RIVALRY BACK ON
No. 9 battle set to be renewed as Davies and Webb face a European showdown
THE Scarlets have been paired with some familiar foes as they prepare for a new adventure in the Challenge Cup.
The West Walians find themselves in Europe’s second-tier competition for the first time next season, having lost to the Ospreys in a dramatic play-off clash in May.
And they have been pooled with three-times Champions Cup winners Toulon for the third time in four years.
The Scarlets will also face fellow French outfit Bayonne and London Irish, who are back in the Gallagher Premiership after winning promotion last term.
Toulon became the first side in history to win the European Cup in three successive seasons as they reigned from 2013 to 2015.
They have fallen from their perch since then and the victory over Clermont four years ago, a game in which current Scarlets full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked 14 points, was their last appearance in a final.
And they have ended up in the Challenge Cup having finished a lowly ninth in last season’s Top 14.
The two sides being pitched together in the same pool throws up the prospect of Gareth Davies going head to head with Toulon’s Rhys Webb in a fascinating scrum-half Hadleigh Parkes dives over the line to score during the Scarlets’ 30-27 victory over Toulon in the 2018 Champions Cup. battle.
Davies is the current Wales scrumhalf and seems certain to wear the No. 9 shirt in the World Cup. Webb was previously Warren Gatland’s first choice but is ineligible for his country as he falls foul of the rule which states Welsh players operating outside of Wales must have 60 caps to play for the national side.
As such, the former Osprey is likely to want to prove a point when he comes up against his long-time rival.
Elsewhere, Cardiff Blues have been pitted against Leicester, Pau and Calvisano. The Dragons will line up against Castres, Worcester and Russian side Enisei-STM. FORMER Scarlets scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne has resurfaced in France as a medical joker, changing course at the last minute and joining Racing 92 rather than Toulouse.
The Scotland international left West Wales just over a week ago after mutually agreeing to part company with the Scarlets after one season.
He looked bound for Toulouse, only for a phone call from Racing attack coach Mike Prendergast to prompt a rethink and see Hidalgo-Clyne sign a short-term deal with Mike Phillips’ ex-club in Paris.
“I was looking to sign with Toulouse – we were in talks – and I was pretty much about to sign for them,” Hidalgo-Clyne told The Offside Line website.
“Then on Thursday night Racing came in and said they wanted to sign me for World Cup cover, which is what was on the table at Toulouse.
“The call was from Mike Prendergast, and he was really keen to work with me.
“He’s Irish, and as I can’t speak any French yet it will be really useful to have him there.
“My aim is to learn French as quickly and as well as I can, and I’m really keen that Hugo (his young son) has the opportunity to learn it, too, but right now it will be great to have Mike to talk to as he’s an English-speaker and an ex-scrum-half as well, so he’s got a very clear idea of what he wants from me.
“Toulouse is obviously an incredible club, but with a fourand-a-half-month contract, to settle in as quickly as possible where there are few Englishspeaking people would have
“So I decided that Paris might be the better option for me, not just for the next few months but also as a longer-term possibility.”
Hidalgo-Clyne felt he had run out of road at the Scarlets, with Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy and Jonathan Evans potentially in front of him, and Dane Blacker joining the squad.
It had reached the point where he had told Scotland coach Gregor Townsend he would have had to turn down a place in Scotland’s World Cup training squad, as training with the national team this summer would have hindered his chances of finding a new club.
Evidently, what the former rising star of Scottish rugby didn’t want to do was start next season as bench fodder in Llanelli.
“I said to Gregor, from my experiences from the 2015 World Cup, if I’d got picked as fourthchoice scrum-half I would have had to say no,” he told BBC Scotland.
“It would have meant I’d have been at Scarlets for another year, not knowing where I would have been in the pecking order, and I probably wouldn’t have made the final squad for the World Cup.
“As much as I would have loved to be in training (with Scotland), a World Cup cover contract where I can get some game time for a top-quality side would actually be more beneficial for my rugby than training, being fourthchoice and potentially being back in Wales.”
At Racing, the 12-cap HidalgoClyne will potentially provide cover for Maxime Machenaud, who is set to be at the World Cup with France.