Scar­lets un­veil man to re­place Wales-bound Pi­vac

Llanelli Star - - Front Page - ROB LLOYD Rugby cor­re­spon­dent [email protected]­line.co.uk

IT’S been a cu­rate’s egg of a sea­son for Wayne Pi­vac’s Scar­lets so far, a mix of the sub­lime and the dis­tinctly or­di­nary. Eight days af­ter an im­pres­sive bonus-point win over Ul­ster, and with some of his star names re­stored to the side, the New Zealan­der was left scratch­ing his scalp at the West Walians’ lat­est un­der­whelm­ing dis­play on their trav­els.

The Scar­lets had headed north of the bor­der boast­ing six of Wales’s au­tumn Test squad in their start­ing line-up.

In con­trast, Glas­gow coach Dave Ren­nie opted to rest his Scot­land con­tin­gent, putting his faith in youth.

But de­spite the War­riors be­ing re­duced to 14 men af­ter just 18 min­utes fol­low­ing the dis­missal of prop Alex Al­lan for a high hit on Jake Ball, the Scar­lets left Scot­land empty-handed for the sec­ond time on the road this term.

In truth, a fi­nal 29-20 score­line flat­tered them. The Welsh side’s dis­ci­pline was ap­palling, they made a string of un­char­ac­ter­is­tic han­dling er­rors, while the scrum also suf­fered against a seven-man home pack.

The Scar­lets have en­joyed some mem­o­rable nights at Scotstoun in re­cent times. Satur­day wasn’t one of them.

PAY­ING THE PENALTY

Go­ing into round 10 of the Guin­ness PRO14, the Scar­lets boasted one of the best dis­ci­plinary records in the com­pe­ti­tion.

But they were whis­tled off the park by Ir­ish of­fi­cial Frank Mur­phy.

The fi­nal tally read 17 penal­ties con­ceded by the Scar­lets to six by Glas­gow, which al­lowed the War­riors to gain a ter­ri­to­rial foothold through­out, de­spite be­ing re­duced to 14 men af­ter just 18 min­utes.

The Scar­lets’ nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage was also di­luted by hav­ing two play­ers sin-binned, Lewis Rawl­ins as a re­sult of a cul­mi­na­tion of penal­ties at the end of the first half and then fel­low re­place­ment Tom Phillips for a high hit of his own on home lock Tim Swin­son in the sec­ond pe­riod.

More of­ten than not the penal­ties could have been avoided. A num­ber were for off­side in the de­fen­sive line and oth­ers were for hold­ing on at the break­down, where the Scar­lets again strug­gled.

Pi­vac would have been seething.

AWAY FORM IS A CON­CERN

A com­mon theme of the Scar­lets’ suc­cess of re­cent sea­sons has been their abil­ity to claim cru­cial points away from home.

But their form on the road in 201819 has been a hark back to the bad old days. Apart from a win in Port Eliz­a­beth against the South­ern Kings, when the Scar­lets needed a late resur­gence to steal the spoils, they have been woe­ful away from their Parc y Scar­lets fortress.

They lost their open­ing match against an av­er­age Ul­ster side, were well beaten by Con­nacht in Gal­way, left Ed­in­burgh empty-handed and didn’t de­serve any­thing from this trip to Glas­gow, de­spite the hosts be­ing without their in­ter­na­tional stars.

It has been a wor­ry­ing fea­ture of this PRO14 this sea­son that sides have tar­geted home matches, of­ten rest­ing key per­son­nel for away fix­tures.

But that hasn’t been the case for the Scar­lets.

Pi­vac has of­ten se­lected from strength and so far his play­ers have come up short.

THE WALES IN­TER­NA­TION­ALS DIDN’T SHOW UP

There was a stark con­trast in se­lec­tion pol­icy across the PRO14 this week­end.

De­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Le­in­ster wrapped up their first-choice play­ers in cot­ton wool yet still racked up 59 points against the Dragons in New­port; Ed­in­burgh coach Richard Cock­er­ill opted to send a sec­ond string to take on a fully-loaded Mun­ster, while the Ospreys went full tilt against Ital­ian strug­glers Ze­bre.

Pi­vac and fel­low Kiwi Dave Ren­nie took very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to ar­guably the game of the round.

The Scar­lets head coach re­called six of his Wales squad mem­bers to his start­ing XV, while Ren­nie opted to give his Scot­land stars an­other week off be­fore the re­sump­tion of Eu­ro­pean ac­tion.

Pi­vac would have hoped to see his in­ter­na­tion­als, buoyed by their au­tumn suc­cess, stride con­fi­dently into ac­tion. In­stead he got a groggy hang­over of a per­for­mance.

Rhys Patchell en­dured one of his poor­est 80 min­utes in a Scar­lets jersey; Rob Evans and Wyn Jones were part of a Scar­lets scrum in re­verse; Ryan Elias fell foul of Mr Mur­phy on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions be­fore be­ing re­placed on the hour mark; Jake Ball lasted barely a quar­ter of the match be­fore be­com­ing the vic­tim of a high chal­lenge, while St­eff Evans had lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties out wide, although the winger did look dan­ger­ous when he did have posses­sion.

Jonathan Davies, skip­per­ing the side in the ab­sence of the rested Ken Owens, was prob­a­bly the pick of the vis­i­tors’ line-up, scor­ing his side’s first try and mak­ing the key in­ter­cep­tion that led to Evans’s sec­ond-half score, but even the Lions star was prone to er­ror, no­tably for Glas­gow’s sec­ond try straight af­ter the restart.

In­te­grat­ing play­ers af­ter the au­tumn has long been a chal­lenge for every re­gional coach, but af­ter an im­pres­sive se­ries in Cardiff, Wales’s play­ers were sur­pris­ingly flat.

THE SCAR­LETS SCRUM CRUM­BLED

A penny for the thoughts of Pi­vac and his for­wards coach Ioan Cun­ning­ham as they watched the Scar­lets scrum marched back­wards by a seven-man Glas­gow ef­fort.

De­spite los­ing loose-head Al­lan in the 19th minute, forc­ing a reshuf­fle of the front row, Glas­gow dom­i­nated the scrum bat­tle.

That would have come as a big sur­prise to Pi­vac, who was able to wel­come back Rob Evans and Wyn Jones from in­ter­na­tional duty.

The Scar­lets scrum has been a re­li­able as­set in re­cent years, but Satur­day wasn’t the first time it has splut­tered this sea­son.

There were se­ri­ous is­sues against Eng­land stal­wart Dan Cole dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons Cup loss at Welford Road in Oc­to­ber, and Pi­vac will know it is an area that sides will look to tar­get as the cam­paign pro­gresses.

He does have the lux­ury of wel­com­ing back Sam­son Lee over the com­ing weeks, but the Scar­lets know that if they are go­ing to be con­tenders for sil­ver­ware this sea­son, set-piece im­prove­ment is a must.

THE SEA­SON IS REACH­ING A PIV­OTAL POINT

De­spite leav­ing Glas­gow emp­ty­handed, the Scar­lets re­main sec­ond in the Con­fer­ence B stand­ings.

But fans are still to see the best of the 2017 cham­pi­ons this term.

For every en­cour­ag­ing win there fol­lows a dis­ap­point­ing loss, and it means the Scar­lets have strug­gled to gain any sort of mo­men­tum.

They are al­ready tee­ter­ing over the Eu­ro­pean trap­door fol­low­ing de­feats to Rac­ing 92 and Leices­ter and know that any­thing but a win over Ul­ster on Fri­day night will spell a Cham­pi­ons Cup exit be­fore the Christ­mas cards are sent out.

“At the mo­ment we’re very dis­ap­pointed with our form on the road and very happy with our form at home. That has to change if we’re go­ing to have any chance of do­ing well in these com­pe­ti­tions,” said Pi­vac in the af­ter­math of Satur­day’s set­back.

“We’ve got six days to turn that per­for­mance around.”

Johnny McNi­choll is crash-tack­led by Glas­gow flanker Matt Smith.

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