Scarlets look to keep heads above water in Pro12 play-off race
THE Scarlets have been throwing themselves off rocks and plunging into icy lagoons in the name of team bonding this week.
But they will hope to keep their Pro12 hopes very much above water when they take on play-off rivals Munster in Llanelli on Saturday evening.
Simon Easterby's squad spent Monday coasteering on the Pembrokeshire coast.
Among their challenges was braving the notorious "toilet" in Abereiddy, which basically sends people sliding down a rock before being tossed around by the incoming swell.
"It was tough, and getting out of bed the next day it felt like I had already played 80 minutes against Munster," smiled centre Gareth Maule.
"But it was good. People were falling in, people were helping each other up on the rocks and there was a fun element in it as well.
"Going away for a couple of days does freshen things up and it is nice to get out of your comfort zone. Normally the only time we are away together is if it is on an away trip for a game. It has been really productive and I think the boys have got a lot out of it."
Today it was back to Parc y Scarlets to focus on the start of an eight-game run-in with the region still very much in the hunt for the top four.
They appear to have overcome their December and January blues which saw them post just one win in nine matches and have players returning from injury and Wales commitments for Saturday's key clash.
Wales interim coach Rob Howley has opted to release just flanker Josh Turnbull and full-back Liam Williams from his Six Nations squad, with the likes of Matthew Rees, Scott Williams, Aaron Shingler and Tavis Knoyle kept back to cover for potential injuries.
But Maule believes performances over the last three weeks have shown that the Scarlets can cope with the absentee list.
"We always touch on the fact there is competition and the last couple of weeks have genuinely shown that," he added.
"We are in the position where we have internationals coming back, and there will be massive debate whether some of them will be included and where they will be included.
"That is testament to the strength of the squad that is being created here and also a payback to those boys who have waited for their chance and really taken it.
"Don't get me wrong, it is great to have the internationals and, of course they are not internationals for nothing. What it does is raise the bar another notch, which is where we need to be going into these games."
It now appears that the battle for the top four will be fought out by six sides — Ulster, Glasgow, Leinster, Ospreys, Scarlets and Munster — and Maule admits they cannot afford to look elsewhere for favours, as last weekend's results proved.
"The teams we are vying against have the pedigree of winning games, whether in the Rabo or in Europe. You can't rely on other people — if someone does upset someone it is a bonus, but we have just got to focus on our own game," he added.
"The reality of it is, the way these fixtures are panning out, other people won't help us into the play-offs, it is up to ourselves. We know our performance needs to go up a notch from Connacht to be able to tackle Munster.
"They are in the same position as us and we all know that when Munster need to win games they are very, very good at it.
"We need to be clinical, and if we can take our chances and build on last week's performance there is no reason why we can't come away with another W."