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Scarlets launch stunning late comeback to beat Benetton after being minutes away from European disaster; The Welsh region were trailing 28-21 with just five minutes left but won 33-28.

Byline: Rob Lloyd

Two tries in the final four minutes saved the Scarlets' blushes in Llanelli as they clung onto their Champions Cup hopes by their fingernails.

Wayne Pivac's PRO14 champions were staring at an embarrassing loss to a Benetton side who had been reduced to 14 men following the dismissal of flanker Francesco Minto after just 24 minutes.

But the West Walians somehow wriggled out of the hole thanks to tries by Wales wing Steff Evans and Aussie centre Paul Asquith in a remarkable finale.

It was cruel on the Italians, who had produced an outstanding display in adversity, hauling themselves back from 21-7 down to lead 28-21 in the second half.

The visitors dominated territory and possession and were on the brink of a first win in this tournament in nearly three years and their first on the road since 2007.

However, the Scarlets somehow produced a Houdini act to keep their quarter-final qualification hopes alive.

After defeats to Toulon and Bath in the opening two rounds, the Welsh side knew they needed to win and win well to maintain any interest in the competition.

And with 10 internationals back in the ranks they appeared well on their way to achieving that aim in the opening exchanges.

Scarlets 33 v 28 Benetton Rugby RECAP: Late drama as Welsh side come back from the dead

With Benetton still in snooze mode, the Scarlets shot out of the blocks, scoring two tries in the first six minutes, both through Wales international scrum-half Gareth Davies.

The first came right off the training field with Davies bursting onto a pass from a line-out and with a sidestep and a fend was over.

The second was trademark Scarlets, keeping the ball alive, support runners either side, with Rhys Patchell and James Davies combining to send their No. 9 racing to the posts.

Benetton responded with a short-range score from No. 8 Robert Barbieri and could have had another had it not been for an interception from centre Asquith.

Then, on 24 minutes, came what appeared the pivotal moment.

With the Scarlets pressing the visitors' line, lock David Bulbring was upended by Minto. Initially, referee Mathieu Raynal, appeared to see nothing wrong with the challenge, but after a lengthy viewing of the big screen, the Frenchman produced red.

Minto was still trooping off as the Scarlets claimed their third, with Tadhg Beirne touching down from a line-out rumble.

But the Italians, who came agonisingly close to beating Toulon in round two, again showed they are made of sterner stuff this season, freeing full-back Jayden Hayward down the touchline for their second.

It was a score that gave them genuine belief and incredibly, even one man short, they dominated the second period.

With the Scarlets conceding penalty after penalty the home side found themselves camped in their own half.

Benetton levelled matters on 58 minutes through impressive wing Angelo Esposito and after James Davies was shown yellow for an infringement at the breakdown, it was the Italians who claimed the bonus-point try through outstanding lock Federico Ruzza.

With the clock ticking down Benetton were sensing one of the biggest upsets of the season.

But Steff Evans wriggled over in the 76th minute to give his side hope, then produced two moments of magic, chipping through and gathering to set up a late attack, then producing another deft kick which was pounced on by Asquith for the winning score with just 90 seconds remaining.

The sound of relief around Parc y Scarlets was deafening.

Scarlets - tries: G. Davies (2), T. Beirne, S. Evans, P. Asquith. Cons: L. Halfpenny (3), R. Patchell.

L. Halfpenny (repl T. Prydie 62); J. McNicholl, P. Asquith, H. Parkes (repl S. Hughes 54), S. Evans; R. Patchell, G. Davies (repl A. Davies 58); W. Jones (repl R. Evans 58), K. Owens (capt; repl T. Davies 70), W. Kruger, S. Cummins (repl L. Rawlins 54), D. Bulbring, T. Beirne, J. Barclay (repl J. Macleod 65), James Davies.

Benetton Rugby - tries: R. Barbieri, J. Hayward, A Espositi, F. Ruzza. Cons: T. Allan (4).

J. Hayward; A. Esposito, T. Benvenuti, A. Sgarbi (capt; repl L. Morisi 75), M. Ioane; T. Allan (repl I. McKinley 75), G. Bronzini (repl T. Tebaldi 40); N. Quaglio (repl F. Zani 40), H. Faiva (repl L. Bigi 52), T. Pasquali (repl A. De Marchi 42; repl T. Pasquali 59), M. Lazzaroni, F. Ruzza, F. Minto, R. Barbieri (repl M. Fuser 70) S. Negri (repl W. Douglas 54).

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Credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Paul Asquith of Scarlets reaches out to score the winning try

Credit: Getty Images Europe

Tadgh Beirne of Scarlets goes over for his side's third try

Credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Steff Evans scores
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales Online (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 9, 2017
Words:788
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