Llanelli Scarlets held on to reach the semi-finals of the Powergen Cup with a scrappy win over Sale Sharks on Friday.
POWERGEN CUP GROUP C
Scarlets: (7) 24:
Tries: King, Louw, Penalty try.
Cons: Hercus 3.
Sale: (9) 23:
Tries: Mayor, Seveali'i.
Cons: Blair 2.
Pens: Blair 3.
Two late converted Sale tries, from Chris Mayor and Elvis Seveali'i, had the Scarlets sweating.
But earlier scores for the Welsh side, through Regan King, Hottie Louw and a penalty try conceded by the Sharks' creaking scrum, proved just enough.
The Scarlets trailed at half-time, but the arrival of Lions scrum-half Dwayne Peel off the bench inspired them.
Sale had led 9-7 at the break, David Blair's three penalties cancelling out King's try.
The New Zealander's score was the one moment of real quality in a poor opening period.
Scarlets scrum-half Clive Stuart-Smith took a quick tap penalty, catching the Sale defence off-guard and giving King the space to dive over for a try converted by Mike Hercus.
The side from Llanelli ended the first half a man down after Garan Evans' high tackle on Nathan Bonner-Evans earned him a yellow card.
But the Scarlets made light of their disadvantage soon after the restart, skipper Simon Easterby opting for a five-metre lineout and the pack shunting South African lock Louw over.
Hercus added his second conversion of the night and then struck a penalty to stretch the Scarlets' lead to 17-9.
The USA fly-half was joined by a new half-back partner, as Peel arrived on the pitch for just his second game of the season after suffering a troublesome ankle injury.
The Lions scrum-half injected new life into the Scarlets' play and the Welsh side were soon rolling forward.
The understrength Sale side, saving their powder for next week's Heineken Cup tester at Castres, then conceded a penalty try as their scrum buckled under pressure.
The game looked won for the home side, but Easterby's sin-binning for a technical offence seven minutes from time allowed Sale to stage a comeback.
Mayor skipped away down the wing to score, then fielded the resulting kick-off to burst through the Welsh defence and send Seveali'i in under the posts.
Blair's two conversions to bring Sale to within a point ensured a fraught finale, but the Scarlets just held on.
They can now look forward to a semi-final in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium next March, and go into next week's Heineken Cup match against London Wasps in good heart.
Scarlets centre Regan King:
"It was a bit nerve-wracking at the end. We thought we had it there with not long to go but they got a few late tries.
"It was too close for comfort, we've got a bit of a knack for having close ones at Stradey Park, but we're happy to get the win.
"I'm sure we'll be competitive playing at the Millennium Stadium in the semi-finals, so we'll give it our all and see what happens."
Sale coach Kingsley Jones:
"I thought Chris Jones was absolutely outstanding tonight, and I believe he is the most hard done-by player in England at the moment.
"It just beats me why he wasn't considered for the England game last weekend. I don't push my players but it is unfair that I don't say what I think.
"I would have played him at number six, with either Pat Sanderson or Lewis Moody at seven, and I wouldn't pick Martin Corry because I don't think he is a high level international player. He makes too many mistakes."
Scarlets: B Davies; M Jones, D James, King, G Evans; Hercus, Stuart-Smith; D Williams, Rees, J Davies, Louw, A Jones, Easterby, G Thomas, Mills.
Replacements: R Davies, Gravelle, Cooper, Wyatt, Peel, Bowen, Watkins.
Sin bin: Easterby (69).
Sale: Wakley; Mayor, Duffy, Seveali'i, Kuadey; Blair, Wigglesworth; Roberts, Briggs, Coutts, C Jones, Day, Anglesea (capt), Tait, Bonner-Evans.
Replacements: M Jones, Halsall, Lloyd, Cox, Leck, R. Jones, Riley.
Ref: Jean-Pierre Matheu (France).