Sport Rugby

Sunday 17 December 2017

Easterby keen to make his mark

David Kelly

David Kelly

SIMON EASTERBY began his life as a head coach at Parc y Scarlets by overseeing Scarlets' seven-try spanking of European champions Leinster last September.

His most recent match in charge ended with the boos from some sections of the same home crowd ringing in his ears as his team was humbled by Treviso last Friday. It was not enough to damage the Scarlets' tenuous play-off ambitions as Ospreys faltered in Dublin.

Nevertheless, this wildly erratic campaign highlighted the perilous nature of not only Easterby's difficult bedding-in process in west Wales but also the entire structure of Welsh regional rugby.

Pro12 semi-final opponents Ulster have financial security of the type Easterby can only dream about, buttressed by regular Ravenhill sell-outs and healthy sponsorship deals, all the while underpinned by IRFU assistance.

In contrast, Scarlets are paupers of the sport. In fact, they are fighting for their very survival.

After announcing yet another annual loss last week – this time of £1.3m – their auditors issued a damning indictment that highlighted "the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern."

Their debt is more than half their turnover and even those with only the merest grasp of economic realities can see that such a vista is unsustainable.

Without a clutch of loyal and patient benefactors, this famous club of Ray Gravell, Phil Bennett, JJ Williams et al could very well slip out of existence.

Hence the rather ugly removal of George North – initially the player knew nothing about a deal with Northampton to cash in on his £250,000 value – a move that Easterby had insisted threatened the entire regional game in Wales, and his future as one of its head coaches.

He has rowed back on that threat but it has not been enough to stem the outward tide. Tavis Knoyle has slipped off to Gloucester and many feel that Jon Davies will follow him through the exit door.

Given all of that, Easterby (left) can be pleased with his efforts.

"I'm very fortunate to have the job I have," he said when reflecting on his first season. I've learned some man-management things, things I wouldn't have to deal with as an assistant coach, dealing with player contracts and the comings and goings.

"There are some fairly difficult decisions that aren't nice, but if I want to put my stamp on things, they have to be made."

Irish Independent

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