We have to handle the derby day pressure - Scarlets skipper Rob McCusker
SCARLETS skipper Rob McCusker admits his side have to show they can carry the burden of expectation ahead of tomorrow’s derby showdown with the Ospreys.
Rarely have the men from West Wales gone into this local squabble as such overwhelming favourites.
It wasn’t long ago that the Ospreys were putting 60 points on their neighbours in a festive rout at the Liberty Stadium.
But after the two clashes last season produced a nervy 9-9 draw in Swansea followed by a 22-14 triumph for the Scarlets in Llanelli, Simon Easterby’s side have stolen a march on the defending champions this term.
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Unbeaten in three matches and producing a sizzling brand of try-scoring rugby, the Scarlets are being tipped to heap more misery on the winless Ospreys at Parc y Scarlets.
And McCusker admits pressure is something his new-look side will have to cope with if they are going to be genuine contenders for silverware this season.
“We spoke on Monday — we have got to be afraid of losing,” said the Wales back-rower. “As top of the league we are now the scalp everybody wants.
“Over the last couple of years we have been in the position that they are in and we know how it feels. There is no better way to get your season back on track than a win over your local rivals.
“The pressure is all on us, the Ospreys have got nothing to lose and that makes them very dangerous opposition.”
Handed the reins from Wales and British Lions hooker Matthew Rees in the summer, things couldn’t have gone much better for McCusker in the opening few weeks.
“I don’t know what Matthew has been complaining about for the last couple of years,” joked the North Walian.
“But it is almost running itself, there is a lot of experience around me which helps massively and I haven’t had to make too many tough calls, which will probably change on Friday.
“Winning definitely helps. I am sure it would have been a different story if we had lost three from three and our backs were against the wall.”
While the Scarlets backs have been earning most of the plaudits, McCusker has hailed the much-improved displays of the forwards this season as they take on an Ospreys pack that will be stacked with international experience — even if the Lions pair of Adam and Ryan Jones don’t overcome their knee problems.
“Danny (Wilson) has been great. From the outset Simon said we are bringing this guy in to work on our set-piece and Danny has always said he wants our set piece to be a weapon and we are developing that.
“We are ultra-critical of ourselves when we come in on a Monday. You almost feel as if you have lost a game because we are ripping into ourselves.
“That’s what it takes to get the best out of everybody and get our set-piece working 100 per cent.”