With the Guinness Pro14 back in our lives it is also time for the return of the Opposition View! This week Scarlets fan Steve Hiscocks (@onthewindybeach) has a look at the home side ahead of our game at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
It was a return to form for Scarlets in 2019/20 after a tough 2018/19, sitting third in the Guinness Pro14’s Conference B and qualifying for the Heineken Champions Cup, how would you assess the season before lockdown?
It has been a real mixed bag for us in truth, with some notable highs, matched only by some awful lows. Sadly, both on and off the field.
The 44-0 victory over the Ospreys is notable of course, despite them being some way from past glories, and the back-to-back wins over Bayonne and London Irish demonstrate a continued progress in Europe. However, unfortunately those performances don’t detract from our absolute collapse away to Edinburgh, and the ease which they then beat us in an awful game at Parc y Scarlets when we showed so little craft or imagination.
When you then recall the consecutive weeks in November at home, when we only beat the Cheetahs and Benetton by four and three points respectively, it says much about how hot and cold we have been. Then to get nothing from either Toulon game, save for a losing bonus point, was disappointing.
In terms of performances, I think the most striking thing for me this season has been our absolute lack of cutting edge, mainly in the Pro14. It is a facet of our play that has been a real concern. As they say, the tables do not lie and we deserve to be where we are in both competitions.
Off the field of course, whilst we were saddened by the loss of Brad Mooar to the All Blacks, we welcomed on board the legend that is Sean Fitzpatrick, together with our new CEO Simon Muderack. Both these appointments say much about the intentions and aspirations of our Board, and their enthusiasm to continue to embrace and celebrate our long club history.
Sadly however, during lockdown the loss of Tommo was a hammer blow felt by all associated with the Scarlets, and indeed by the wider community. He will be irreplaceable as the ‘Voice of the Scarlets’ at Y Parc.
With Scarlets facing a long shot to qualify for the semi-finals of the Pro14, would you like to see these two games used to give some of the wider squad game time, or is it all about getting ready for Toulon in the Challenge Cup quarter-final?
I would be shocked if we were giving any regard to the Pro14 to be honest, particularly with no jeopardy given that the European places are decided. It has been some five months since the last game, and we simply need to get some of these bois on the park before we play Toulon in my opinion.
I expect to see two completely different starting packs given our current depth up front, so I’m not sure it is necessarily a chance for the wider squad. Indeed, in terms of targeting silverware, three games to win the Challenge Cup is a far easier proposition than winning the Pro14. If we are all honest, Leinster have been unplayable at times over the last few seasons. It comes to something when Toulon away is your preferred proposition.
Glenn Delaney has taken over from Brad Mooar during the season suspension, how pleased are you with that appointment?
He was someone who stayed under the radar last season, but from those in-the-know he is apparently well liked and respected by the squad. His appointment was no real surprise. Certainly, if he plays with the style of Brad, and has a similar relationship with the supporters he will do well. In addition, bringing someone of Ben Franks calibre into our coaching group is a bonus that perhaps none of us saw coming.
There’s been a fair few comings and goings in the Scarlets squad over the summer, what do you make of the recruitment and retention work done?
As I mention above, our cutting edge and flair had deserted us at times earlier in the season. I therefore think the recruitment of the two centres, in particular, is to remedy that problem. Certainly, we look considerably stronger there now than last season, particularly with the return of Foxy after a season out. Then throw into the mix the little magician Sam Costelow, who so many people had picked out at an early age as one to watch, and I’m hoping we return to our free flowing ways over the next 10 months.
In terms of Sione Kalamafoni coming in at number eight, I think we have to go back to the days of Ben Morgan and David Lyons since we last genuinely had a ‘lumper’ anchoring our scrum. Given that Uzair Cassiem was outstanding last season, we now have some real depth across the back row, and I’m expecting to see a 6-2 bench split out in Toulon, with Cubby covering the back three.
And of course we have Sanjay again. If we ever do see our first choice 23 we will take some stopping, but in the meantime our window 23 isn’t too shabby. We now genuinely have an embarrassment of riches at lock and back row, and the recent announcement of 17 contract renewals at a time when the WRU are throwing both players and certain clubs to the wolves, says much about our off field planning.
Who do you think is the Scarlets player to look out for this season?
The player I was hugely impressed with last season was Gus O’Brien. I wouldn’t be alone I suspect in admitting to a raised eyebrow when he was announced as joining us. However, he looks a real heads up player at full-back, and his few cameos at 10 showed how dangerous he could be close to the line, with a mix of fast feet and a great turn of pace. That said, given our recruitment and the return of Patch at 10, coupled with Liam and Leigh away with Wales, I suspect he will be our first choice 15 for most of the season.
Finally, prediction for Saturday?
Genuinely no idea, and to be honest, I’m so excited by the prospect of live rugby the result isn’t high on my agenda at the moment. That isn’t something I ever thought I’d say before April. Much will of course depend on the two teams selected, and the most obvious statement would perhaps be about the battle of the back rows.
It could be quite something given the abundance of talent in both squads, and the somewhat laissez-faire attitude of the referee to the breakdown. That said, I see this having a pre-season feel about it, in that it will be disjointed, with lots of errors. So maybe, irrespective of selections, whoever controls the set piece and limits their errors will come out on top.
In any event, I hope the supporters of both teams have a memorable day, remember to raise a glass to Tommo, and celebrate the fact we once again have actual rugby to discuss. So here’s to a Scarlet double, in the strangest of seasons.
Yma O Hyd!
Thanks to Steve for taking the time to offer his thoughts on the Scarlets and Saturday’s game. Here’s to a great game and the memory of Tommo!