Llanelli (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Welsh side Scarlets marched into the last four of the Champions Cup for the first time in over a decade with a 29-17 victory over La Rochelle of France in Llanelli on Friday.
Scarlets, playing in the knock out rounds of the competition for the first time since 2007, fielded 11 of the Wales team that beat France in the last round of the Six Nations earlier in March.
“Leigh’s kicking ability — he is the best in the world,” said Scarlets captain Ken Owens.
“We knew if we put them under pressure, we were going to get penalties, and then we had the right man to bang them over, which is outstanding.
“That was one of the biggest matches I have been involved in. It has taken 11 years to get back to the same stage in Europe, and it was the biggest game of my club career, certainly.
“I am just so proud of the boys. They turned up on the day and delivered. We ground out the victory after we got into a pattern that worked for us.”
Romain Sazy touched down for the French club after nine minutes, a try converted by Alexis Bales who added a penalty just before the break, but four penalties by fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who finished with 19 points, gave Scarlets a 12-10 lead at the break.
Halfpenny kicked another penalty early in the second half before the Scarlets added tries from fly-half Rhys Patchell and centre Scott Williams, both converted by Halfpenny.
When Williams beat two defenders to put the Scarlets 17 points ahead with four minutes to play, the sold out Parc-y-Scarlets went delirious with joy.
La Rochelle only managed to find a way though after time was up when Pierre Boudehent broke away for a try.
Scarlets will face three-time winners Leinster or two-time defending champions Saracens next month for a place in the final.
Leinster and Saracens meet at a sold-out Lansdowne Road in Dublin on Sunday with the English side hoping that England fly-half Owen Farrell will be fit.
On Saturday, Munster, having lost just once as hosts in the quarter-finals, welcome French giants Toulon, who won the European Cup three years in a row from 2013 to 2015.
In the weekend’s other quarter-final, French Top 14 champions Clermont, reeling from a 49-0 whipping by Toulon last weekend, welcome Racing 92 on Sunday.