Rugby
Kings go down in PRO14 debut

Leigh Halfpenny marked his return to Welsh rugby with a try as Scarlets began their PRO14 title defence with a comfortable 57-10 victory over South African newcomers Southern Kings.

The current champions ran in seven tries past Deon David’s side, who faded after the break despite a bright start.

It took eight minutes for Scarlets to carve open their southern hemisphere opponents, when the fiery Johnny McNicholl exquisitely dived over in the corner following a blistering break from scrumhalf Gareth Davies.

Halfpenny, who drew the last tackler before offloading to McNicholl, could not add the extras.

But the Kings came roaring back through Yaw Penxe after the winger – who had earlier been denied after a try-saving tackle from Steff Evans – latched onto a beautifully weighted kick from fly-half Kurt Coleman to touch down.

The Scarlets responded through a prolonged period of possession in the Kings’ 22, before Rhys Patchell floated the ball to Halfpenny, who bundled over in the corner.

In a pulsating first-half, the Kings would not let up and reduced the deficit to just two points through a Coleman penalty after an infringement on Rossouw de Klerk.

While Scarlets showcased more threatening attacking prowess, it was fly-half Coleman who dictated large periods of the game, exploiting an occasionally flat Scarlets defence.

But the fly-half’s kick was cancelled out by Halfpenny moments later to maintain the home side’s slim advantage.

It was end-to-end action as the Kings nearly responded through Sibusiso Sithole, who would have crossed the whitewash had it not been for the try-saving heroics of Hadleigh Parkes, who pushed the South African into touch to end an entertaining first-half.

But after the break, the Welsh outfit showcased more expansive rugby as their southern hemisphere counterparts found themselves on the receiving end for much of the second period.

Scarlets began to look the fitter side when, from a penalty line-out, Scott Williams perfectly decoyed his opposite man to allow Patchell to charge over the whitewash.

With daylight now between the two sides, the former Cardiff Blues fly-half converted his own try to lead 22-10.

And it was only a matter of time before Scarlets grabbed the bonus-point when James Davies broke wide and efficiently recycled to Jake Ball, who charged over.

And substitute Emyr Phillips added a fifth after a catch-and-drive saw the Scarlets power over again, with the boot of Halfpenny converting as the Kings struggled to gain any possession.

Parkes, playing against his former side, added to the rout after 70 minutes, with Patchell easily converting in front of the posts.

And McNicholl grabbed his second and his side’s seventh try minutes later as McNicholl – who carried tremendously all game – stormed over in a move which the winger implemented from his own half.

The last few moments saw Steff Evans, who had been industrious all game, join in on the fun to cap off Scarlet’s perfect start to retaining their title.

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