Scarlets took a step towards the European Champions Cup quarter-finals and dented Bath's hopes with a bonus-point victory at the Recreation Ground. It was a scintillating display of attacking rugby by the visitors, who scored four tries before Matt Banahan and Zach Mercer replied for Bath. The Welsh side replace Bath at the top of Pool Five and lead on 17 points with one round of games remaining. Bath are second on 13 points, alongside Toulon, who play Benetton on Sunday. Scarlets now have their destiny in their own hands and host three-time winners Toulon in their final game on 20 January at Parc y Scarlets.
Bath Blown Away
With Leigh Halfpenny and Johnny McNicholl failing fitness tests, Scarlets had to reshuffle their backline. Rhys Patchell replaced full-back Halfpenny, Paul Asquith moved from centre to wing with Hadleigh Parkes lining up alongside Scott Williams in midfield, and Dan Jones started at fly-half.
But the changes did not blunt their attacking instincts and they blew Bath away in the first half with clinical running rugby and outstanding offloads. Their opening try on 10 minutes came from a counter-attack launched in his own half by Patchell which was finished superbly by lock Tadhg Beirne, who sidestepped Anthony Watson to touch down.
The visitors were down a man when number eight John Barclay was sin-binned on 21 minutes - shown a yellow card for going into the side of a ruck after Matt Banahan had been held up on the try-line. The numerical advantage did not help Bath as Scarlets scored their second try moments later, Paul Asquith crossing in the corner.
Gareth Davies shrugged off a tackle from Chris Cook and passed to Parkes to score their third under the posts on the half hour mark, their second during Barclay's sin-bin. A fourth first-half try looked inevitable for the Welsh side but Banahan's intervention prevented Williams from playing in Asquith, while Jones extended their lead to 22-0 at the break with a penalty. The bonus-point try came sooner after the break. After patient build-up from the forwards on the Bath try-line, Patchell sent a beautifully weighted grubber kick through to Williams to score in the corner.
Too Little, Too Late
England head coach Eddie Jones, who names his Six Nations squad this weekend, was in attendance but he witnessed one-way traffic from the visitors. Bath lost Rhys Priestland after five minutes, with the fly-half limping off clutching his hamstring and being replaced by Freddie Burns. Watson showed some early promise but Banahan's break was the closest Bath got to the Scarlet's try-line.
They Showed More Promise After Scarlets Had Secured The Bonus Point. Banahan, who is moving to Gloucester in the summer, finally got his side on the scoreboard on 58 minutes. The 6ft 7in winger acrobatically caught Burns' kick and managed to hold off Gareth Davies' challenge to touch down in the corner - and Zach Mercer added a second, diving over from close range with seven minutes remaining. Any hopes Bath had of securing a losing bonus point were dashed when Jones landed a huge penalty late on to kill off the game.
They now face the prospect of missing out on the quarter-finals and travel to Italy to face Benetton next week in their final game. Bath rugby director Todd Blackadder: "Big games are all about executing your basics well, and we didn't do that. "We've got to address some internal issues we have got, and one of those is our inconsistency. The preparation has been bang on, but we are still getting inconsistent performances. "We are so inconsistent that it has to be mental. We were preparing for hopefully a home quarter-final, but that was our fourth loss at home this season, which is just inexcusable. It lies with us - myself, the players - and we have got to turn this around."
Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac: "We certainly got the start we were after and to a man everybody stood up and did the job that was asked of them."It was a frantic first 20 minutes... so we played at the tempo we wanted and certainly there were some great tries scored in that first half which gave us that momentum. "We score a lot of tries from turnover ball - most sides like to get that sort of ball against unstructured defence - and certainly our boys moved the ball really well."
Bath: Watson; Banahan, Joseph, Tapuai, A Brew; Priestland, Cook; Obano, Dunn, Thomas; Stooke, Charteris, Garvey (capt), Underhill, Mercer.
Replacements: Burns for Priestland (5), Fotuali'i for Cook (53), Noguera for Obano (60), Lahiff for Thomas (49), Grant for Stooke (67), Phillips for Charteris (60).
Not Used: van Vuuren, Wilson.
Scarlets: Patchell; Asquith, Parkes, Williams, Prydie; D Jones, G Davies; Evans, Owens (capt), Lee, Beirne, Bulbring, Shingler, J Davies, Barclay
Replacements: A Davies for G Davies (62), W Jones for R Evans (66), Elias for Owens (67), Kruger for Lee (54), Rawlins for Bulbring (60), Macleod for Barclay (67).
Not Used: S Hughes, Boyde.
Referee: Jerome Garces