Reflecting on the last couple of weeks, Head Coach, Wayne Pivac admitted that the Scarlets aren’t in the position they liked to have been in in the Champions’ Cup, however, they played two very strong opponents coupled with a five-day turnaround. Both were close games and it was Scarlets errors, particularly in the game against Bath that were the difference between winning and losing, along with Bath adapting better to the awful conditions on the night. Despite this, Pivac firmly believes that the Champions Cup is still a realistic target for his squad, but would now require home and away wins against a rejuvenated Benetton and an away with against Bath before facing Toulon at home in the last game of the group stages.
“It was about lack of territory,” revealed Pivac. “We played too much of the game in our own half and then our lack of discipline at times gave needless penalties in kickable positions and Rhys Priestland did the rest – he had an impeccable day with the boot.”
With the Champions’ Cup on hold now until December, it’s back to Pro14 action for the Scarlets this week as they face the Cardiff Blues in a derby match on Saturday evening. Last season, the Scarlets did the double over the Capital City Region and will be targeting a repeat performance.
Just as the Scarlets have not had the best start in the Champions’ Cup, the Blues have seen a change in their fortune recording two wins in their Challenge Cup fixtures, including an away way against French Giants, Montpellier.
“I wouldn’t compare the two – the competitions are quite different in terms of the Champions’ Cup and Challenge Cup,” continued Pivac. “Some teams take the Challenge Cup seriously, some seem to look after the other competitions that they’re in and some of the French sides put out younger sides. I don’t think you can read too much into the results but we do know that regardless of where they are this season, it will be a tough game.”
“We have to make sure we progress as a group,” added Pivac. “We’ve got a big game against the Blues to look forward to, those are always tight affairs and usually physical encounters. We’ve reprogrammed ourselves if you like back into the Pro14 and we’ll hopefully see some reasonable weather and we can play some good footy on the weekend.”
Aaron Shingler, who deservedly has been called up to the Welsh squad agreed, adding “Obviously the last two games haven’t gone as well as we liked, we’ve had a little blip but we’ll get back on track.”
The Blues derby match obviously has an added incentive for Shingler as he gets the opportunity to play against his brother, former Scarlet, Steve Shingler. Last season’s derby in the Arms Park reached almost farcical levels when Aaron was yellow-carded in error rather than his brother. “It’s something to look back on and laugh about really,” joked Shingler. “I just remember we won the game!”
With the Welsh Squad announcement on Tuesday, the Scarlets faced losing a large contingent of players for the Autumn Internationals – 13 to Wales along with John Barclay to Scotland. As a Region it is obviously a positive thing that the players get rewarded for the form they have shown for the Scarlets, however it offers the Coaching unit a challenging time!
“We’re preparing to lose more than we did last year,” revealed Pivac, “We’re happy to lose as many as we can really but it does put a strain on the rest of the squad.”
Apart from an unlucky Scott Williams who was not named in the Welsh Squad, another player that was looking at being called up for his first cap, particularly after confirming his future lies with Munster next season, is the popular Tadhg Beirne.
Pivac confirmed that despite reports to the contrary, the club had not spoken to Cardiff Blues’ Seb Davies, but were well down the path of replacing Tadhg. He admitted that they had been unable to find a Second-Row player with Tadhg’s ability, but Beirne’s replacement would be ‘Champions’ Cup Level.’
Along with those who will be missing on International duty, there is some good news on the injury front for both Rob Evans and John Barclay with Pivac revealing that both had turned a corner. John Barclay is now back in training and it’s looking positive that he will return for the Benetton Treviso game and Rob Evans is ‘back to himself!’
Other positive injury news is that James Davies is on track to make his return out in South Africa, with the Cheetahs fixture on December 2nd, his target return date.
With such a short turnaround last week, Pivac added that several of the players were ‘beat up’ and that training had been tailored to take this into account.
A further positive for the Scarlets supporters this week was the confirmation that Wayne Pivac had put pen to paper to extend his contract for a further two years.
Pivac joined the Scarlets coaching team initially as an Assistant Coach to Simon Easterby in 2014, but was quickly elevated to Head Coach following Easterby’s departure to take up his role with the Irish Rugby Union.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m enjoying my time here,” commented Pivac. “We’ve done a lot of hard work to get the team to where we are and it’s a project that isn’t finished yet. We’re at stage one of a two stage process,” he continued. “We’re now competitive in the Pro14, we knew it would take three years plus to be knocking on the door to win the Championship. The next step is to be competitive in Europe on a regular basis.”
“I think the last two weeks have shown that when we get our top side out there we are very competitive,” he added. “We’ve had a few top-class players unavailable, I think we’re not far off.”
“I now want to help take the team to the next level by retaining the bulk of the current group of players we have and strengthening the squad where we need to and I want to see that process through,” he concluded.
Pivac has made three changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s game with Scott Williams returning at Centre to captain the side and Jonathan Davies moving to the bench. In the forwards, there are two changes in the Front Row with Ryan Elias and Werner Kruger replacing Ken Owens and Samson Lee.
15 – Leigh Halfpenny, 14 – Johnny McNicholl, 13 – Hadleigh Parkes, 12 – Scott Williams (Captain), 11 – Steff Evans, 10 – Rhys Patchell, 9 – Gareth Davies, 1 – Wyn Jones, 2 – Ryan Elias, 3 – Werner Kruger, 4 – Jake Ball, 5 – Lewis Rawlins, 6 – Aaron Shingler, 7 – Will Boyde, 8 – Tadhg Beirne.
Replacements – Ken Owens, Dylan Evans, Simon Gardiner, David Bullbring, Josh Macleod, Jonathan Evans, Paul Asquith, Jonathan Davies.
The game will take place in Parc y Scarlets on Saturday, 28th October 2017, kick-off is at 19.35pm.
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