RI­VALRY BACK ON

No. 9 bat­tle set to be re­newed as Davies and Webb face a Euro­pean show­down

Llanelli Star - - MID WEEK SPORT -

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

been tough.

“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.

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