Easterby backing Scarlets to come out fighting
SIMON Easterby was in combative mood at this week's press conference at Parc y Scarlets.
After all, the former Ireland international has never been one to wave the white flag.
A warrior on the pitch, Easterby is in the midst of the biggest battle yet in his embryonic coaching career.
His side have struggled badly in recent weeks — lacking in confidence, suffering at the set-piece and carrying a heavy injury toll.
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And with bruising defeats coming at the Liberty and Ravenhill, the natives down west have started to get restless.
A Heineken Cup trip to Dublin to face the defending champions would appear the last thing Easterby and the Scarlets require to ease the pain.
Leinster, winners of this tournament three times in the past four years, are desperate for a bonus-point win to maintain their hopes of sneaking through the pool stages as one of the best runners-up.
They have the talismanic Brian O'Driscoll and Lions colleague Rob Kearney back in the ranks and haven't lost a European fixture at the RDS since London Irish shocked the Showground four years ago.
In contrast, the Scarlets go into the Pool 5 tie winless in the competition this season and with little other than pride riding on their performance.
Little wonder, then, that one bookie is putting the Welsh side as far out as 22-1 to emerge victorious in the Irish capital.
However, for those in Dublin expecting an easy ride this weekend, Easterby's older brother Guy, the former Llanelli scrum-half who is now Leinster's team manager, was quick to deliver a few words of caution.
"I touched base with Simon on Saturday and he was genuinely p****d off. It will be quite a difficult time to play them, they will be hurting," he said.
As for Easterby junior, there was certainly no sense of "other priorities" during this week's build-up.
"We are entering two European games, one against the reigning champions and another against perceivably one of the top sides in Europe, and it is important, out of respect to the tournament, our supporters and to where we have been in this tournament as well, that we go out and look to gain some momentum back into our season and look to win these next two games," he said.
"That will never change in my eyes."
Easterby's frustration in the wake of the Pro12 ham- merings at the hands of the Ospreys and Ulster has been clear to everyone.
But the former flanker believes there was enough on show at Ravenhill to provide at least some encouragement going into matches against arguably the best two sides in the competition (Leinster and Clermont) over the next two weeks.
"I don't think the final scoreline (47-17) at Ulster reflected the game," he insisted. "I was pretty p****d off with how we conceded 21 points in the last seven minutes, that was unacceptable and that really flattered them and made the final result look very one-sided which at one point it wasn't.
"We were well in that game, especially at half-time.
"What is important is that every time we win we gain and learn things from those wins and we have to do the same with losses.
"We have to take things out of it and improve those things. That is my philosophy."
So what of Leinster, a side Easterby and the Scarlets have seen plenty of in recent times?
The 45-20 Pro12 demolition of the under-strength Dubliners in Llanelli in the opening game of the season must now seem like an eternity away for Scarlets fans with the round two Heineken Cup fixture at Parc y Scarlets, which Leinster won 20-13, providing a more balanced insight into the standings of the two sides.
Leinster haven't been at their best in the competition this term and their two defeats to Clermont in December have left head coach Joe Schmidt and his men in the unaccustomed position of scrapping for European survival.
"Moment of truth for the champions", read one website headline this week.
However, having played alongside a number of Leinster's star names during an illustrious playing career for Ireland, Easterby is well aware of the quality they possess.
Especially with a certain centre back at the heartbeat of the side.
"Brian is obviously huge for them, he leads by example and Leinster look and feed off him," he added. "But they have more than that in the team with players like Heaslip and O'Brien in the back row, while Jonny Sexton is running things for them very competently and is right on top of his game following a good autumn series."
So what do the Scarlets need to avoid another morale-sapping setback?
"We need a set-piece that is functional," added Easterby. "They came here in October and at the latter end of the game they won a couple of penalties which gave them six points and that was the difference.
"That parity up front is key and then when we have opportunities we have to be better at taking them.
"We haven't done that in the last six or seven games. We've had opportunities and our accuracy and execution hasn't been good enough.
"There's a bit of pressure on us to get that right."