Scarlets unveil man to replace Wales-bound Pivac
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.