Scarlets centre Gareth Maule: Ulster clash is now key
CENTRE Gareth Maule says the Scarlets are viewing Saturday's home clash against Ulster as one of their most important games of the season.
While the West Wales region have produced two impressive showings in Europe, their form during the opening six rounds of the RaboDirect Pro12 has been frustratingly inconsistent.
Last weekend's 16-16 draw against Zebre has left them in seventh spot in the table and even at this stage of the season, in danger of being cut adrift from the top four.
Both sides are missing key internationals who are preparing for the forthcoming autumn Test series, but Maule is adamant that doesn't lessen the significance of Saturday evening's match at Parc y Scarlets.
"This is a very important phase in our season considering where we are in our league campaign," he said.
"From the outside there is not going to be as much emphasis on this game as opposed to Europe, but the reality is, it is one of the most important games of our season.
"We managed to pick things up in the Heineken Cup after some indifferent form in the league, but as soon as we are back in the Rabo it is disappointing again.
"We have only got ourselves to blame. It is not down to a lack of effort, the simple fact is, it is easy to go to London and take on an English team and turn your season around, you need to have the same mindset to go to places like Zebre, who will scrap for everything.
"We need to be a top-four team and we need to be able to go to these places and dispatch them, ugly or not."
The form of Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams in the Scarlets midfield means Maule has made just one start this season — against Glasgow at the start of the month.
On Saturday, he is set to line-up in a new-look back division minus five first-choice players, but insists the players coming in are ready to make their mark.
"It is going go to be tough, but everything we do in training is integrated so everyone knows their roles," he added.
"We have tried to up the intensity in training and have to hit the ground running against Ulster. There can't be any rustiness.
"We need to get this show on the road.
"Ulster will have a slight advantage because while they always seem to have a lot of representation in the Irish squad and even with injuries, they have names like Pienaar and Nick Williams in there who would walk into any team.
"They are a confident group of players and have had a good run in Europe again, but if we are on our game, there is no reason why we can't kickstart our season.
"There are no excuses, we are at home in front of our own fans and it is a simple case of having to go out there, perform and get a victory.
"We need to deliver and get something out of this game."