Pro12: Connacht 30-17 Scarlets
|Connacht (13) 30|
|Tries: Heenan 2, Buckley, Ah You Cons: Carty 2 Pens: Carty|
|Scarlets (0) 17|
|Tries: Van Der Merwe, Owen Cons: Thomas 2 Pens: Thomas|
Connacht ended a run of four straight Pro12 defeats as they earned a bonus-point win over leaders the Scarlets at the Sportsground in Galway.
Two line-out maul tries by Jake Heenan helped Connacht lead 13-0 at half-time as they exploited scrum dominance.
A DTH van der Merwe try cut Connacht's lead to 13-10 but another line-out drive saw Denis Buckley touch down after two Scarlets sin-binnings.
Rodney Ah You's try sealed Connacht's win before Gareth Owen's late reply.
Connacht's victory moves them level on points with the Scarlets, but the Welsh region remain top as they have earned more wins this season.
The encounter saw Wales star Liam Williams making his first appearance since the World Cup after injury and also offered Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw further game time ahead of next weekend's Six Nations opener between the Irish and Welsh in Dublin.
Both players showed up well in a contest in which the Scarlets' greater fluency out wide acted as a counterweight to Connacht's total scrum superiority.
Jack Carty's ninth-minute penalty was all Connacht had to show for early pressure but the home fly-half's superb kick for the corner set up Heenan's first try in the 22nd-minute after Aly Muldowney's line-out fetch.
Heenan's crucial second try in the 38th minute was a carbon copy and gave Connacht a massive boost as they prepared to face into a strong wind in the second period.
The Scarlets looked to be right back in the game within five minutes of the restart as Van der Merwe finished off a flowing move from halfway after hooker Ryan Elias had robbed possession at the back of a Connacht ruck.
However, Aled Thomas' knock-on straight from the restart gave the momentum back to Connacht as Carty quickly slotted a penalty before Scarlets forwards Phil John and Tom Price were both sin-binned.
With the Scarlets reduced to 13 players, man of the match Buckley notched a third line-out maul try for Connacht and Ah You's touchdown in the 65th minute secured the home team's bonus point.
Owen's 74th-minute try, converted by Thomas, gave the Scarlets a late opportunity to chase a losing bonus point but Connacht held on to move level on points with the Welsh outfit.
Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran; Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, George Naoupu, Aly Muldowney, John Muldoon (capt), Jake Heenan, Eoghan Masterson
Replacements: Dave Heffernan for McCartney 65 mins, Ronan Loughney for Buckley 66, Rodney Ah You for Bealham 61, Ultan Dillane for Naoupu 57, James Connolly for Heenan 65, Ian Porter for Blade 76, Craig Ronaldson for Carty 65, Rory Parata for Healy 30.
Scarlets: Liam Williams; Tom Williams, Gareth Owen, Hadleigh Parkes (capt), DTH van der Merwe; Aled Thomas, Rhodri Williams; Phil John for John 65, Ryan Elias, Rhodri Jones, Tom Price, Lewis Rawlins, Aaron Shingler, Will Boyde, Morgan Allen.
Replacements: Kirby Myhill for Elias 65, Dylan Evans for Allen 44, Peter Edwards for Rhodri Jones 35, Jack Jones for Rawlins, Steven Shingler for Tom Williams 65, Michael Collins for Liam Williams 61.
Not used: Tom Phillips, Connor Lloyd
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
Assistant referees: Gary Conway, Eddie Hagan O'Connell (both IRFU)
Citing commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)
TMO: Dermot Moloney (IRFU)