Since European Cup Rugby began, it has usually been a case of ‘win your home games and hope to pick up some points on the road’ and you’re in with a chance of progressing from the group stages.
Despite picking up a losing bonus point on the road in Toulon, the Scarlets will have home advantage on Friday night against Bath, with Wayne Pivac urging the supporters to get behind his team.
“It’s one we’re really looking forward to,” revealed Pivac. “They’re a really good side. It’s a big occasion for us, we’re pleased we’re playing at home in front of our supporters. We hope that all those people that made the effort to travel to Toulon and seemed to have a good time in the sun will be back and we’ll have a big home crowd support.”
Any Scarlets player, coach or fan would, in the past, have been celebrating a point gained, particularly in the back yard of one of the biggest clubs in Europe, the three-time Champions. However, this season things are different, with Hadleigh Parkes revealing “We should be pleased with the losing bonus point but we were disappointed not to win.”
“We believed we could have beaten Toulon.” Parkes continued. “We came away a little bit disappointed because of that, but we have to learn from it as well, so hopefully we’ll get a good start against Bath. The one point could be crucial for us though,” he added.
Head Coach, Wayne Pivac agreed, adding “To get through in this competition you have to win your three home games and be successful on the road at some stage. We got a bonus point out in Toulon but for that to have an impact we have to back that up with a win on Friday night.”
“We’ll look back at that game,” Pivac continued “A tidier start…the intercept pass…in a one-point game, one decision here and there can be the difference between winning and losing. It was definitely a missed opportunity.”
“Before we knew it, we were 18 points down but to our credit we came back well,” he added. “We got ourselves back into the game and when we got to 20-18, we had the momentum but there were a couple of decisions here and there…. but that’s the nature of the game.”
“Of course, we’re disappointed. We went there to get the points. We had a strategy in place over our selection for these two games and that was to win both games. We came up one point short away from home so it was a pretty good effort,” continued Pivac.
Looking ahead to Friday night’s opposition, Pivac said “Bath are going to be a tough opponent They got off to a win. They’ll want to get a win on the road first up against us.”
“A lot of people after the weekend will think that Toulon will probably be the team that’s going through and that Bath can’t beat them, so the next best thing for Bath is beating us.”
Parkes added “Bath have had some very good away wins this year and some close games at home. They’ve got some dangerous backs out wide and obviously a number 10 that we know very well though whether he’s playing or not, we’re still unsure – it’s going to be a tough game but hopefully we’ll score some good tries on Friday night.”
Scrum Half Gareth Davies agreed, adding “The loss on Sunday makes this Friday a bigger game. Like every team in Europe, you’ve got to win your home games to get through to the next stage, so it’s a massive game for us.”
One of the key dangermen in Bath’s ranks is Welsh International and British Lion, Taulupe Faletau. “He’s one of the best number 8’s in the world,” continued Davies. “He’s been playing well the last few weeks. Our Back Row are going to have a tough challenge keeping him quiet!”
Pivac agreed, adding “He’s playing well, isn’t he?” “We’ve played against him many times when he was with the Dragons. We respect his abilities, he’s World Class.”
“We’re definitely going to have to keep an eye on him and make sure we improve from our Toulon performance in terms of first up defence. We were too high on a lot of occasions and they got a lot of going forward. Faletau will be trying to do the same to us.” Pivac continued “We need to make sure the primary defenders goes in nice and low and get him on the deck!”
With such a short turnaround between the Toulon and the Bath game, the players were forced to fly back immediately after the match on Sunday. They were given an extra recovery day yesterday (Tuesday) with just a training run and Captain’s run on Thursday before match day on Friday.
Due to time limits, the squad have had little chance to study Friday night’s opponents. “We’ve told ourselves we’re going to concentrate on our own game,” revealed Davies. “We’re going to make sure we’re in the right place.”
“We’re not going to change too much” added Pivac, “We’ve had success playing a certain way and feel good in our season to date. A very tight game out in Belfast and a tight game in Toulon are the two performances where we came second on the score board and in both cases we were within seven points so we’re not far off against some of the best sides around.”
Disappointingly, there is little change in the current injury situation, apart from Will Boyde, who was a late withdrawal for the Toulon game. It is very hopeful he will be fit, but both Rob Evans and John Barclay are still recovering from their head injuries and there is currently no indication when either are expected to return.
“Aaron Shingler last year was about 12 weeks, so how long is a piece of string?” Pivac added. “We’ve got protocols in place which we follow and at the moment both those boys are failing those protocols so they can’t go on to the next step to get closer to playing.”
“There’s signs of improvement but it’s taking a lot longer obviously that the players themselves would like,” he admitted. “There are signs of improvement but there are still symptoms there…it’s a slow process. We’d like to think it will be a matter of a couple of weeks as opposed to a couple of months but we’re doing everything in our power to ensure that the right people are checking them out as player safety is paramount.”
The only other player injury that the Scarlets currently face is James ‘Cubby Boi’ Davies who is still recovering from his shoulder surgery. However, it seems that his recovery is going well and he is currently ahead of schedule for his much-anticipated return.”
The major talking point in the world of Welsh Rugby this week has been the new selection policy that has taken over from “Gatland’s Law” with International Players now being free to play overseas provided they have been capped 60 times by their country. Despite controversary regarding the Rhys Webb issue, with the Ospreys star insisting that he was unaware of the change prior to him signing for Toulon, and Warren Gatland insisting that Webb and agent, Derwyn Jones, were aware that this new policy was in imminent, in the Scarlets region, the change has been seen as a step forward for Welsh Rugby.
“I think it’s a positive thing, revealed Pivac. “It’s very clear – everybody knows where they stand so long as you know how many tests you’ve played as a player you should be able to work it out,” he joked!
“In terms of the 60 games it’s a policy that makes it very simple,” he continued. “For some it’s going to be a question of how much do I value the jersey really versus what can sometimes be a very sizeable financial opportunity elsewhere. You like to think your national jersey has some value to it. Certainly, from a New Zealand perspective, it’s kept a lot of good players in New Zealand for a long time. Each individual will have that choice.”
“It’s positive for Welsh rugby,” Davies agreed. “Especially in the near future it will kept the best Welsh players in Wales.”
Davies finds himself in a similar position to Webb as he too is out of contract at the end of this coming season, and is also way short of the 60-cap mark which would mean that he must sign for a Welsh Region if he wants his International career to continue. “It would depend if I wanted to play for Wales or not,” he added. “I’m not thinking about that now, I’m just concentrating on my rugby.” This would suggest that the Scrum Half has no plans to play his rugby out of Wales at the moment, and it would seem that the Scarlets would be the obvious choice for him to continue his rugby.
Historically, of course any fixture with Bath has had the added incentive of the ‘Rag Doll’. It is claimed that Llanelli won the first Rag Doll match on March 12th, 1921 16-0 at Stradey Park. The doll was presented to the winning captain by Mr. T.R. Mills, the then President of Llanelly RFC. A few mishaps have happened along the way and in the 1935-36 season Llanelli used a can of Felinfoel Ale as a replacement for the lost doll! It is believed that the original doll was replaced between the wars by one made by a Bath lady named Rosina Rothery.
Due to International Rugby Board guidelines, the doll will not be in its traditional place under the cross bar, but will be moved on top of the protective padding for Friday night’s encounter. Despite respecting this tradition, Pivac insists that Champions Cup points to get to the knock-out stages will be more important that which kit ends up on the rag doll!
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