Scarlets more concerned with own game than Pro12 chasing pack
THE chasing pack is closing in, but head coach Simon Easterby insists his Scarlets side aren't feeling the pressure.
The Llanelli-based region haven't been out of the top two of the RaboDirect Pro12 all season and go into the opening game of 2013 against leaders Ulster in Belfast tomorrow evening still occupying second spot in the league table.
However, the festive derbies haven't delivered much in the way of seasonal goodwill to the men from the west.
Days after the Scarlets were put to the sword by the Ospreys at the Liberty, Munster, Glasgow and Leinster were all delivering a message of intent, and with eight rounds of matches remaining only three points now separate five sides chasing three play-off spots.
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Another setback at Ravenhill on Friday night could see the Scarlets slip down as far as sixth — a significant blow to a side who have made no secret of their desire to make the top four this season following narrow misses in the previous two campaigns.
However, Easterby is adamant his players are more concerned about rediscovering their form of early September, rather than worrying about those congregating behind them.
"It doesn't concern me at the moment because that is out of our control," said the former Ireland international.
"We have to focus on getting our own house in order before worrying what is going on below us.
"It is always going to be difficult to stay in the top four. There are six or sevens teams capable of getting into that position.
"For us, there is a huge amount of work to do and a huge amount more in this team.
"We haven't seen enough of that in the last couple of weeks and our focus is to make sure we give a better account of ourselves, individually and as a team.
"At the end of the day we simply weren't good enough to beat a good Ospreys team last time out.
"We let ourselves down and a lot of our supporters as well.
"We have had time to reflect on a poor performance and we need to use that as motivation to kick on into the new year."
The Scarlets have lost four out of their last five matches in all competitions — a hard-earned 9-6 win at the Blues punctuating a home defeat to Ulster, below-par European performances against Exeter and the mauling at the hands of the Ospreys.
However, Easterby believes his side isn't lacking in confidence, despite their run of poor form.
"I don't think that is the case," he added.
"The players are in a good place. Some of them need to be more accurate and take more responsibility for their own performances.
"But they came in this week all bouncing to get the opportunity to play against Ulster and put what went wrong against the Ospreys right."
One of those areas will be the scrum, which suffered at the hands of Adam Jones and Co at the Liberty, while another will be discipline, with the three yellow cards and two reds the Scarlets picked up in Swansea sending them to the bottom of the league's fairplay table.
They will face an Ulster side who suffered their first league defeat of the campaign against Munster last weekend, although head coach Mark Anscombe rested the majority of his big guns for that match.
Overseas stars Ruan Pienaar, John Afoa, Nick Williams and Jared Payne are expected to return along with Rory Best, Chris Henry, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave and Iain Henderson, who all took part in a two-day get-together with the Ireland camp last week.
"Ulster rested a few players against Munster and are in a very good place," added Easterby.
"We are aware of their strengths, but we have showed in past meetings that we can create opportunities against them and a lot of that is down to what we can control and our performance.
"We haven't been at our best in recent weeks, we will all accept that, but we have an opportunity to put things right."