Pro14: Benetton 3-10 Scarlets

Guinness Pro14: Benetton v Scarlets
Benetton (3) 3
Pen: Keatley
Scarlets (0) 10
Tries: Asquith Cons: O'Brien Pens: O'Brien

Scarlets battled to victory over Benetton in a dour encounter as Wales back-three star Liam Williams emerged unscathed on his return from injury.

Benetton fly-half Ian Keatley kicked the only points of an opening period in which tactical kicking and defences dominated.

Scarlets 10 Angus O'Brien levelled and Paul Asquith crossed late on.

O'Brien converted, but the visitors ended with 14 men after Morgan Jones was sent off for a high tackle.

With Wales facing France in the Six Nations in Paris on Saturday and Italy preparing to take on Ireland in a delayed 2020 Six Nations game beforehand, both teams were well short of full strength.

Scarlets were without 10 players on Wales duty, including centre Jonathan Davies and back Leigh Halfpenny, a back-three rival for region and country of Williams.

The visitors' injury list also included Wales pair hooker Ken Owens and flanker Josh Macleod, while lock Sam Lousi is serving a four-week ban and another second-row, Lewis Rawlins, was also sidelined.

Liam Williams attacks Benetton
Liam Williams is in his second spell with Scarlets

Scarlets head coach Glenn Delaney made 11 personnel changes from the defeat to Glasgow Warriors last time out, but had Wales centre Tyler Morgan making his first Pro14 start since his summer move from Dragons.

Williams had been released by Wales to allow him some much-needed match minutes for his first Scarlets appearance since returning from Saracens, as well as an injury-ravaged year since the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The British and Irish Lion fumbled his first touch to halt a promising early attack by the visitors.

But after that Williams displayed flashes of his attacking flair while bringing his experience to bear in defence.

There were few other highlights in the opening period while after the break Williams' opposite number Luca Sperandio produced a rare clean break to offer brief respite.

Keatley's chance to double Benetton's lead clipped an upright and the encounter continued in a depressingly familiar fashion.

The contest was crying out for a moment of inspiration, but when Steff Evans' pass to scrum-half Dane Blacker went down, that moment seemed as if it might not come.

Williams departed 14 minutes from the end to signal a successful reappearance at this level and, having provided some of their rare highlights, it seemed ironic that Scarlets seized the initiative in his absence.

O'Brien latched on to a spilled ball and, after he kicked ahead, the visitors reclaimed possession before Asquith's interplay with Steff Hughes out wide allowed Asquith to go over.

O'Brien's conversion gave Scarlets more hope, but Jones' high tackle on fellow replacement Manuel Zuliani left them under pressure up front in the dying moments.

However, Delaney's side held out with some defiant defence for their first league win after two opening defeats.

Benetton: Luca Sperandio; Ratuva Tavuyara, Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Benvenuti, Monty Ioane; Ian Keatley, Dewaldt Duvenage (capt); Nicola Quaglio, Hame Faiva, Filippo Alongi, Irné Herbst, Eli Snyman, Federico Ruzza, Alberto Sgarbi, Toa Halafihi.

Replacements: Tomas Baravalle, Ivan Nemer, Tiziano Pasquali, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani, Luca Petrozzi, Angelo Esposito, Leonardo Sarto.

Scarlets: Liam Williams; Tom Rogers, Tyler Morgan, Steff Hughes (capt), Steff Evans; Angus O'Brien, Dane Blacker; Phil Price, Marc Jones, Javan Sebastian, Sione Kalamafoni, Tevita Ratuva, Blade Thomson, Jac Morgan, Uzair Cassiem.

Replacements: Taylor Davies, Rob Evans, Werner Kruger, Morgan Jones, Ed Kennedy, Will Homer, Dan Jones, Paul Asquith.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)

Assistant referees: Manuel Bottino, Andrea Spadoni (both FIR)

TMO: Alan Falzone (FIR)

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