Today’s Opposition View comes courtesy of Scarlets fan @ScarletsHQ who offers his thoughts on the reason behind the West Wales side’s recent run of bad form, the man named to replace Wayne Pivac next season, and the big derby game.
It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the Scarlets with plenty pointing to Wayne Pivac leaving at the end of the season as a reason behind that, how much effect do you think that has had?
It has undoubtedly had an effect, as much as many (myself included) thought it wouldn’t. For a combination of reasons, we have really struggled over the last few weeks, and even going back further in the season. A lack of impact from summer signings, injuries to key players, loss of form in key positions and maybe uncertainty about next season have led to a tough spell.
Away games vs the two Scottish teams, a double header vs a resurgent Ulster and Welsh derbies vs the Ospreys and with Cardiff to come have left us with just one win since the start of November. As much as every Scarlet fan has wished Wayne well and thanked him for what he’s done for us, there’s definitely rumblings about him having one eye on the Welsh job, and some, ahem, obscure selections recently haven’t helped.
Important players like Tadhg Beirne and John Barclay left last summer, while the likes of Aaron Shingler and James Davies have faced serious injuries. Is it fair to say the replacements haven’t filled the gaps left adequately?
I think its absolutely fair to say. Five big summer signings were made – Blade Thomson, Kieron Fonotia, Uzair Cassiem, Clayton Blommetjies and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, while Marc Jones, Kieran Hardy and Angus O’Brien also arrived.
Of these the only ones who can be viewed positively right now are Blade and Fonotia, one who came from great pedigree in New Zealand, and another who replaced Scott Williams, a drop in quality some will argue but also replacing a home grown boy with great memories in the Scarlet shirt. Injury and an enforced rest has also limited Blade’s time on the field.
Of the others there’s a mixed bunch. Hardy has flashed potential, but the others have barely made a splash, with Jones and SHC having established internationals in front of them and AO’B suffering a season ending injury.
Blommetjies seems to have had more appearances for Dafen Cricket Club than the firsts, and while he has undoubted talent, he is a liability defensively.
With Heineken Cup dreams now over for Scarlets, is winning the Pro14 the only way to make this season a success?
Not necessarily. I think European qualification is a must, and winning a playoff game is probably the minimum needed for the season to be termed a sucess. But this season was always going to be tough, losing key players like Tadhg Beirne, John Barclay and Scott Williams and not having Aaron Shingler, James Davies, Rob Evans, Samson Lee, Jake Ball and Rhys Patchell unavailable for weeks or months at a time due to injury have weakened a squad that simply doesn’t have the money to have great depth.
For me, this season could be seen as a success by giving Brad Mooar the best idea of what his wider squad is capable of, so that means playing talented youngsters like Tomi Lewis, Rhys Fawcett, Tom Phillips, Josh Helps and Daf Hughes. This will help Mooar hit the ground running next year, help the squad build depth and may change recruitment plans.
What do you make of the decision to bring Brad Mooar in as Pivac’s replacement?
I think it could be a very good decision. There are very few poor coaches in New Zealand, and even fewer who are young and involved with both the NZ Schools and Crusaders. Hopefully he can bring some good contacts and quality players with him.
However he’s not an experienced head coach and he walks into the Welsh goldfish bowl, with high expectations already set in stone and a squad that looks to be missing key pieces like ball carrying second rows and back rows, and a quality (or trusted) back up 10. I think a top quality, experienced forwards coach is an absolute must if he is to succeed.
Who has been the standout Scarlets player this season?
It’s been really hard to say with the team chopping and changing so much thanks to injury! Our best player has probably been Blade Thomson, who hasn’t even played for us since mid-October. When he was playing regularly at the start of the season he was superb and looked a fantastic replacement for Tadhg Beirne. He carries, tackles and jackles, and is every inch the kind of quality player we expected. His tackle on Alun Wyn in the closing minutes of the Ospreys home derby game will live long in the memory especially. Had we been able to field a back row of Shingler, Cubby and Blade all season I’d bet a few games would have ended with a different result.
Finally, what is your prediction for Saturday?
It’s tough to call. Our front row has the edge, while Cardiff’s second row and back row is heavier, more experienced and far more cohesive. We have a 12 at 10 and an out of form scrum half, while Cardiff can boast two of the wiliest operators in the league there. We have the edge in the back three, but if we turn up with the intention to kick the leather off the ball all game again there’s little point.
I see a scrappy affair, and very little in it on the board. 19-15 to the Scarlets.
Thanks again to Scarlets HQ for the input ahead of what is one of the weirder build-ups to this derby in recent years, with neither side coming into it with any form.