Disappointment of last year will spur us on, says Rob McCusker
SKIPPER Rob McCusker believes the Scarlets will be fuelled by last season's play-off disappointment as the countdown to the new RaboDirect Pro12 campaign continues.
The West Wales region reached the semi-finals of the cross-border competition for the first time in May, only to succumb to a dominant Ulster side at Ravenhill.
The Scarlets felt they didn't do themselves justice that night.
And McCusker insists the squad are determined to put that right this term.
"We were beaten at home by Treviso the week before which was a bit of a reality check for us, but Ulster was more disappointing. We felt we didn't give a decent account of ourselves. It could have been much different," he said.
"Our target for this season is to improve on last season. Hopefully we can take it up to the next level."
McCusker was in Belfast this week, along with the captains and coaches of the other clubs, for the official launch of the new 2013-14 Pro12 season.
It will be McCusker's second year at the helm, although he will share the leadership role with Wales and British Lions centre Jonathan Davies.
McCusker has admitted it was a bit of a baptism of fire last term, particularly as he was asked to slot into an unaccustomed role of No. 8 — a position he is likely to fill again this season with no recognised No. 8 currently in the Scarlets squad.
"I will be the first to admit I found it tough last year," said the international back-rower.
"But two heads are better than one. After every Welsh campaign Jon comes back with that much more experience, all the boys do.
"I said to the boys in our recent training camp in St Athan that I haven't got all the answers so it is great there is an extra pair of eyes." As for Davies, his appointment is further indication of his standing as one of the leading centres in world rugby — highlighted by his outstanding performances with the Lions in Australia this summer.
The departure of another Lions star George North to Northampton Saints means Davies will now be seen as the Scarlets' primary threat.
But head coach Simon Easterby doesn't believe the responsibility of captaincy will heap any further pressure on his broad shoulders.
"I think he had that pressure and expectation last season," said Easterby. "I don't think it adds any pressure on him.
"He puts pressure on himself to play to a certain standard.
"He has been picked in three Tests for the Lions this summer and managed to dislodge one of the greatest 13s the world has ever seen. He played the best rugby of his career out there.
"He has got a standard and he will want to come back and continue that form into the season and hopefully the extended break that he has had will help him feel fresh."
The Scarlets will continue their preparations for the Pro12 opener against defending champions Leinster when they take on Gloucester at Kingsholm tomorrow evening (7.30).
Some familiar faces will be waiting in the home camp — the Cherry and Whites' director of rugby Nigel Davies, the former Scarlets head coach, as well as England No. 8 Ben Morgan and scrum-half Tavis Knoyle, who have both left Llanelli for Gloucester in recent times.