoaster with the former Samoan captain came to an end.
“For a variety of reasons, we are just not in the best form collectively. We have flashes and moments but we are not playing the best we can,” said Lam.
“The reason we can be very disappointed with that performance is because we have shown many times during my time here, how well we have played and the standards we have set. Once it’s there we are always trying to achieve that. When we don’t and we drop right off it, it’s disappointing.”
End of an era! Pat Lam oversees his last ever Connacht home game. pic.twitter.com/b6L6jS2kTE— Sportsfile (@sportsfile) April 29, 2017
Scarlets now face either Munster or Leinster in the semi-final – a home win against Ospreys next week will send them to Thomond Park – but they made short work of Connacht and their shocking defensive effort.
Johnny McNicholl, Steff Evans (twice) and Lions bound Liam Williams ran in the four tries in the opening half-hour, and after Scarlets shut down the game after the break, Craig Ronaldson ran in one for Connacht before DTH van der Merwe wrapped it up at the death.
“There’s too many better memories that I have that will over-ride that performance. But it’s not about me it’s about the team and Connacht Rugby getting into Champions Cup,” said Lam.
“If we don’t I will be disappointed. It will be a disappointing season. (Finishing eighth) gives you the advantage of the home final. But if we play like we did tonight we won’t be making a final, especially the way we played in the first-half.”
Scorers for Connacht:
C Ronaldson try; M Boshoff pen.
Scorers for Scarlets:
J McNicholl, S Evans (2), L Williams, DTH van der Merwe tries; R Patchell con, pen.
T O’Halloran (D Poolman 72); D Leader, T Farrell, E Griffin (C Ronaldson 23 HIA), C Kelleher; M Boshoff, C Blade (J Cooney 62); F Bealham (JP Cooney 68), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 68), D Robertson-McCoy (D Buckley h-t); J Cannon (Q Roux 47), A Browne; S O’Brien, J Heenan, E Masterson (J Muldoon 47).
J McNicholl; L Williams (DTH van der Merwe h-t), J Davies (S Williams 53), H Parkes, S Evans (G Davies 53); R Patchell, J Evans; R Evans (W Jones 66), K Owens (R Elias 53), S Lee (W Kruger h-t); J Ball (D Bulbring 39), T Beirne; A Shingler (L Rawlings 72), J Macleod, W Boyde.
Mike Adamson (SRU).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved