On the back of an emphatic try romp against a Premiership Select XV played at Llandovery on Saturday, the Scarlets continue their pre-season friendlies against Bristol this week.
The first pre-season friendly proved a pleasing exercise for Head Coach, Wayne Pivac and offered some of the new signings a chance to impress. Australian, Paul Asquith certainly did that using his skill to cross for a debut hat trick, but, Bristol, under new Coach Pat Lam, will offer a whole new target as the squad prepares for the coming season.
Pivac confirmed the introduction of the internationals into the match day squad on the weekend, minus Jake Ball and Rob Evans who are both not quite at full fitness.
Despite the Lions contingent officially reporting back on the 21st, new signing Leigh Halfpenny has requested to join up early with his new region and has already made a big impression amongst his team mates. His introductory week will be spent with conditioning staff, medical staff, coaches and players familiarising himself with the region, getting to know the calls and procedures. His keenness to get started almost certainly sees him featuring at some point for the opening game, though Pivac stressed that the players would not be put under any pressure to play before they are ready to.
Hooker, Emyr Phillips admitted that Halfpenny’s arrival had brought ‘a buzz’ to the region, adding ‘he’s looking very sharp in training and someone of his status wanting to come to our club has given the players and supporters a boost.’
Preparations this pre-season are definitely on track with each player meeting the coaching team individually to discuss how they see the year ahead and to be given individual targets for improvement as well as team goals. Pivac explained, ‘If you sit back, relax and dwell on the past then you’re going to get overtaken, and as a group are in a far better shape as this season begins than in previous years, particularly with strong competition in many key areas. Prop Dylan Evans agreed that it’s always hard to stay at the top, but the squad are determined not to follow Connacht the previous season.
Phillips agreed, adding ‘we really do seem to be ahead of where we were this time last year. We’ve got a target on our backs now, I’ve heard of a lot of teams saying they’re going to try and play like us and copy our style, but it’s the way we like to play rugby in West Wales. Our back-row play like extra backs and the front five are catching up with them! It makes us more of a complete package and shows just how close the boys are.’
Importantly he pointed out that towards the end of last season the squad was playing with smiles on their faces, ‘we were working hard for each other and enjoying coming into work every day.’
Seemingly, one player is standing out as the Champions prepare to keep their crown, with Samson Lee demonstrating a hunger to make up for lost time and re-claim the number 3 shirt for Wales. Obviously benefitting from not travelling with the Wales squad over the summer has given Lee the opportunity to recover fully from his injury with his Head Coach confident that he has a big season ahead of him. Pivac added ‘He’s been impressive, very determined and very motivated and a different machine to what we’ve seen before. He’s very, very hungry, he’s wanting to play, he’s putting his hand up asking how much game time will I be having?’
Fellow Prop, Evans, agreed that the competition at Prop at the Scarlets currently is amazing and this pushes each of them to improve their own game.
With reports coming in from South Africa this week that the reigning Champions’ first opponents, the Southern Kings are experiencing a rebuilding period with players leaving, preparations for this fixture have been somewhat challenging for the coaching staff as they face the unknown. However, what is abundantly clear is that the main focus is to avoid last season’s start to the campaign.
David Bulbring and Werner Kruger, the Scarlets’ South African contingent will offer some insight into the new teams that joined the Pro14 for this season and Pivac admitted that their experiences in Southern Hemisphere Rugby would be called upon, particularly when the Region play their mini South African Tour at the end of November.
However, with a couple of weeks still to go before that opening game, the focus is very much on Bristol this weekend, followed by the final friendly against Gloucester. Hopefully, the confidence and hard work will be evident as we get to see the first real glimpse of what the Scarlets have to offer for the coming season in Clifton RFC on Saturday, August 19th, 2017, kick-off is at 2.30pm
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