Ospreys set pace while Scarlets must put false start behind them
IT may be therapeutic for Scarlets coach Simon Easterby to recall that Leinster went on to lift the Pro12 title after shipping 40-plus points in Llanelli last season.
That's the good news for the former Ireland flanker after his team's morale-sapping 42-19 home defeat at the hands of the Dubliners last Friday.
The bad news is that in the previous nine years of the competition no side managed to win the Pro12 after losing their opening fixture.
Of course, an early setback isn't the end of the world.
In football, there was talk of a crisis at Arsenal after Arsene Wenger's team lost to Aston Villa on the opening weekend of the Premier League season.
Barely a fortnight later there was a banner declaring "In Wenger we trust" at the Emirates after the win over Spurs.
Such is the fickle nature of sport and some supporters.
But, undoubtedly, a side doesn't want to linger on the blocks for too long at the start of a season.
As the Ospreys found to their cost in 2012-13, points lost in the early weeks of a campaign can prove the difference between qualifying for the play-offs and missing out. As in football, a rugby season is all about small accumulated details, whose sum over a nine-month campaign can determine whether a team are successful or not.
For Easterby's peace of mind, the Scarlets need to get a result against Treviso in Llanelli on Saturday night, with away games against the Dragons and Edinburgh to follow and a home date with Glasgow to come after those.
On form, the West Walians side are capable of winning all those matches, but if they are a degree or two under they could equally go on an extended losing streak.
So much depends on confidence, and that is why the Treviso match is important. Beat the Italians and the Scarlets will go to the Dragons with momentum. Lose and an away meeting with Lyn Jones's side will suddenly appear daunting, an accident waiting to happen.
Certainly, tackling bags are likely to be in evidence in training out west this week, for the defence was woeful at times against Leinster.
Liam Williams is one who deserves to be exempted from any criticism.
He may not be the biggest player around but he is blessed with a warrior spirit and relishes physical challenges. A side with 15 Liam Williamses would undoubtedly have shortcomings up front, but they would tackle themselves to a standstill and give every attack plenty to think of.
Unfortunately, too many of Williams's team-mates were not blessed with the same mentality the other night.
The contrast with the Ospreys 24 hours later was stark.
Steve Tandy's side might have struggled for possession and territory, and might have given away too many penalties, but they kept their discipline in defence and were able to withstand a ferocious onslaught from Treviso in the final stages.
Tandy will know the Ospreys' daren't give away 19 penalties this weekend. And if they allow Leinster as much ball as Treviso enjoyed, the chances are they will be punished.
But winning at Stadio Monigo without their five Lions in the starting line-up augurs well.
They may look a couple of big ball carriers light in certain areas, but in the likes of James King, Tom Smith, Sam Lewis, Andrew Bishop and Duncan Jones they had defenders of huge commitment. Had that lot teamed up with Davy Crockett and Co at The Alamo, it might have been a serious game-changer.
The Ospreys will also be pleased with the way their half-backs performed, with Tito Tebaldi impressing on his debut and Dan Biggar displaying maturity and composure.
Over in Newport, there was a bright start for Lyn Jones, with Ulster never an easy proposition, and the Gwent outfit have Toby Faletau to further bolster their ranks. A Dragons' resurgence could cause anxiety for Phil Davies at the Blues.
Once, Cardiff RFC styled themselves as The Greatest. But their incarnation as the Blues had a catastrophic campaign last term, finishing ninth in the league and doing nothing in the Heineken Cup.
Their defeat at Glasgow last Friday was not unexpected, but they look to have a gem in the system in young openside Ellis Jenkins, who starred in Cardiff's British & Irish Cup qualifier against Pontypridd. "He is the total package — the vision of a fly-half, the skills of a three-quarter and the guts and physicality of a flanker," said Cardiff coach Martyn Fowler.
But will he get games with Sam Warburton and Josh Navidi ahead of him at the Arms Park?
Whatever, the Blues should be worried about the Dragons finding themselves under Lyn Jones — and so should the Scarlets.
Never mind the battle to finish in the top four.
For three of the Welsh sides, the season could be all about avoiding the ignominy of finishing the lowest-placed region.