T he Scar­lets head coach who will take charge of Wales af ter RWC 2019

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW -

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

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