'Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland will be better for his troubles'
SCARLETS backs coach Mark Jones believes under-fire fly-half Rhys Priestland will return to the region a better player for his autumn struggles.
Priestland has been the target of sustained criticism for his displays during Wales’s so-far winless Test series campaign.
And after last weekend’s 33-10 defeat by the All Blacks, the Scarlet admitted he had consulted a psychologist in an attempt to rediscover the form that lit up Wales’s charge to the World Cup semi-finals in New Zealand.
It has been a traumatic few weeks for the 25-year-old.
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But Jones believes Priestland will emerge from the most testing time of his career stronger for it.
“One thing Rhys will learn from all of this is about mental toughness,” said the former Wales wing. “And he will be a better player for it.
“You can’t always see that sometimes. I have been there myself, you take a lot of flak, some of it deserved, but you do learn to handle that pressure and manage yourself better on and off the field and I am sure the Scarlets will have a better player coming back here because of those experiences.
“I have spoken to Rhys and exchanged texts with him through the autumn and I am confident that when he comes back here he will enjoy coming back into the environment.
“Perhaps having different voices and different coaches will give him a new focus.
“But he is a determined character under it all. He is very proud as well and he will be doing everything in his power to ensure his performance is tip top this weekend (against Australia).
“By his own admission he is not playing at his best and when things aren’t going for you — the touch judge perhaps gives a dubious decision — it just adds to the pressure.
“The good thing for me is that he looked like he was sticking to his principles in the New Zealand game.
“He was trying to execute what the coaches were asking of him. If he can keep to his principles I am sure he will be fine. He will be 100 per cent focused with Wales this week and I am sure he will do an excellent job.”
Meanwhile, the Scarlets are hoping No. 8 Kieran Murphy (hip) and wing Kristian Phillips (groin) will overcome injuries ahead of Sunday’s top-of-the-table Pro12 clash with Ulster. Ulster welcome back eight players, including skipper Johann Muller and hooker Rory Best, but Springbok star Ruan Pienaar is rested.