Scarlets search for answers ahead of Heineken Cup
FORGET Scarlet fever, it is schizophrenia that is being diagnosed down west this season.
It has been one of those starts to the campaign in Llanelli — one where even the Parc y Scarlets coaching team must be wondering which side will be turning up at The Stoop on Saturday afternoon for the opening round of European battle.
Will it be the one that shot out of the blocks against Leinster and Treviso or the one that was still in snooze mode early on against the Dragons and Glasgow?
Will it be the one capable of ripping apart defensive back divisions, or the one that could barely string a passing movement together against the Warriors?
If there is a logical pattern emerging amid the frustrating inconsistency, it's that the Scarlets are due a win against the Quins having started the season LWLWL.
But it's not a great sign when Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are part of your squad rotation each week.
"There have been some real good parts to our game and some frustrating ones," admitted head coach Simon Easterby in the wake of this latest frustrating one.
"You look back at some of the results and performances and there are lots of things that are in our control that we are not quite getting right.
"I thought we stood off Glasgow in that first half, we didn't have the right intensity and they didn't have to work very hard for their 14 points.
"We came out far stronger in the second half, we had dominance at the scrum, we had control of a lot of things and we had plenty of chances, but we just lacked a bit of composure.
"I can't fault the effort and there are certain things that are pleasing, but the result is all that counts and it is Glasgow who walk away with the result and points."
The Scarlets will certainly feel they could, and probably should, have ended Glasgow's impressive unbeaten start to the campaign, particularly after hauling themselves back into the game at 14-12 early in the second half.
They dominated possession and territory in the second period, but a side who have built a reputation for silky back play are spluttering their way through matches at the moment.
The only gilt-edged opportunity they carved out came via a Rhys Priestland cross-field kick with Jordan Williams, having done the hard work and evaded a desperate final defender, opted to off-load to Liam Williams when the gap had opened up invitingly for him to cross himself.
Had that chance been taken with the score at 14-9, the Scarlets would have been favourites to go on and register a morale-boosting victory a week before the opening round of the Heineken Cup.
As it stands, they will head down the M4 as rank outsiders in a pool as tough as any.
While the Scarlets may be struggling to find their trademark swagger in attack, Easterby will at least feel he now has a set-piece to stand firm in European battle.
As it has done all season, the Scarlets scrum imposed itself early with South African tight-head Jacobie Adriaanse — who had come in for the injured Samson Lee — at the vanguard.
Elsewhere, John Barclay turned in a tenacious display against his former side, while Josh Turnbull worked hard alongside him in the back row.
But for a side boasting runners of the calibre of British Lion Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Liam Williams and the elusive Jordan Williams, the lack of potency behind the scrum was a concern.
Davies produced a couple of midfield surges, while Jordan Williams is developing into the type of player that raises the pulse every time he touches the ball. But as unit, the Scarlets three-quarters had little change out of a well-organised Glasgow defence.
In contrast, the visitors possessed a player who dazzled with ball in hand — Fijian Niko Matawalu.
Normally a scrum-half, Matawalu, started on the wing, but was still able to find enough room to skip and dance his way around outstretched arms in a display reminiscent of the great Fijian sevens maestro Waisale Serevi.
It was his tap and go that paved the way for Scotland and Lions prop Ryan Grant to drive over inside the opening three minutes, then lock Tim Swinson twisted across the whitewash to help Glasgow into a 14-3 interval lead.
No doubt stung into life by some harsh words at half-time, the Scarlets had more bite to their game in the second period.
But when Glasgow were reduced to 14 men when Sean Lamont was sent to the sin-bin after 49 minutes, the home side were unable to press home their advantage.
The defeat leaves the Scarlets in the bottom half of the Pro12 table after the opening five-match block.
They also have a couple of injury worries with co-captain Rob McCusker — who limped off with a calf injury — and hooker Ken Owens — replaced at half-time with an abdominal problem — both doubts for the Harlequins clash.
The Quins, themselves, have hardly lit up the Aviva Premiership this season, and suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of London Irish on Saturday.
But Easterby will acknowledge his side need to raise the bar by a fair few notches if they are going to poke a thumb in the eye of the bookies.
He has already witnessed the good, the bad and the downright ugly from his side in the Pro12 this season.
Who knows what the Scarlets have in store for Europe?