Wayne Pivac and co face their biggest challenge to date due to number of players unavailable for selection because of International duty for both the Senior Welsh Squad and the Under 20’s, along with injury.
Currently on the injury list are Jake Ball, Jonathan Davies, Shaun Evans, Tom Grabham, Rhys Jones, Tom Phillip, Tom Price and Declan Smith, though the latter was targeted to return for the weekend.
The Scarlets have received a boost with the news that both James ‘Cubby Boi’ Davies and Ryan Elias have been released from the Welsh squad for this weekend’s fixture. The region has also re-called Corey Baldwin from the Wales Under 20’s squad as he is given the opportunity to experience his first taste of Pro14 rugby.
“We had big plans for him this season,” revealed Wayne Pivac about the young Centre. “He had a groin surgery right at the start of the season so he’s much better for that.”
Severely depleted numbers in training have resulted in new recruits being added to the ‘Tesco Team’, with the Coaching Team playing a more active role than usual! Doing ‘what was needed to get the job done’ saw Byron Hayward starting at 10 for the opposition, Stephen Jones in the Centre and Wayne Pivac and Ioan Cunningham lining up in the back row! Despite this, preparations for the tough away challenge against Benetton Rugby have gone well.
“It’s a challenging time for all clubs at this time of year,” confirmed Pivac. “Preparations have gone quite well I think so far this week! The boys are really looking forward after a couple of weeks off, we rested the team during the LV Cup so that we fight on two fronts, being Europe and obviously the Pro14.”
“We’re really, really thankful we’ve got so many players in the national side and we’re really proud of them and now the guys that remain with us have got an opportunity to carry on where we left off in the Pro14, and that’s certainly the aim of the team,” he added.
The players coming in have trained together all season alongside those missing, with Scrum Half Jonathan Evans, who is now fully fit following an ankle injury he picked up in South Africa revealing, “The intensity in training is one level when all the Internationals are here, but it hasn’t dropped off this week.”
“We’ve got experienced players in the back line, players like Steff Hughes and Dan Jones who’s been on fire lately, even though they are young,” he added. “And the pack we’ve got is a seasoned pack anyway so it’s quite exciting to see the players we’ve still got.”
This week’s opposition are far from strangers as this will be the fourth meeting between the two sides this season. “I can think of worse places to go!” joked Pivac. Despite, being victorious on all three of the previous encounters this season, the Scarlets are taking nothing for granted.
“You only have to look at 14 Benetton players against our 15 players out here in the European Challenge Cup,” continued Pivac. “If we’re not on our game then they’ll cause us all sorts of problems. They’ve got some big scalps in their backyard this season and last season. We know how big a challenge it is.”
“They’re getting better every year,” added Evans. “You can see the influence the National Coaches are having on the teams.”
It was the Scarlets’ success during the same period this time last year that was paramount in the eventual success of the team at the end of the season and the same is very much true this year with Pivac revealing, “It’s going to be the biggest test since we’ve been at the club because of the sheer number of players selected, so it’s a real test of resources but certainly we’ve been gearing up for that, adding to the squad each year and improving the depth.”
“This group now that are going into this phase of the competition understand how important they were to last year’s success by accumulating enough points in the Autumn and in the Six Nations to allow us to be in the play-offs,” he continued. “They know that they play a big role and they’re really looking forward to it and are again challenging themselves to get a number of points to keep us in the top 3, which is where we want to be at the end of the season.”
“We’re looking at this as a one-off game,” he added. “Then we get into the Irish fixtures. We’ll look then at both the Irish teams minus their internationals and get a gauge on of where they’re at we’ll make a call at the time. Certainly, Ulster don’t lose as many so they’re going to be strong.”
With regards to any contract talks, there is no further news on any announcement concerning George North, with Pivac stating, “I’ve not spoken to him since prior to the Six Nations and going on a bit of a break.”
“With the Six Nations now up and running, nothing will happen until after the Six Nations,” he added.
“As I said a few weeks back, I’ve had a meeting with George and his agent and it went very well. It was just a rugby conversation, those are important conversations, it’s important from George’s point of view, and our point of view, and any club that’s talking to him, that you find out the motivation from players wanting to come.”
“We talked about how we operate as a club and where we would see him if he were to come to the club, we’ve had that conversation,” he added. “Nothing more will happen until after the Six Nations. I can’t say any more than the fact we’ve had the conversation, we haven’t caught up since.”
Despite reports in the New Zealand Press that the impressive, Jordan Taufua is on his way to Parc y Scarlets next season, Pivac was quick to quash these rumours.
“Haven’t spoken to him” he confirmed! Adding a firm ‘no’ when asked if the Kiwi was on the radar for next season.
“We’ve recruited somebody and won’t be announcing that for some time yet,” he continued.
“There’s a couple of parties involved, he’s in a current contract and he wants to do the best he can in that contract and in some cases if you announce early it can go against their selection.”
“He’s not from Llanelli!” joked Pivac, adding “He’ll be a player that won’t be Welsh!” He did, however, confirm that the new Scarlet is not a ‘project player.’
There was a special mention for Rhys Patchell, who received plaudits for his performance in the Welsh Number 10 jersey last week. “I know Stephen gave Rhys a call just to say, ‘well done mate’… really pleased for him – we all are.”
“It was a big call for Rhys to leave the Blues, he’s been there all his career and we all know how hard it is to change for players. He’s come down because he loves playing in that position.”
“Yes, we all know he can play very well at 15,” he continued. “But he stuck at it, there’s been a lot of work gone in and it was great to see the Welsh coaches give him the vote of confidence and put him in there when the opportunity arose. I’m pleased they’ve rewarded him with another game.”
Can YOU Help?… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the West Wales Chronicle than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The West Wales Chronicle’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.
If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as £1, you can support the Chronicle – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.