Scar­lets aim to take the Os­car this time around

The Rugby Paper - - News | Commonwealth Games - PETER JACK­SON

Le­in­ster in Dublin is the big­gest home banker in the Cham­pi­ons Cup, the rugby equiv­a­lent to Bay­ern Mu­nich at the Al­lianz or Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Over the best part of the last 30 months, Ire­land’s rich­est prov­ince have knocked out ev­ery op­po­nent bar one since los­ing to Toulon three sea­sons ago. In that time they have beaten some of the best in Europe with one ex­cep­tion.

The Scar­lets will not worry un­duly about go­ing into the Lions’ den at the Aviva Sta­dium in next Satur­day’s Cham­pi­ons’ Cup semi-fi­nal be­cause they have been there be­fore and lived to tell the tale. They, alone, know what it takes to beat Le­in­ster in Dublin.

What’s more, they have done it in a semi-fi­nal – 25-17 at the RDS last May en route to win­ning the PRO12 ti­tle. Le­in­ster were in­ca­pable then of cop­ing with op­po­nents forced to play more than half the match with 14 men. Now they will pre­pare on the ba­sis that the same op­po­si­tion will not be push­ing their luck again by fall­ing foul of the ref­eree as St­eff Evans fell foul of Mar­ius Mitrea last year.

Europe, though, is some­thing else as the Scar­lets know to their cost. They have been to more semi-fi­nals than any other con­tender with­out win­ning one and this will be their fourth, no big deal when com­pared to the fate en­dured by a flanker who grew up sup­port­ing Aber­avon.

Hol­ly­wood nom­i­nated Richard Bur­ton for an Os­car seven times with­out ever get­ting round to giv­ing him one, just as he never got round to play­ing a first XV match for the Wiz­ards. Af­ter more than 20 years in of­ten for­lorn pur­suit of the ul­ti­mate prize, most Scar­lets’ fans will have a rough idea of how he must have felt.

Un­der the pre-re­gion­al­i­sa­tion ban­ner of Llanelli, they lost the first semi in 2000 by three points, to a late Northamp­ton penalty; the sec­ond to Le­ices­ter two years later by one point thanks to an­other late penalty and the third in 2007 by a wider mar­gin, again to the Tigers at the home of Le­ices­ter City. One Test Lion, Dafydd James, re­calls the first and the last, leav­ing the sec­ond to an­other Test Lion, Scott Quin­nell. In the year be­tween the first two, they achieved the rarest of dou­bles, each scor­ing tries at the Gabba in the Lions’ record open­ing Test rout of Aus­tralia, then World Cup hold­ers.

“We’ve come so close so of­ten that it’s fair to say a few hearts have been bro­ken as a re­sult,’’ says James. “If we hadn’t given that last-minute penalty to Northamp­ton, I think we could have won the tro­phy that year.

“The som­bre mood dur­ing the long jour­ney home made it seem even longer. Every­one was very up­set be­cause we all knew we had missed a big op­por­tu­nity. We missed an­other the last time we got that far, against the Tigers in Le­ices­ter, but there was no ques­tion they were the bet­ter side on the day.’’

Quin­nell con­fesses that the first de­feat by Le­ices­ter, at the City Ground in Not­ting­ham, caused him more heartache than the one by the Saints two years ear­lier. “Los­ing to Le­ices­ter hurt more be­cause I felt we were the bet­ter side,’’ he says. “We were ahead and then a penalty was given against us in a scrum.

“The ball seemed to take a cou­ple of rolls for­ward (from where the of­fence had taken place). And then we watched Tim Stimp­son’s kick go off the post, off the bar, off the post again and over.

“It was one of the hard­est things I have ever had to deal with on a rugby field. At least af­ter the Northamp­ton game, their cen­tre Al­lan Bate­man gave me a Welsh cwtch (hug) and it didn’t seem so bad af­ter all. But noth­ing could con­sole us af­ter that Le­ices­ter match.’’

This time even more for­mi­da­ble op­po­nents are stand­ing be­tween them and a first fi­nal, Le­in­ster, No. 1 seeds, triple for­mer Euro­pean cham­pi­ons.

When it comes to mo­ti­va­tion, no­body will gen­er­ate greater en­ergy than Tadhg Beirne, never con­sid­ered good enough to start a match for Le­in­ster and re­turn­ing home as a gi­ant of the Euro­pean game.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Heart­break: Scar­lets scrum-half Dwayne Peel is con­soled by Le­ices­ter full-back Ge­or­dan Mur­phy in 2007

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