BY TONY POOLE
At Rodney Parade
LLANELLI squandered a substantial lead to bow out of the British & Irish Cup play-offs against fast-finishing Newport on Tuesday night.
The Parc y Scarlets side seemed on course for a semi-final showdown with Swansea at St Helen’s on Monday when leading 32-7 in the approach to half time.
But Newport hit back, and during the second half Llanelli failed to score.
Three days after lifting the Swalec Cup for a record-breaking 14th time, Llanelli made eight changes, and included permit players in lock Matt Richards (Felinfoel), fly-half Gareth (Jamo) James (Ebbw Vale) and flanker Gareth Beer (Corus).
The game got off to a cracking start with a first-minute break from the Principality player-of-the-month for April - centre Nick Reynolds - leading to corner try for wing Dorian Thomas.
After a delay, caused by a serious leg injury to Newport flanker Paul Williams, the Parc y Scarlets side got another try.
This time No 8 Ben Morgan scythed through, and delivered a try-scoring pass for supporting hooker Rhys Lawrence.
Fly-half Gareth James landed the touchline conversion, resulting in Llanelli going 10 points up in as many minutes.
They maintained momentum in the 14th minute with a drop-goal from centre Chris Keenan – and better followed a minute on.
More slick hands from the Llanelli backs resulted in wing Dale Ford scoring an overlap try that fly-half James improved on for 22-0.
Fly-half James delivered a 22nd-minute penalty before Newport opened their account with a try from No 8 Richard Dale that stemmed from a blatant forward pass.
Fly-half Lewis Robling converted, but Llanelli went on to make it 32-7 on 25 minutes via a Jonny Lewis try goaled by fly-half James.
Newport got a 32nd-minute try from ex-Neath flanker Dan McShane - on a Llanelli put in at a scrum five - only for the visitors to respond through another James penalty.
But Newport then cut the interval-deficit to 35-19 thanks to a try from wing Michael Poole with fly-half Robling adding the extras.
Newport placed a further dent in the Llanelli lead with a 43rd-minute try from wing Alan Awcock, converted by replacement Chris Wannell.
With just nine points separating the sides, the Black and Ambers secured territorial advantage through the third quarter – without putting any points on the scoreboard.
Llanelli defended well and on the rare occasions they attacked, centre Reynolds was their most potent weapon.
The next score was going to be key, and inevitably it went to Newport with replacement wing Pat Leach touching down at the flag on 63 minutes, reducing arrears to 35-31.
It was now all Newport, and it was only a question of time before they got their noses in front.
Though Llanelli repelled wave after wave of Black and Ambers raids, the breaking point came in the 70th minute.
Replacement scrum-half Jonathan Evans, on a club debut, shot over for a try close to the posts that replacement Wannell converted.
Five minutes later, Wannell increased the lead to 41-35 on the strength of a straight-forward penalty while Newport scored from final play.
Replacement scrum-half Evans attempted to end play by hacking the ball into touch – but it took a ricochet.
The ball was scooped up by centre Scott Williams who raced clear for Newport’s seventh try of the night.
Wannell crowned a magnificent fight-back with the touchline conversion to set up Monday night’s showdown with Swansea at St Helen’s in the competition semi-finals.
NEWPORT: G. Wyatt; M. Poole, R. Payne, S. Williams, A. Awcock; L. Robling, K. Barrett; D. Pattison (capt), Andrew Brown, D. Way, D. Rosser, M. Workman, S. Waldron, R. Dale, P. Williams
Replacements: M. Leaman, G. Robinson, L. Hunter, D. McShane, C. Wannell, P. Leach, J. Evans
LLANELLI: J. Lewis; D. Ford, N. Reynolds, C. Keenan, D. Thomas; G. James, J. James; S. Hopkins, R. Lawrence, C. Jones, N. White, M. Richards, A. Powell (capt), B. Morgan, G. Beer
Replacements: J. Corsi, C. Hawkins, S. Phillips, A. Davies
NEWPORT: Tries R. Dale, D. McShane, M. Poole, A. Awcock, P. Leach, J. Evans, S. Williams; Cons: C. Wannell (3), L. Robling (2); C. Wannell
LLANELLI: Tries – D. Thomas, R. Lawrence, D. Ford, J. Lewis; Cons: G. James (3); Pens: G. James (2); Drop-goal: C Keenan
REFEREE: Gwyn Morris (Cardiff)