Connacht failed to build on an encouragining opening quarter against Llanelli on Saturday before eventually going down 25-17 at the Racecourse Ground.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, September 17
Llanelli Scarlets 25 Connacht 17, Racecourse Ground (Att: 3,042)
Scorers: Llanelli: Tries: Lee Byrne, Aled Gravelle, Inoke Afeaki; Cons: Gareth Bowen 2; Pens: Bowen 2
Connacht: Tries: Paul Warwick, Chris Venter; Cons: Warwick, David Slemen; Drop: Slemen
Life will be evidently tough for Connacht this season in the Celtic League if their first three outings are anything to go by. Four points from three games is a poor return for the endeavour shown by Michael Bradley's side, but hopefully they can continue their unbeaten home run next Saturday at the Sportsground.
Borders are the visitors, the team who demoted Connacht to the bottom rung this weekend thanks to their first ever Celtic League win - a 16-6 defeat of the under-strength Ospreys. Munster follow for Connacht at their Galway home on October 1 so the hard work certainly starts here for Bradley's men.
Tries by hooker Aled Gravelle, lock Inoke Afeaki and full-back Lee Byrne gradually wore down the visitors' resolve on Saturday as the Scarlets picked up their first ever home win over Connacht.
Paul Warwick started the game in fine stead for Connacht when his moment of magic on 17 minutes created the first try. The former Australian Sevens captain showed the home defence a clean pair of heels as he chipped over the top from inside his own half, hacked through, and then won the race to the touchdown under the posts. Fly-half Warwick's simple conversion made it 7-0 and incredibly, that was how it stayed until first-half stoppage time.
With the Scarlets finally putting together a concerted period of pressure, wing Tal Selley was held up just short, but hooker Gravelle scooped up possession and showed excellent upper body strength to drive over.
Gareth Bowen missed with the conversion, but landed a penalty from just inside his own half two minutes after the restart to put his side in front. There was far more energy to the Scarlets after the break and they claimed their second try through a punishing forward effort on 51 minutes.
The impressive Afeaki won the lineout 35 metres out and the home pack drove the Connacht eight back to a yard from their own line. With the visitors' defence all at sea it was the former Tongan skipper who picked up and found his way to the line.
Bowen's conversion success made it 15-7, but Connacht remained in the contention thanks to a David Slemen drop goal. By that time, former Orrell man Slemen had reverted from full-back to fly-half as Warwick was forced off with a rib injury.
He could make little difference as another Bowen penalty restored the Welsh side's eight-point advantage. The Scarlets were reduced to 14 men when replacement lock Dave Duley was yellow carded for a professional foul, but it had little affect.
Home full-back Byrne went on a forage forward on 73 minutes, kicking high and fielding before beating the cover to score. That was about it, although credit to Connacht, they kept battling away and deservedly got a second try when former Natal Shark Chris Venter, on as a replacement hooker, lurched over for a 78th-minute try - his first in Connacht colours.
Although Slemen tagged on the conversion, a losing bonus point still evaded the westerners' grasp.
Llanelli captain and Ireland flanker Guy Easterby, who returned to the fray after a summer spent with the Lions, said afterwards: ""It was always going to be difficult playing against Connacht because they seem to be a bit of a bogey side for us - but we manage to scrape a win and we'll take a bit from the game."
"We were under a bit of pressure after our performance (in losing to Cardiff) the other night. It was a little disappointing in areas but the win is the most important thing."
LLANELLI: Lee Byrne; Tal Selley, Dafydd James, Regan King, Darren Daniels; Garteth Bowen, Clive Stuart-Smith; Iestyn Thomas, Aled Gravelle, John Davies, Inoke Afeaki (Dave Duley 62), Adam Jones (Gavin Quinnell 72), Jonathan Mills, Simon Easterby (Capt), Alix Popham.
CONNACHT: David Slemen; Matt Mostyn, Darren Yapp, Keith Matthews, Conor McPhillips; Paul Warwick (Daniel Riordan 58), Tom Tierney (Chris Keane 77); Dan McFarland (Adrian Clarke 75), John Fogarty (Chris Venter 75), Stephen Knoop, Christian Short, Andrew Farley (Capt), Michael Swift (John Muldoon 51), Brendan O'Connor (Matt Lacey 51), Colm Rigney.
Referee: David Changleng (Scotland); Sin-Bin: Dave Duley (Llanelli) (69 mins)