Scarlets coach Simon Easterby: Tough period made us stronger
SIMON Easterby insists his Scarlets side have emerged stronger from their festive and new year troubles.
The West Wales region went through a testing period of eight defeats in nine matches from the start of December to the end of January, suffering heavy losses at the hands of the Ospreys, Ulster, Leinster and Clermont Auvergne.
The run threatened to undo all the good work of the early months of the season as they finished the Heineken Cup pool stages winless and dropped from second to fifth in the Pro12 standings.
However, three victories on the bounce, including league triumphs over Connacht and Munster in the last fortnight, have breathed life back into the campaign and provided Easterby with encouragement that lessons have been learned.
"We were exposed on a number of occasions during December and January and it was a long couple of months, but those players will only be better for those experiences," said the former Ireland captain. "We have learned a huge amount from that period and I think we have turned the corner.
"We are starting to see fewer errors in our game. We are not feeding the opposition as much as we were in those games and we are also rewarding ourselves with good territory and field position and taking points when we are pressurising sides.
"It is huge for the forwards, in particular, to see the scoreboard ticking over."
One of the sides to pile on the misery at the turn of the year was Leinster, who are the Scarlets' opponents for the fourth time this season on Saturday evening.
The Scarlets head to Dublin with a 33-14 European defeat at the RDS still fresh in the memory, although the make-up of both sides will be completely different this weekend because of internationals calls.
Easterby has been boosted with Josh Turnbull, Tavis Knoyle, Matthew Rees and Aaron Shingler returning to the squad after being released from Wales duty.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt will also hope for reinforcements with a number of his stars on duty in Murrayfield on Sunday.
Fijian back Isa Nacewa is a doubt after suffering a recurrence of an arm injury, while flanker Kevin McLaughlin could also miss out with a knee injury.
Third-placed Leinster are three points ahead of the Scarlets going into the game with Leinster skills coach Richie Murphy in no doubt about the significance of the fixture in terms of the play-off picture.
"It is a massive game," he said. "If we win we put space between us and them, if they win they close the gap completely.
"The Scarlets have been playing really well in the last two weeks and will come here with plenty of confidence."