Scarlets v Exeter Chiefs: Youngsters enjoy a dress rehearsal
Scarlets 15, Exeter Chiefs 23
FRIENDLIES can be as difficult to read as a Shane Warne flipper on a turning track circa 1998.
Front-line players are often held back, with youngsters taking their places and more often than not trying too hard to impress.
Rust is often evident on a scale that might embarrass even the dodgiest second-hand car dealer.
Throw in the atrocious weather conditions on Saturday, 24 half-time changes and you get the picture of an exercise in Llanelli where only so many conclusions could be drawn.
There was even the added novelty of play stopping to allow coaches to take the field to speak to players.
Exeter were delighted to win, but they turned up in Llanelli with a strong side whereas the Scarlets were significantly below strength, missing seven or eight players who might be considered first choices.
The bottom line is that August isn't the time to be shedding tears over rugby — not unless your name is Ewen McKenzie and you have just seen Australia ship 47 points at home to their greatest rivals.
In your first game in charge.
If New Zealand's display was pretty much complete, the Scarlets and Exeter were looking for signs of encouragement at Parc y Scarlets, indications that they are on the right track for the coming campaign.
There wasn't a lot between them, with the Chiefs taking their chances and shutting out the Scarlets in the second half thanks to their greater strength in depth.
They had a strong defence and had the edge at the breakdown, a point made by their coach Rob Baxter, though Simon Easterby had no issues with the Scarlets' performance in that area.
Easterby was oddly defensive after the game.
Maybe further down the line he will come to realise that not every inquiry from a journalist comes with a trap, that not every question has to be handled as though it's an unexploded bomb.
On the other hand, maybe he won't.
Ultimately, it's up to him how he handles his media relations.
His young side had offered him reasonable grounds for encouragement with their first-half display.
Scrum-half Gareth Davies made a particularly lively contribution, scoring a try that saw him display good strength to bump back a couple of defenders.
The Scarlets have three fine young scrum-halves in Davies, Aled Davies and Rhodri Williams and the competition between them this term is set to be intense.
None of the three has vast experience, but Gareth Davies looked the part against Exeter, a handful around the base of the scrum and a thorn in the side of the visitors' back row.
Jordan Williams also showed up well for the Scarlets.
One of the shining lights of the Junior World Championship, he can play fly-half and full-back but started on the wing on Saturday and gave a convincing account of himself.
Not only did he score a try but he also put in the tackle that created an overlap which should have been turned into a touchdown early on. There was also a fine attempt at a half-break in the second half.
Steve Shingler kicked well out of hand before the break, while Rob Evans put in a strong shift up front and Emyr Phillips caught the eye at hooker.
There was also a notable charge from Craig Price as some spectators were still settling in their seats, but the Scarlets didn't exactly overdo the powerful ball-carrying.
Nonetheless, they were only finished off in the final minutes when lock Will Carrick-Smith crossed for a score to match fellow second row Damian Welch, who had forced his way over against his old club early on.
Easterby said: "It's difficult to assess the game in the conditions.
"At times we made errors and put a bit of pressure on ourselves, but at other times we played some nice stuff.
"I think we had a fair share of the game and the late try they scored probably flattered them a bit.
"A scoreline of 16-15 might have been a fairer reflection of the game.
"The pleasing thing is we gave a lot of players run-outs while we have others, like John Barclay, Rob McCusker, Rhys Priestland, Ken Owens, Jon Davies and Scott Williams, still to come back in."
Exeter coach Rob Baxter said: "The team that controlled territory for little periods ended up being the team that scored points.
"The Scarlets did that well before half-time, but we probably shaded that battle in the second half and came through and won the game."
A word on the Chiefs' fans, who kept up their war cries throughout the game, with a drum as accompaniment.
It wasn't traditional rugby-ground fare, but it helped create an atmosphere.
Their team were up for the game from the start, even forming into a self-assertive huddle before kick-off, to gee each other up.
The Scarlets have work to do, but if they are able to welcome back Priestland and Co promptly, they can push on.
The Chiefs may have gone, but the cavalry can still do much for Easterby's side.