Tuesday 14 August 2018

Leinster are about as close to a perfect team as you can get, insists Scarlets skipper Owens

Owens: Hoping to make amends. Photo: Sportsfile
Owens: Hoping to make amends. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Ken Owens doesn't shirk the reality - his Scarlets side were out-fought, out-thought, and ultimately beaten out the gate on their last visit to the Aviva Stadium.

By the time the Welsh outfit return to the scene of their obliteration by Leinster, five weeks will have passed. There has been a lot of soul-searching in the time since.

There is no shame in being beaten in a Champions Cup semi-final by the eventual winners, in their own back yard, but barely firing a shot will have hurt a Scarlets team who believe they are good enough to mix it with the best.

They have earned the right to have that self-belief. The brand of rugby that the Scarlets played in their stunning Guinness PRO12 success last season was thrilling to watch, but they were humbled by Leinster in Europe.

"I think in big play-off games like that you've got to turn up physically and hold on to the ball," captain Owens said, reflecting on the 38-16 defeat last month.

"I think Leinster did that pretty well and attacked for nine minutes in our 22, and when you're playing a side like that who hold onto the ball for as long as they did and continued to get gain line in our 22 for nine minutes, it's no wonder they scored their five tries.

"That was a big learning for us, we turned too much ball over and obviously in rugby if you lose the battle of the gain line you're going to be in for a long day.

"So I think that was the biggest lesson for us.

"We spoke about last year, that if we were going to get to the final we'd have to win an away semi-final and we managed to do it.

"The boys are pretty confident in their abilities. Going to the Aviva again won't hold any fears.

"Winning against Munster (in last year's final), the boys enjoyed it who started that day, but we were disappointing the last time we went to the Aviva.

"That hasn't been entirely wiped from our memories, it is niggling there slightly, and we're looking to right the wrongs from that. But we're just happy to be involved at this stage of the season once again and going to Dublin, having everything to gain."

The Scarlets have bounced back well since being dumped out of Europe and the manner of their win in Glasgow in last week's semi-final win will have Leinster on red alert.

Of all the teams that the Blues could have faced in Saturday's decider, the electric Scarlets are the one team that will punish any potential fatigue, both mental and physical.

"I think you know you're not going to win every game cruising through," Owens maintained.

"I think they've got a way. They are about as close as you're going to get to a perfect side. They can win in different ways, poor weather out there in the (Champions Cup) final, a difficult team especially size-wise against Racing, but they showed their experience and ground out the win

"That's what you've got to do sometimes to win.

"I thought Munster were pretty good on the day as well but the experience of the Leinster boys, they know how to win rugby matches, that's why they are the best side in Europe at the moment."

For the Scarlets, Saturday is as much about proving a point to themselves as it is about winning back-to-back titles, which would reiterate the excellent job that Wayne Pivac is doing.

"I think we've learned from the Leinster defeat," Owens added.

"You can't always think that our handling game is going to get us through, we've go to adapt, and play a couple of different ways.

"We've managed to do that in our last two victories, and a couple of other games.

"You've got to adapt what you're doing as teams will come at you in different ways. It's something else in your armoury.

"We're always evolving as a side and we hope to show that this weekend. How they defend, it's game of chess out there. But it's another opportunity there to right some wrongs from the semi-final."

Irish Independent

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