Simon Easterby relishes Rhys Priestland's return to the Scarlets fold
IT has been a quiet summer in the transfer market for the Scarlets, but the return of Rhys Priestland is as significant an arrival as any.
The Llanelli-based region have only signed three players so far — John Barclay, Steven Shingler and Kiwi Frazier Climo — and they are still eager to make further additions.
But the most encouraging sight of their pre-season came in Gloucester last Friday, as Priestland made an impressive second-half cameo in the Scarlets' friendly defeat at Kingsholm.
An Achilles injury ruined last season for Priestland, limiting the Wales fly-half to just two substitute appearances after suffering the setback during a Heineken Cup clash against Exeter in December.
But after a break from the game and a full pre-season programme, the 26-year-old has returned refreshed and revitalised.
"It is great to have him back," said the Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby.
"He is looking good and feels good and very positive, and the time out of the game will have served him pretty well and will benefit him this season.
"Rhys had a good run-out against Gloucester in the second half.
"He looked pretty sharp, although there were a couple of things in his game that will come with more game-time."
By his own admission, Priestland had a difficult time in the last campaign.
Having struggled for form during Wales's autumn internationals, he sought the help of a sports psychologist and spoke with admirable candour about his lean spell.
Although the injury was undoubtedly a blow, Priestland later revealed that it had given him the opportunity to clear his head and recuperate away from the intense spotlight of international rugby.
He is now back in full training with the Scarlets, and Easterby hopes the fly-half's time off will stand him in good stead for the new season.
"He's always been positive," Easterby added. "He's very laid back and is always a positive influence among the players.
"He was very good when he was injured and it was a pretty bad time for him with the extent of it, the lay-off and the setback.
"He's always very positive around the environment and it's good to have someone of his quality back.
"Not having had any tours over the summer, he's looking fresh and will hopefully start the season well."
Priestland is in contention to play in the Scarlets' opening RaboDirect Pro12 game of the season, a mouthwatering home fixture against Leinster on Friday.
The defending champions will provide a formidable first challenge for the Scarlets, and Easterby reckons Priestland is in good shape for the curtain-raiser.
"He attacked the gainline against Gloucester," he said.
"After an Achilles injury you would expect him to be a bit sluggish and slow, but he's improved his speed off the mark while he's been away.
"He looked hungry to take the opposition on and that's when Rhys is at his best. He attacks the gainline and either finds holes for other people or, if they don't respect him, he will take the gap as well.
"I was pleased with the way he got his hands on the ball, but we also had more ball when he was on which gave him more opportunities to attack rather than defend."