Alix Popham produced a huge performance as the Scarlets stormed into the Powergen Cup final against London Wasps at Twickenham next month. Backrower and Test hopeful Popham tackled everything that moved as the Scarlets edged ahead in a thrilling semi-final against a confident Bath side in Cardiff.
Tries to New Zealanders Craig Dunlea and Regan King and a crucial five-pointer to Wales winger Mark Jones gave the Stradey Park region the platform for a stunning upset result, with American fly-half Mike Hercus kicking the rest. Bath looked odds-on certainties to open the scoring when scrum-half Nick Walshe sent New Zealand centre Joe Maddock clear, but a monster tackle from Popham brought the Scarlets fans to their feet and had Maddock wondering what day of the week it was.
As it was, a United Nations selection combined to open the scoring. Bath's Australian fly-half Chris Malone slotted a 12th-minute penalty goal, but anything an Aussie can do, a Kiwi can do better. Scarlets prop Dunlea powered over the try-line underneath the rag doll hanging from the Bath crossbar, and Hercus's conversion gave the "home" side a 7-3 lead. Malone added a second goal and Scottish referee Malcolm Changleng missed a forward pass in the buildup as Bath centre Alex Crockett kicked and chased for a try. Malone twisted the knife with a quality conversion and quick-fire penalty goal to give his side a handy 16-7 lead at the halftime break.
Hercus narrowed the gap with a penalty goal early in the second half, but Bath took control of the match when former Scarlets winger Salesi Finau slipped an inside ball to Maddock, who jogged over the try-line. Scarlets centre Regan King became the third New Zealander to score a try in the match when he completed a classy backline move, and Hercus' superb sideline conversion silenced the boos from the Bath fans.
Bath lost winger Andy Higgins to the sin-bin after consecutive professional fouls, and Jones took advantage by powering over under the crossbar to give Hercus a simple conversion that gave the Scarlets a lead. Malone and Hercus swapped goals and the Scarlets survived several tense moments before the final whistle went.
Tries - C Dunlea, R King, M Jones; Pens - M Hercus 2; Cons - M Hercus 3
Tries - A Crockett, J Maddock; Pens - C Malone 4; Cons - C Malone 2
Halftime: Bath 16-7
Yellow Card: A Higgins (Bath)
Referee: M Changleng (Scotland)