DFP Header Area

Easterby relishing Scarlets’ bold new frontier

Guinness PRO12 Editor

24 Aug 2012

Watching last season’s RaboDirect PRO12 semi-finals through gritted teeth left a sour taste for Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby, but he is hell-bent on stamping another indelible mark on the club under his new guise.

Restructuring the Scarlets following summer departures of Nigel Davies and the club's all-time leading points scorer Stephen Jones may offer a challenge too exacting for some debutant head coaches, but Easterby is not predicting a winter of discontent.

His first season with the club as a player was also the last time Scarlets added some silverware to the trophy cabinet – albeit at Llanelli's Stradey Park – by winning the Celtic League in 2004.

Eight years have slowly passed and only a Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Leicester in 2007 and a change of scene in the club's move to the Parc y Scarlets 12 months later are the features of a rather sombre highlight reel.

There has been an unsettling feeling of déjà vu around the Llanelli-based club, who have finished fifth three times in the last five seasons, missing out on a semi-berth last season by just three points.

Yet Easterby, who had been part of Davies's backroom team as defence coach following his retirement in 2010, is now in a position to revive a decaying empire, and is demanding more consistency over the 22-game league campaign in an effort to avoid a repeat of last season’s heartbreak.

“We watched the semi-finals in particular this year through gritted teeth,” admitted the 37-year-old.

“We were desperately disappointed we didn’t make that but looking back on the season we probably didn’t deserve to.

“I think there are always games where you can say we could have done this or that, but ultimately we didn’t quite have that consistency throughout the whole season and that is the challenge.

“We’ve had some top-five finishes and had some good wins and runs along that period, and certainly our challenge is to try and build on the performances from last year and create a bit of consistency.

“It is played over long periods, there are breaks in it as well when you’ve got to pick it back up again and I think that is the challenge for this league.”

Easterby, Ireland's most capped flanker with 65 caps, captained the Scarlets for five consecutive seasons before a knee injury brought an end to his involvement on the pitch.

Davies was appointed new director of rugby at Gloucester following the resignation of former Scotland scrum-half Bryan Redpath.

Scarlets opted to promote from within as the reins were thrown into the hands of Easterby, who believes that despite – or more pertinently because of – of his lack of experience, he will have one distinct advantage over his more senior counterparts.

“It is early in my career, but there are reasonably young coaches coming through,” he said.

“I think it helps in one sense because you don’t have the experience of coaching for a long time, but you are recently out of the game as a player and you maybe have a bit more of a hold and understanding of what the players are doing at the moment.

“The game changes so quickly that players’ requirements, demands and needs change all the time.

“Having recently finished I think that may assist young coaches like myself to push on and drive some of the players who we are a bit closer to in age.

“It’s definitely a focus for us this year to be in that top four and hopefully get a home semi-final, but I wouldn’t say there was one team who are favourites for the title.

“This competition gets stronger and stronger and I don’t think you can discount anyone at the moment, because everyone seems to be strengthening their squads.

“I’d say this year maybe eight sides will be near that top four and I think that is great for the competition.”

Off the pitch Easterby has also focused his attentions. Danny Wilson has been hooked in from the Dragons as forwards coach while Mark Jones marshals the backs.

South African George Earle and Argentinian international Tomás Vallejo are two locks that have been signed as Easterby aims to complete this particular jigsaw puzzle.

“It’s been a busy place this summer, trying to organise things off the pitch – personnel, backroom as well as playing recruitment and we didn’t want to change too much,” he said.

“But obviously I wanted to stamp my mark on the team.

“We’ve had the opportunity, myself and Mark, to do a lot of coaching over the last couple of years and that puts us in a good position now to take on from Nigel.

“It wasn’t hard to say yes to this opportunity. An opportunity like this doesn’t come around very often, and when I was offered it, I didn’t need any second invitation.”