Durban — The Lions were brought crashing down to earth in the frosty Welsh town of Llanelli where the Scarlets crushed them 36-13 in a second-round United Rugby Championship match, earning a bonus-point try in the process.
The Lions had hit the ground running in the new competition the week before when they beat Zebre thanks to a compelling first-half performance and there was genuine belief that they could build on that win and get past the Welshmen.
But the Lions were disappointing in their attacking play and could not fashion sufficient meaningful plays to challenge the Scarlets defence.
It did not help that the visitors could not have had a more contrasting start to that of the previous week against Zebre, when they began like a house on fire, this time conceding a seven-pointer after just four minutes when burly prop Rob Evans burrowed over from close quarters following a tap penalty.
Jordan Hendrikse put the Lions on the board ten minute later with a fine 50m penalty but five minutes later, when the Scarlets next visited the Lions 22, they worked a slick backline movement to put right wing Tom Rogers clear for a run to the line.
And it was 17-3 on the half hour when flyhalf Sam Costelow kicked a penalty after Burger Odendaal had tackled opposite number Jonathan Davies when he did not have the ball.
It did not help the Lions that their principle weapon, the set scrum, was twice penalised for the early hit by the Italian referee in the first half an hour.
Hendrikse pulled back three points five minutes before half time only for Costelow to nail his second penalty and the home team went into the shed with a comfortable 20-6 lead.
The Lions had barely fired a shot in an underwhelming first half performance in which they looked short of ideas but as the second half wore on, their forwards began to make an impact and the penalty count began to mount against the Scarlets.
That gave the Lions prime territory and after a long series of forward assaults on the Scarlets’ line, Ruben Schoeman eventually bashed over and the conversion made it 20-13.
But the Lions then made a hash of their exit from the kick-off and an infringement allowed Costelow to kick his third penalty. 23-13.
And the momentum was firmly back with the home side when a counter-attack took them to within a few metres of the Lions’ line where Rabz Maxwane cynically did not roll away in a tackle, so he could slow the ball down, and was yellow carded. Costelow added three points and the Lions were in trouble at 26-13 with 13 minutes to go.
And they were dead in the water a few minutes later when the Scarlets scored the try of the day with a sensational counter-attack from inside their 22 that culminated in Rogers scoring his second try, and two minutes from time left wing Steff Evans finished neatly for the fourth and bonus-point try.
Lions: Tries: Ruben Schoeman. Conversions: Jordan Hendrikse. Penalties: Jordan Hendrikse (2).
Scarlets: Tries: Rob Evans, Tom Rogers (2), Steff Evans. Conversions: Sam Costelow (2). Penalties: Costelow (4).