T he Scarlets head coach who will take charge of Wales af ter RWC 2019
ACING 92 at home and Leicester away are tough assignments early on in Europe, but all pools are tough in the Champions Cup these days and we’d love to get off to a better start than last year, when we lost the first two games.
Racing are a quality side and made it to the final last year, running Leinster all the way across 80 minutes, but we’ve got a proud record at home. Leicester are going through a transition with the change of coach early on, so there’s a little bit of the unknown but we know the quality there. Ulster, our other pool opponents, we know a lot about as we play in the same league. We play them four times before Christmas.
We’ve had a bit of a battering at the start of the season, picking up injuries in pre-season and the early rounds. Then, because we made it through to the last game of last season, any surgeries that happened in the off-season are a month behind those people who weren’t involved in the play-offs.
Numbers-wise we’ve got about 50 players at training but a lot of those are academy players, so in terms of bodies who are ready to play in the Pro14 or Champions Cup, we have a smaller number than other sides.
Still, we’ve recruited smartly and we’d love to repeat what we did last season. Getting to the knockout stages of Europe is the immediate goal and getting out of the pool is not an easy task, but when we
Rhave the bulk of our squad on the park we can compete with anyone in Europe.
Leadership is the biggest thing we’ve lost in John Barclay and Tadhg Beirne, so that experience in the forwards has gone, but we have Jake Ball back and I think he’ll have a big season. Blade Thomson has also come in and is looking better with each minute he plays as he settles into patterns and combinations.
The passion for rugby here is huge. It’s not a massive place but there are a lot of small towns and villages around, and everybody follows rugby. The stadium came alive for the quarter-final against La Rochelle last season. It was fantastic for everyone concerned. The players enjoyed having extra seating at Parc y Scarlets for the first time to create the biggest crowd in the stadium’s history.
We had huge support across the community and there was a great buzz around the team. It was a memorable occasion and a special atmosphere – the singing was fantastic and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I’m getting a little better at the singing! We all sing SosbanFach in the changing room every time we win and the boys love it. I’m okay on the chorus now but usually lip-sync the rest!
It’s slowly sinking in that this is my last season at Scarlets and there are a lot of ‘lasts’ happening, but I can’t take my eye off the ball. I’m the leader of the group and need to be fully focused. I’ll be at some of Wales’ November Tests and doing a bit of homework behind the scenes, but I’ll work it around our games.
In terms of biggest achievements since I’ve been here, one is winning the Pro12, as it was then, in 2016-17. It wasn’t just winning it but the way we did it, with 14 men for half a game at Leinster to become the first team to win away in the semi-finals and the way we played in the final against Munster to win 46-22. Then the home game against La Rochelle that put us through to the semi-finals in Europe – it’s something I’ll never forget.
The biggest challenge has been the internal changes that had to be made. The club had been satisfied with coming fifth or sixth and making Europe, so a change in culture was required. This is a proud club with a lot of tradition, but the attitude of some people – in the playing and management group – was slightly selfish, people protecting themselves.
That meant moving people on and getting the right people in. Getting good people in key positions is so important – and we’re now reaping the rewards.
Flag bearers Scarlets fans at the La Rochelle match