Scarlets v Munster: Ready for the climb
SWANSEA City, Sunderland, QPR and Reading have been enjoying themselves in state-of-the-art warm weather training camps in Dubai this week.
The Scarlets spent a night in log chalets in Pembrokeshire.
Worlds away, certainly in terms of climate and the luxuries afforded to those who strut their stuff in the Premier League, but the professional focus was the same — bringing a squad together for a crucial part of the league season.
For the Scarlets their two days at the Bluestone resort outside of Narberth have been well spent.
The bonding exercises have included coasteering on the stunning Pembrokeshire coastline, negotiating the challenge of the high ropes as well as meeting local schools and rugby clubs.
They have also trained at the home of Championship side Narberth.
The churned-up pitch at the Lewis Lloyd Ground may have been a little different to the synthetic surface the players are used to at Parc y Scarlets, but skipper Rob McCusker believes the benefits of this week have been huge.
"There were a few hairy moments during the coasteering and you did feel that you were losing sensation in your hands for a while because of the cold, but it has been a good break for us all," he said. "It's nice to get away on a different blade of grass and have a break from the norm.
"We know we are getting into the business end of the season and even though we have got a couple of wins under our belt in the past couple of weeks, nothing is given, we still have got to work hard.
"You look at the league and it is tight, a point either way and a lot can change.
"The results didn't go our way last weekend and we stayed in fifth.
"Our result against Munster on Saturday is crucial — for us to climb the league and also to stop them getting away."
Usually, a pre-match interview before the Scarlets play Munster includes the inevitable question about the region's woeful record against the Irish province.
Not any longer.
In November, Simon Easterby's men dug in to claim a 13-6 victory in horrendous conditions at Musgrave Park to end a 15-match winless streak against the former European champions — a barren run dating back to the Scarlets' Heineken Cup quarter-final win at Stradey Park in 2007.
"The boys were fantastic on that night," added McCusker, who missed the match because of an ankle injury suffered on international duty.
"We played the conditions really well and got stuck into them up front, which we haven't been able to do in the past.
"I am sure they will be keen to rectify that this weekend."
While the race for the RaboDirect Pro12 play-offs is sure to take plenty more twists over the coming weeks, the Scarlets haven't been hiding from the importance of tomorrow's contest.
With five of their remaining eight matches to come in Llanelli, plus away games at bottom two Zebre and the Dragons (at the Millennium Stadium), the West Walians have a great opportunity to make the top four for the first time.
However, they will be wary of the pedigree of Munster, Leinster and the Ospreys, who have a knack of grinding out the wins when they matter at this stage of the season.
"We have got a decent run-in," admitted McCusker. "We got some hard work done early in the season with wins at Connacht and Glasgow and backed it up with that win against Munster in November and that is why we are in the position we are in.
"It is nice to be going into Saturday's game with a bit of confidence and momentum after wins over Leicester and Connacht, but we are not getting up ourselves.
"We know we still have a lot of work to do.
"We found out a couple of weeks ago when we played Ulster that you can't rely on any favours. We lost and then dropped down from second to fifth in one go. We have got to put our house in order first and foremost.
"Munster are a side who have got some fantastic players across the park, international call-ups or not, some old heads in the pack and some good young players as well.
"It is not the Munster of old where you sort of knew where they were going to come at you, they like to put some width on it under Rob Penney and they have a lot of threats that we have to be wary of.
"But we have been training hard this week and are determined to transfer what we have been doing on the training pitch into the game."