TOUGH ACTS TO FOLLOW — BUT REGION HAVE HIGH HOPES FOR NEW BOY LOUSI
NEW Scarlets signing Sam Lousi made his debut for Tonga at the weekend in the 25-17 defeat by Samoa in the Pacific Nations Cup.
Lousi featured in the second row for the first-round match at Apia Park.
He missed the majority of last season with Super Rugby side the Hurricanes because of a pectoral muscle injury but recovered to make his international bow for the Pacific Islanders.
The Scarlets have high hopes for Lousi this season. The region had big problems in the back five of their pack last term, partly through injuries, and while David Bulbring’s departure isn’t guaranteed to improve matters at lock, the Scarlets have brought in a player they rate considerably.
At 6ft 6in and 19st he is built for battle and the Hurricanes were disappointed to lose him as much as the Scarlets were happy to gain him.
“He is a strong, aggressive ball-carrier and also possesses the handling skills that fits in with our style of rugby,” Scarlets general manager of rugby Jon Daniels said.
It is obviously early days, but Lousi has the pedigree to turn into one of the Scarlets’ very best overseas signings. Here are some of the finest of those to have figured for the West Wales region.
Pretty much a success with whatever team he played for.
Regarded as something of a legend with the Waratahs, for whom he made 83 consecutive appearances after his debut in 2000, the Australian No. 8 played 44 times for his country.
He played in the extra-time defeat by England in the 2003 World Cup final, but was ruled out of the tournament four years later through injury.
He arrived in Wales a year later and soon established himself as Mr Consistency, serving as the driving force of the Scarlets pack.
Lyons started all 30 of the Scarlets’ league and cup matches in his first season and was appointed vice-captain for the following campaign. But he led the side for most of that season as skipper Mark Jones was injured and was then appointed captain for the following term.
He left the region in the summer of 2011 to join Stade Francais. He played 77 times for the Scarlets and is rightly regarded as one of the best No. 8s of the Welsh regional era.
A favourite firstly with Llanelli, and then with the Scarlets.
The Tongan centre started out in rugby league and had the physical presence you would expect of someone from that environment, with his South Seas-style hits and direct running.
Was a key member of the Scarlets side who won the Celtic title in the first year of regional rugby, he and Mark Taylor proving a potent combination in midfield as the championship made its way to Stradey Park.
In all he made more than 200 appearances in a Scarlets shirt before moving to Bath in 2005. A Scarlets back division with Finau at its heart was a formidable one.
Given he was born and raised in Yorkshire, it may seem a little odd to include the flanker in this list.
But as an Irish international he
does technically qualify and there can be no doubting his huge contribution to the Scarlets cause.
Easterby first pitched up in Llanelli in 1999 after moving from Leeds Carnegie. He stayed through the transition to regional rugby and helped guide the side to Celtic League glory in 2004.
He was also a member of the side who reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals in 2007, stunning Toulouse away in the pool stages and disposing of Munster in the quarter-finals before being beaten by Leicester in the last four.
He retired due to a knee injury in 2010, then worked as the Scarlets’ defence coach under Nigel Davies before taking the head coach role two years later. His 15-year stay in Llanelli came to an end in 2014 when he was appointed as Ireland’s forwards coach.
If only he hadn’t won that solitary cap for New Zealand — against Wales of all countries — back in 2002.
A world-class centre capable of unpicking any defence with his vision and silky running.
Throw in his wonderful passing — he was capable of making space for any team-mate with his wonderful offloading out of either hand — and you have a truly gifted individual.
His first spell with the Scarlets spanned six years and he bagged 33 tries in 126 appearances.
It says everything about the strength of New Zealand rugby at that time that King couldn’t force his way into the All Blacks team on a regular basis.
If there is a more dangerous counterattacker currently operating in the PRO14 then he really out to make himself known.
The New Zealand wing made his name with Super Rugby side the Crusaders but opted for a switch to Wales in 2016. Since then he has been a revelation.
He fitted perfectly into the hightempo offloading game Wayne Pivac was looking to introduce and his ability to attack from deep, beat defenders and make ground was key to the Scarlets’ march to the title in 2017.
Despite the Scarlets’ riches out wide, McNicholl is almost impossible to leave out of the side. But in a boost to the coaching staff, he is equally at home at full-back.
If this list was compiled in a few months’ time, McNicholl’s name would not be on it as he will be eligible for Wales having signed a new deal with the Scarlets.
He will be capped sooner rather than later.
Sam Lousi competes for a high ball with Tommy Seymour when Wellington Hurricanes faced the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
Johnny McNicholl scores in the Scarlets’ defeat by Leinster in the 2017-18 Guinness PRO14 final.
Regan King in action for the Scarlets against Ulster.