Siobhan is 25 and has followed Scarlets (and Llanelli RFC before them) her whole life. She’s been writing a blog for a few months, called cornelsiobhan. Her greatest rugby moment was meeting Ray Gravell in 2003. The try she’s seen live was Rhys Priestland’s versus Perpignan in the Heineken Cup 2010.
The Llanelli based West Wales region had yet another year of highs and lows for the 2011/12 season. The one big glitch was yet again finishing 5th in the RaboDirect PRO12, agonisingly short of a Play-Off spot. And when you look back at some of the results, then the Scarlets look to have underachieved.
The summer has been an interesting time for the Scarlets, with the quiet murmur of new signings being overshadowed by the news of Nigel Davies’ departure. The man who had given 28 years to the side, as a player then as a coach, announced his shock departure to Gloucester. Enter Scarlets legend Simon Easterby to take the reins.
Easterby has already had two seasons of being the defense coach, he’s a past Scarlets captain and a hugely respected individual in the regions set up. But does he have what it takes to make the step up as head coach?
The departures of old heads such as Stephen Jones and Sean Lamont to new clubs and of Iestyn and Rhys Thomas to injury forced retirement could have a bigger impact than many suspect. The Scarlets, much vaunted for their belief in giving younger players a chance, may have inadvertently gone too far in the wrong direction. They are left in the backs with their oldest player being 27 years of age in Morgan Stoddart. They have lost 3 of their locks and only so far recruited two replacements. They are still to recruit a replacement prop – for either side of the scrum.
It is facts like that that can send a slight shiver of unease through even the most ardent of Scarlets fan, yet there are glimmers of hope. A second row pairing of Earle and Timani could be the boiler house workforce the Scarlets have been missing. Wise recruitment in the backs now ensures squad cover for when Gatland comes calling. The academy is set for another season of producing stars. The under 20’s front row of Evans, Myhill and Lee will be pushing for game time.
Flanker Dan Thomas, such a highlight of the Junior Rugby World Cup, will be eager to impress. Add to that the recruitment of a new forwards coach, Danny Wilson, who is fresh from taking the Wales U20’s side to their best ever Junior Rugby World Cup result then there is a lot for the Scarlets to be positive about.
In the first month of the new season, three of their matches will be against teams that did what they could not, and made it to the Play-Offs. Leinster, Glasgow and Ospreys. Add in an away trip to Connacht which the Scarlets can never seem to win and it’s one of the toughest beginnings to a season the Scarlets, or any side, could face. With international stars likely to miss the first couple of games, it is a chance for the fringe players to put a marker down for how much they want the shirt.
Reaching the RaboDirect PRO12 Play-Offs has to be their aim, and they are definitely a side that is capable. Whether or not they can learn from previous season’s mistakes? I for one think they will, but it’s going to be one hell of a season finding out.
Best addition to my side? George Earle, we’ve been desperate for a 2nd row like him.
Opening day prediction? Scarlets 17 – 14 Leinster. It will be yet another close one between these two.
Overall season prediction? Scarlets to finish 3rd or 4th, falling just short in the Play-Offs
Other predictions? Top Scarlets try scorer – Andy Fenby
Who is going to win the RaboDirect PRO12? The Ospreys.
Siobhan writes her own blog. cornelsiobhan.