South African power gives pack cause for optimism
THE loss of five first-choice forwards during the close season left Simon Easterby and his new-look coaching team with a major rebuilding mission on their hands.
But far from papering over the cracks, it appears powerful foundations are being laid at Parc y Scarlets.
Of course, it would be foolish to claim that the Scarlets' pack has finally been steel-coated on the evidence of one game against a below-strength Leinster.
But with a third South African, Joe Snyman, to follow two of his compatriots George Earle and Jacobie Adriaanse to West Wales, the feeling in Llanelli is that the Scarlets are finally putting together a platform to launch their jet-heeled three-quarter line.
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"We have stripped it down to the bare bones and built it up again," said hooker Ken Owens, one of those to stand out in the 45-20 thumping of the European champions.
"I don't think we played anything too sophisticated or technical last weekend, we were just clear in what we were doing and it paid off in the end.
"The forwards really got into the game and the backs finished off their chances. It was a simple, basic gameplan which we executed very well.
"There has been a lot of change in the squad, particularly up front, but we have been lucky to have had a pretty settled pre-season, different from the stop-start of last year when boys were coming in and out with the World Cup.
"There was a bit of rustiness early on, which is understandable, but I think we have come together well and are now understanding each other's roles.
"It is looking good."
Seven forwards in all headed out of the region over the summer. Veteran prop Iestyn Thomas was forced into retirement because of a neck injury, so too Rhys Thomas after his heart scare, while Simon Gardiner joined Rotherham.
In the second row Damian Welch (Exeter Chiefs), Dominic Day (Bath) and Lou Reed (Cardiff Blues) also said their farewells, while England No. 8 Ben Morgan joined Gloucester to further his international ambitions.
The Scarlets, though, have followed the lead of the Irish provinces in looking south for the solution.
Golden Lions prop Adriaanse is due to arrive next month following his province's Currie Cup campaign, Snyman is expected in the coming weeks, while Pumas second row Tomas Vallejos will link up with his new team-mates once Argentina's debut campaign in the Rugby Championship is complete.
This, added to the impressive form of Richard Kelly, who has made the switch from the Ospreys, and the signing of Welsh-qualified Aussie Jake Ball, has given the region much-needed depth for the campaign ahead.
"Depth is the important word," said new forwards coach Danny Wilson. "There is a lot of rugby to be played this season and we are not going to do it off two or three second rows.
"We have had a good start, but as Rob McCusker said after the Leinster game, it is one game, one performance and it doesn't mean anything if we can't back it up and become consistent as a pack of forwards and as a team.
"We were pleased with how it went last Saturday. The line-out functioned really well and we stopped their line-out drive. We were a little bit inconsistent at scrums, we had a couple of good scrums and a couple of poor scrums, so that is something we have to stay on top of.
"But it was my first taste of how good that back line can be when they get good ball and also my first taste of that pack of forwards against a decent Leinster pack that contained a lot of senior professionals — the likes of Strauss, van der Merwe, Toner and Jennings. I was pleased with the result.
"We went in there with a confidence and intent that we could put Leinster under pressure up front. We need to show we can do that in more than one-off games."
This evening's clash with a Glasgow side at full strength and motivated by playing at their new Scotstoun Stadium for the first time will offer the reinvigorated Scarlets eight another stern challenge.
The scrum has come under pressure over the last two weekends, but Wilson, who doubles up as head coach of the Wales Under-20s, has firm faith in the region's two emerging front-rowers Rhodri Jones and Samson Lee, who made his competitive debut for the Scarlets off the bench against the Dubliners.
"They are two very young props to be playing at this level of rugby and are both exceptional talents," he added.
"Both bring slightly different aspects to the game. Rhodri gets through a huge amount of work around the field as you saw on the weekend. By his own admission there was a couple of scrums he won't be as happy with and that is something he is working on.
"Samson came on and had a couple of solid scrums. Speaking to Matthew Rees after the game, he was impressed with his first impression of Samson, which for me, with the experience Matthew brings, shows he has the potential.
"But potential is where Samson is at the moment. He needs to prove that with consistency."
Consistency has been a familiar theme at Parc y Scarlets this week.
The players have travelled north knowing standards have been set and set high.