Ex­ploit the weak link in Le­in­ster mid­field

The Rugby Paper - - Feature - SHANE WILLIAMS

IF it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s why the Scar­lets don’t need to change any­thing for their Cham­pi­ons Cup semi-fi­nal with Le­in­ster. It’s go­ing to be a fas­ci­nat­ing bat­tle at the Aviva Sta­dium and I can’t wait for kick-off be­cause, by the time it comes round, both teams will just be des­per­ate to get go­ing.

For me, the game is go­ing to be de­cided out wide.

Who­ever gets the ad­van­tage be­hind the scrum will come out on top be­cause I think the two packs are go­ing to be very equally matched.

So, how do the Scar­lets go about do­ing that? Of course there is more than one way to skin a cat and Stephen Jones will have had a busy few weeks de­cod­ing the Le­in­ster back line.

We all know how good a coach Wayne Pi­vac is and I’m sure he will have no­ticed – as I have – a cou­ple of ar­eas where Le­in­ster can be ex­ploited.

The first of those is in mid­field and I think that is an area the Scar­lets can at­tack their op­po­si­tion.

Isa Nacewa is a won­der­ful player – some­one I faced nu­mer­ous times dur­ing my ca­reer – but he’s 35 now and more used to play­ing full-back or wing than cen­tre.

Rob­bie Hen­shaw’s in­jury means Nacewa is likely to start in the blue 12 jer­sey and while he is a top-class op­er­a­tor, the Scar­lets must look to ex­ploit him in that po­si­tion.

In Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams the Scar­lets have two men in peak form. Their chal­lenge is to tie in Nacewa, tar­get him with some ini­tial car­ries, and then work off that plat­form.

If I was Wayne, I’d tell my backs to try and iso­late Nacewa in de­fence – ini­tially with some brute power – and then later in the game, by get­ting out­side him and do­ing him for pace.

Should the Scar­lets man­age that, then the Le­in­ster back three will be forced to cut in­side and the likes of St­ef­fan Evans and Leigh Half­penny will have plenty of joy and more space to work in.

I’m sure the Scar­lets will look at Nacewa as a man to tar­get, but it’s not quite as sim­ple as that alone.

There are other things to con­sider, specif­i­cally the Scar­lets kick­ing game and this is where the only back line se­lec­tion Wayne has to con­sider comes in.

Paul Asquith’s ham­string in­jury means there has to be a change to the semi-fi­nal team. Mov­ing Leigh from full-back to Asquith’s wing po­si­tion and shift­ing Rhys Patchell to full-back is one op­tion.

That would leave Dan Jones to start at fly-half, but I think it’s vi­tal Rhys stays in the 10 jer­sey to con­trol the game.

Dan is an ex­cel­lent prospect and we’ve seen in Europe al­ready this sea­son that he has all the po­ten­tial to be a top-class tal­ent.

But for a game as big as this one, I’d put Rhys up against Johnny Sex­ton be­cause he has that ounce more of big game ex­pe­ri­ence.

I’d have no trou­ble with the Scar­lets opt­ing for some­one like Ioan Ni­cholas on the wing in­stead of Asquith be­cause we’ve seen the young play­ers from Llanelli re­ally step up at times this seaon.

If Ni­cholas was to start he’d have his hands full with a dan­ger­ous Le­in­ster back three. Sex­ton is the con­duc­tor, the mas­ter tac­ti­cian, but Scar­lets need to limit the amount of ball that finds its way to the likes of James Lowe and Rob Kear­ney. If they don’t, they could end up in trou­ble.

To en­sure that doesn’t hap­pen, Scar­lets must de­fend, kick and tackle with pre­ci­sion and that’s why I’d keep Rhys and Leigh in their favoured po­si­tions.

Both are bril­liant at those as­pects of the game and in Leigh, Scar­lets have one of the best kick­ers and de­fen­sive full-backs in world rugby. That could prove key on Satur­day, and that’s with­out men­tion­ing his ac­cu­racy from the tee.

Scar­lets might not have the strength in depth Le­in­ster can boast, but I’m con­fi­dent they will go out and win.

It will be tight and it won’t be easy, but the un­der­dog tag will suit the Welsh re­gion and so long as they don’t go into their shell, they can come out on top.

“Scar­lets don’t have the strength in depth Le­in­ster can boast but I’m con­fi­dent they will win this week­end”

Vet­eran: Scar­lets must tar­get Isa Nacewa at cen­tre

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