Rees: Fired-up crowd can give us an edge
THERE is hardly a sound at Parc y Scarlets when Matthew Rees reclines in his chair and contemplates the Scarlets' match against Leinster tomorrow.
A far cry from the claustrophobic Stade Marcel Michelin, where the Scarlets were beaten by Clermont last weekend to the riotous sound of drums, clappers and roaring fans.
Rees described that defeat in such boisterous climes as an "eye opener" for his younger team-mates, and he hopes the Scarlets' fans can create a similar cauldron of intimidation for the visit of the European champions.
"For us, playing back here at Parc y Scarlets, we know the atmosphere's going to be great," he says.
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"The thing about the Heineken Cup is that it's the biggest competition, just a step below international rugby.
"We know how important this game is in terms of our ambitions of going forward in the competition."
Having lost 49-16 in France last Saturday, the Scarlets will host Leinster knowing they can ill afford to lose the second of their opening two Heineken Cup fixtures.
Having won the tournament three times in the last four seasons, it is no surprise to see various bookmakers tipping the Irish province as favourites again this term.
They may have had to grind their way to victory last weekend – eventually seeing off Exeter 9-6 at home – but there is no doubting the gargantuan threat they pose to the Scarlets' hopes of staying in the Heineken Cup.
Rees has helped the Scarlets slay European giants in the past, as he was a part of the side which claimed a famous 41-34 triumph in Toulouse six years ago.
The Wales hooker also knows how precarious a situation the Scarlets currently find themselves, and he has warned his side a win is simply imperative tomorrow.
"It's important we get this result tomorrow if we have any ambitions of going forward in this competition," he says.
"If you lose a home game in this competition, that's pretty much it.
"We know how big this game is. It's a must-win game.
"It's important we start the game well tomorrow and cut out the individual errors which cost us in Clermont."
Although the Scarlets devoured Leinster 45-20 in a seven-try romp on the opening weekend of the RaboDirect Pro12, the Irish side will be a different proposition tomorrow.
Without a host of their internationals, the European champions were bereft of their characteristic quality and poise on their last visit to West Wales.
They will return to Parc y Scarlets tomorrow transformed in terms of personnel, and the changes should prompt a significant improvement in performance.
Rees came on for the final half an hour of the league win against Leinster and, after the disappointment of an opening defeat to Clermont, the 31-year-old is glad to have a match of this magnitude to try reviving the Scarlets' European campaign.
"One thing about the Heineken Cup is that it's easy to get up for any game because of the value of the competition and how big it is," he adds.
"There's no easy game in the Heineken Cup and Leinster have a lot of players with experience of playing in the Heineken Cup and international rugby. That's true in both squads.
"We were very disappointed with last weekend's result, but it will be easy to get up for tomorrow's game."
As well as a battalion of big names, Leinster will also bring with them to Llanelli a range of tricks and know-how which only seasoned champions possess.
The three-time Heineken Cup champions will be a nuisance at the breakdown and a handful at set-pieces but Rees, himself a weathered campaigner, will know what to expect.
"Our line-out has been functioning really well this season so we're confident going into this game," Rees says. "It's something which we do a lot of analysis on, making sure come tomorrow's game we have our calls in place. They've got Leo Cullen who'll try and spoil our ball but we're confident in our line-out."
Even if the Scarlets can navigate Leinster's assault course at line-outs, they will face further pressure at another set-piece.
The West Walians' scrum has been a weakness in recent seasons, with more muscular and rugged sides exposing their deficiencies up front as Brive did during last term's Amlin Cup.
They seem to have toughened up for this campaign, and Rees is hopeful a steadier Scarlets pack can pave the way for their backs to flourish.
"Leinster will probably be looking to target our scrum as much as we'll be targeting theirs," he says.
"For us, it's about getting our own house in order and making sure our set-piece is spot-on because our backline is formidable.
"If we can supply them with ball, they'll do some dangerous stuff."
One of the most promising aspects of the Scarlets' scrum is the emergence of Wales Under-20s tight-head prop Samson Lee (below). The 19-year-old was named man of the match on his full Pro12 debut against the Dragons and made his first Heineken Cup appearance at Clermont.
As one of the wiser sages in the pack, Rees is happy to share his knowledge with the teenage front-rower and hopes his talent will be nurtured carefully.
"Samson's got a lot of potential," he says. "He's still very young and the only way he'll get better is by playing.
"The biggest thing for him is playing at places like Clermont and he's willing to learn. After scrums he's always asking if there's anything he should be doing better or not doing, and that's what you want.
"He's only played a handful of games at regional level so it's important we look after him because we don't want to hang him out to dry and put him straight into the international game.
"He's definitely a massive prospect for the future and he's hard-nosed as well.
"If you can get a tight-head like that, they're hard to come by.
"It's a positive for the Scarlets and Wales we've found a serious prospect for the future."
Lee's Heineken Cup bow came at one of European rugby's most daunting arenas. The challenge for the Scarlets' fans will be to make their home just as unwelcoming for Leinster.