Leigh Halfpenny kicked 19 points as the Scarlets produced a stirring performance to reach the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup with a 29-17 win over La Rochelle on Friday.
Playing in their first Champions Cup knockout phase since a run to semi-finals of the then Heineken Cup in 2007, extra seats needed to be installed to take the capacity at Parc y Scarlets up to 15,000, the minimum requirement for the quarter-finals.
And those who crammed into those new seats were treated to a brilliantly dogged display from the Pro12 champions, who were able to progress despite injuries to wings Paul Asquith and Steff Evans.
Though Alexis Bales crossed for La Rochelle, Halfpenny’s ability from the tee kept the Scarlets ahead and Rhys Patchell and Scott Williams went over as they set up a semi-final with Leinster or Saracens.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) March 30, 2018
Halfpenny opened the scoring in the fifth minute but was at fault as the Top 14 side scored the game’s first try, misjudging a chipped kick from Arthur Retiere before being beaten to the ball by Bales.
Asquith’s withdrawal forced flanker James Davies to take up position out wide but, despite that blow, the boot of Halfpenny turned the game back in the Scarlets’ favour.
He nailed three further first-half penalties, but Bales answered just before half-time with a three-pointer of his own.
Another kick from Halfpenny stretched the advantage back to five points soon after the restart, though he soon had to shift out to the wing after Evans came off for a head injury assessment having been on the receiving end of an elbow.
— Scott Quinnell (@ScottQuinnell) March 30, 2018
Even with that misfortune the sense it was their day must have been growing among the Scarlets fans as the hosts held firm amid a passage of play in which La Rochelle piled immense pressure on their line.
And the decisive blow was struck in style as Hadleigh Parkes spun away from a tackle to break free before the ball was worked wide for Patchell, who passed up the chance to offload to Halfpenny and finished confidently.
Will Boyde was sin-binned for the hosts and Halfpenny produced a rare miss, but makeshift wing Davies showcased some excellent handling to set up Williams to surge over, with Pierre Boudehent’s late breakaway try scant consolation for La Rochelle.
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