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Wayne Pivac has defended his final campaign in charge of the Scarlets and predicted they will rise again next season.
The New Zealander – who takes over from Warren Gatland as Wales coach after the World Cup – failed to bow out with a victory in his last game of the regular Guinness Pro 14 race.
Instead, the Dragons gained their first league win away from Rodney Parade for four years with a 34-32 victory in their Judgement Day clash at the Principality Stadium.
But the Scarlets did pick up two losing bonus points to set up a Pro14 play-off against the Ospreys for the right to be in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
“You have to take the good with the bad,” said Pivac. “We’ve had some real highs in the last couple of seasons, but this one has been frustrating. Today’s performance probably typified our season.
“We’ll have Aaron Shingler, James Davies and Blade Thomson playing together next season. That’s a back-row that hasn’t played a minute together this season. We’re going to be a strong side, and I’m sure we’ll bounce back.
“When we arrived, we were consistently sitting in fifth and sixth. So to win the Championship, back it up with an appearance in the final last season, as well as getting to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, we’ve shown we’re capable.
“We’ve got a healthy squad, and with a few more boys on the park next season we’ll have a strong showing I’m sure.
“If you look at the first quarters of both halves, we gave away points and didn’t really start how we would have liked to. We talked about it at half time, and expected a better start to the half, but we didn’t get it and, of course, the intercept try got the Dragons back into it and put more pressure on us.
“I thought they were very good. They always have been a tough opponent for us every year here. We did what we usually do against them, getting a bonus-point try, but it was the points conceded that was the issue.”
The top table of European club rugby has been the only place the Scarlets have dined since 1996 and the last thing Pivac wanted before he departs was see his side relegated to the Challenge Cup.
Edinburgh’s thumping defeat to Glasgow has saved the Scarlets that embarrassment, but this game will be recalled by the Dragons for much longer even though it meant only pride for them.
Not only was this their first win in the seventh edition of Judgement Day, but it was also their first league win of the year.
Quite how they managed to haul themselves over the line will remain a mystery to many, but for sheer guts, determination and will to win they were deserving of the highest praise. It took a full three minutes for the TMO to finally decide that Matthew Screech had dabbed the ball down on the Scarlets try line, rather than a few inches short as some TV angles showed, and that left Jason Tovey with a kick to win the game in the 79th minute.
That such a stalwart of Gwent rugby should be shouldered with such a burden was probably fitting because it will probably be his last act in a Dragons jersey. He never looked like missing and, having been five points adrift five minutes earlier, they were on their way to the sweetest of victories.
Not that the drama was all over just yet. The Scarlets regathered the kick off and kept the ball alive for another two minutes, eventually setting up Rhys Patchell for a 35 metre drop goal attempt to save the day. It drifted inches wide.
That the finalists of the last two seasons, and the 2017 champions, were in such a precarious position shows just how far their star has fallen in the past 12 months.
They picked up two points from their final fling, but ended up 18 short of last season’s tally. Pivac and Stephen Jones would have wanted a better send off that this before heading into coaching roles with Wales next season.
What they achieved in the past two seasons was nothing short of miraculous, especially when you add in a trip to the semi-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup, but you are only as good as your last season.
As for the Dragons, who sacked their coach Bernard Jackman half-way through the campaign, they mustn’t let this win paper over the obvious cracks. Their first task in the summer is to find a new head coach and then build a new squad for next season.
They were their own worst enemies after building up a six point lead with two Josh Lewis penalties. Error after error gave the Scarlets the chance to steady their nerves in the race for the four tries they needed to stay in the play-off picture and when Wales wing Hallam Amos was went to the sin-bin in the 19th minute for a deliberate knock on they struck.
By the time Amos returned the Scarlets had plundered three tries and were well on their way. Ioan Nicholas scored in the left corner, Johnny McNicholl then went over in the right and Welsh scrum half Gareth Davies sniped over from close range to make it 17-6 at the break.
It seemed as though the Scarlets were in cruise control, but the Dragons had other ideas as the second half started. They actually crossed the try-line four times in 16 minutes and, but for a juggling act over the line by Ross Moriarty, all four of them would have counted.
Buty after the disappointment of seeing Moriarty’s spectacular kick and chase try ruled out by the TMO, the Dragons worked lock Matthew Screech over after a driving line-out and then made the most of David Bullbring’s yellow card. They added two more tries in four minutes through Jack Dixon and Lewis and found themselves with a healthy 10 point lead.
It was now crisis time for the Scarlets and they turned to their top talent to get them back on course. Skipper Ken Owens slipped inside to Jonathan Davies for a try in the left corner and then McNicholl sped over for his second on the other side.
Halfpenny, unusually shaky off the kicking tee, converted the latter and then added a penalty to open up a five point lead that was just enough to see them through. The Dragons, as ever, played for heart and commitment and to the final second.
The post Wayne Pivac Defends His Record And Says Scarlets Were Usually Fifth Until He Turned Up appeared first on Dai Sport.
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