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Top table duel will bring out best in Scarlets

Guinness PRO12 Editor

28 Nov 2012


It’s a big Scarlets rugby weekend ahead with international Scarlets making their mark on Saturday against Australia followed by the thrills of league leaders Ulster taking on second place Scarlets on Sunday afternoon (Parc y Scarlets, KO 4pm).

The Parc y Scarlets faithful will look forward to welcoming their victorious team back onto home soil after a significant win out in Cork last weekend – breaking the region’s 15-game run of losses against rugby heavyweights Munster.

Scarlets Head Coach Simon Easterby said his team’s commitment was “outstanding” – given the conditions and Munster’s track record on their home soil.

And while the elements dictated much of the game plan, the Scarlets got the better of the home side with solid execution, a strong set-piece and brave defense – playing the game in the right areas to keep the pressure up on the hosts.

Seen as a positive marker for the Scarlets ability to adapt their game, West Wales rugby now turns its attention to breaking another big record – this time to end a 11-game unbeaten run by league leaders Ulster.

The Irish province have an impressive 100% winning record this season and it will take a Scarlets side at its very best to stake another major landmark this weekend and overturn an upbeat and confident Ulster team.

Head Coach Simon Easterby said that despite the number of Scarlets on international duty with Wales this weekend, the remainder of the squad at Parc y Scarlets have upheld the standards set in the early season and shown plenty of edge and mental toughness.

Seen as the pick of the RaboDirect PRO12 games this weekend, the table-topping contest could see the Scarlets close the gap on Ulster for first spot with only six points currently dividing the two teams.

Easterby said: “That was a decent win for us out in Cork, we know our record against the Irish provinces hasn’t always been great so to turn that around on Sunday in really tough weather conditions shows how we’re progressing as a team.

“We showed that we are capable of playing a smart and tight game and the good work that Danny Wilson has been doing with the forwards, particularly in our set-piece game, shone through at the weekend.

“We know it wasn’t a showcase flowing Scarlets performance, but in that weather you have to be able to shift your game and the boys put in huge commitment to keep the pressure on them which forced Munster to make some uncharacteristic errors.

“The commitment the players showed was exceptional and at one point we defended through 15 phases by Munster to stop them on their try line at the end of the first half; we didn’t buckle and mentally not conceding to them at that crucial time gave us an edge.

"That was big win for us not just in terms of our ambitions in the league but for putting down a marker as a team that we are able to grind out important wins.

“The work ethic shown by our players during the international window has been impressive, they have got their heads down, been competitive and worked hard in preparation. There is going to be plenty of competition for places when our international players fully return.”

The Scarlets Head Coach said that while the public spotlight may be on the international fixtures this weekend, behind the scenes Parc y Scarlets was building towards one of the biggest contests of their season to date.

“Sometimes it helps to have as big a game as this going underneath the radar a little. We’re perfectly happy to be quietly getting on with our preparations. We’ve got a lot of respect for Ulster who have been so consistent in their form this season and both sides know the significance of gaining points in this fixture in terms of play-off places later on.

“It’s one of those contests that will bring out the best in the sides – we know we’ll have to bring our best game and ensure we’re clinical in all aspects of our game plan on Sunday.

“We hope a decent and vocal home crowd will back us live on Sunday afternoon – it’s not the usual Scarlets fixture in terms of timing, but it will be a big game of rugby for everyone and the volume of Parc y Scarlets support is important in helping lift the players.

“Ulster be a challenge for us but it’s one every single one of our players is ready for and after holding strong and turning over Munster on their home soil – we know we are capable of reversing previous records again this evening.”

Simon Easterby added that a successful team needed to show depth and resilience during the international periods.

He said: “What’s encouraging is that we didn’t drop off our standards and built on our performance against the Blues the previous week. It’s been a positive few weeks for us as the boys have kept the home fires burning well. To build that depth, show faith and see your wider squad players take their opportunities is key to a successful side.

“To have a game of this magnitude and intensity a week before we return back to Europe can only be a good thing in terms of building up to Exeter at home the following week.”

The Scarlets are boosted by the return to full training of young forwards Props Rhodri Jones and Rob Evans this week; both will have a graduated return into Scarlets senior team action.

Kieran Murphy (hip) Johnathan Edwards (hand) and Kristain Phillips (groin) will have late fitness tests at the end of the week.