The Scarlets travel to Firhill this evening knowing victory is vital not only for their Play-off hopes but also for their chances of European qualification.
The Llanelli-based region currently sit sixth in the standings, seven points of a top-four spot with just two games remaining. Defeat to league leaders Munster last time out has left their semi-final chances hanging by a thread, while the Dragons’ recent good form has left the Scarlets in danger of being beaten to the third and final Welsh Heineken Cup spot.
Successive victories away to Glasgow and at home to the Blues would be enough to ensure European Cup qualification next term and it could still just see them sneak back into the Play-Off picture.
But regardless of what’s at stake in Scotland this evening, the 2004 Magners League Champions are desperate for a win. Performances levels haven’t been the reason why the Scarlets have slipped down the standings in recent weeks – it’s losing too many tight tussles that have caused the problems.
We spoke to head coach Nigel Davies and flanker Rob McCusker to assess the mood in the camp ahead of the last two rounds of action.
Here’s what they had to say about Glasgow and beyond…
“Firhill is a tough place to play. Glasgow play their environment very well. It’s a small pitch and they know it well. But from our point of view, we were bitterly disappointed with the result against Munster and we’re very focussed on going up there and getting a result. It’s a big game for us.
“We’ve had a lot of heart to hearts this week in terms of how we can build on some of our performances and actually get some results, instead of finishing up on the wrong end of those scorelines.
“There’s been more than enough performance-wise in our game but we’re probably not consistent enough for the full 80 minutes. We’ve played a lot of good rugby and attractive rugby but we’ve got to couple that with an edge and a winning mentality. That’s probably the next step for this group of players and we’ve got to start doing that this Friday.
“We need to be a lot more clinical. If we’d have taken our chances against Munster on Saturday night, we’d have won the game comfortably. We’re just too inaccurate at the moment and that’s not allowing us to build our game and go through the phases.
“It’s a mental thing as well. It’s that belief that you can win. We were playing against a team on Saturday night that have got a long tradition now of winning tight matches. They believe they can come through and win those tight games. That’s what we’ve got to start to do. It’s got to be based on a bit more accuracy, maybe being a little more direct at times and being a bit smarter on occasions.
“We’re not going to change how we play. But what we’ve got to do is become much better at it and more accurate at what we do. We also need to get the balance a bit better in terms of when and where we can’t attack from.
“If you take the Munster game, we tried to play from poor field position, we turned the ball over with a back-door pass and that was the difference in the game at the end of the day. We just need that little bit more composure in those key moments. Another key moment was when we were a metre from their line and we didn’t convert that pressure into points. Again, that’s probably happened too many times this season.
“The Play-Offs are probably beyond us but what isn’t beyond us is putting performances in and getting results over the next two games. That’s what we’ve got to focus on and we’ll see what happens from there. It’s still pretty tight but, from our point of view now, it’s about qualifying for Europe and to make sure of that we’ve got to win our next two games.”
“We had a big, long debrief this week where we got a few opinions out in the open. We then put the loss to Munster to bed and didn’t take it with us on to the training pitch. The spirit’s been pretty high, the skills have been looking good in the sunshine and, hopefully, we can carry that forward to Friday.
“We’ve got no egos here. We’ve got a couple of senior players and then the rest of the squad are getting more experienced all the time. It’s good to get input from everyone. There’s lots of different perspectives and angles and lots of little tweaks we can put on things. So there’s been good input from the whole squad.
“Losing to Munster was disappointing. We had a lot of chances that didn’t come off. That’s probably been the story of our season. We’ve created things and sometimes we’ve scored the try of the season and sometimes we’ve looked like plonkers for trying a speculative back-door pass. If it comes off, we score some great tries but, unfortunately, things weren’t sticking on Saturday.
“I thought that we perhaps could have tightened it up and got around them another way but Munster are a resolute team no matter who they put out. Their defence was very strong and we just couldn’t get through.
“We don’t want to get to a point where people are afraid to pass the ball just in case something goes wrong. The coaches have said that they’ll back the decisions the players make 100 per cent. So if the boys feel an offload is on…then we all back each other. Hopefully, a few of them will start sticking and we’ll score some more tries. But we’re not going to go into our shells. We can’t afford to do that with the Dragons and the rest of the League chasing hard.
“I’m not sure of the mathematics as far as the Play-Offs are concerned but all we can do is try and get maximum points out of our last two fixtures. At this point, it would probably be a bit of good luck to make it, but I don’t think it’s anything less than we deserve. We spent a good part of the season up in the top four, if not the top two, so I don’t think it would be anything less than we deserve if we sneak in at the end.
“There’s definitely been lots of positives so far this year. If we’d have said at the start of the season that we’d be second in the League for long periods and winning Heineken games, I think we’d have probably been quite happy.
“But we’re all ambitious people and we’re disappointed that we’ve let it slip. We want to win all the time, so it’s been disappointing from that perspective. But if we step back and look at it as a whole, it has been quite a positive season. There’s definitely lots for us to build on for next year.”