Wednesday 11 December 2019

Improving Scarlets are relishing 'tough' Leinster test

Rory Pitman - seen here in action for Wasps - is likely to be the biggest threat to Leinster when they face Llanelli. Photo credit: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Rory Pitman - seen here in action for Wasps - is likely to be the biggest threat to Leinster when they face Llanelli. Photo credit: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It's been a summer of change in Llanelli with a new coaching staff and a new-look Scarlets team who are widely regarded as Wales' best hope for silverware this season.

Simon Easterby has ended his 11-year association with the region in favour of taking up the vacant position as Ireland's forwards coach. Easterby's successful two years as Scarlets' head coach has paved the way for former Fijian national coach Wayne Pivac to take over.

The New Zealander also spent three years at Auckland where he succeeded recently-departed Ulster coach, Mark Anscombe.

There have been further movements within the coaching set-up just this week as veteran prop Phil John was appointed scrum coach.

The vastly experienced 33-year-old will continue to play whilst working alongside Pivac and is expected to be included in the side to take on Leinster tomorrow.

As well as the reshuffling of the coaching staff, Scarlets are also boosted by the signing of Regan King, who returns from a four-year spell with Clermont Auvergne.

The loss of Josh Turnbull is a significant one but the Welsh international has been replaced by a future international lying in wait, Rory Pitman.

The bruising No 8 who at 6ft 5in weighs in at 120kg will be a huge threat to Leinster tomorrow and he was singled out by Devin Toner earlier this week as a player they must stop getting on the front foot.

"They've got a good couple ball-carriers. Obviously Pitman coming in is a class eight off the back. He's a pretty good ball-carrier. They've got really good depth to their squad now," Toner said.

Pitman picked up the man of the match award on his try-scoring debut in last weekend's dramatic draw against Ulster but Scarlets will be left wondering how they managed to allow the Irish province back into the game late on. Leinster have a point to prove after losing against Glasgow but Pivac is expecting a reaction from his side.

"Leinster are going to be very tough. It's a great way to start the season because they will expose any weaknesses in our game," he admitted.

For the second week running Scarlets face Irish opposition but Pivac isn't daunted by the prospect of travelling to the home of the Pro12 champions.

"To be successful down the track we have to make sure that we're on top of our game both in defence and in attack.

"Rather than have a slightly easier run-in and then get exposed later on, I think it's a good time to have these games," he added.

Pivac will have to plan without winger Michael Tagicakibau who is ruled out with a knee injury but the head coach hinted that he will rotate his squad in order to allow his players make their mark early.

"In certain positions we feel we have good depth and in those positions we want to give everyone an opportunity and we have spoken to players about that.

"There will be potentially some rotation in some positions, but having said that we don't want to make a lot of changes from last week.

"It is important we put ourselves under pressure against teams of the quality of Ulster and Leinster to see exactly where the holes are and where we need to be working on.

"Any champion side doesn't like losing and they will want to come out at home and put it right," Pivac maintained.

"It's about concentrating on what we are doing and getting that right - there is a lot of improvement in this side."

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