The forthcoming 3rd round HEC visit of Munster may well be the biggest game in the brief history of Parc Y Scarlets, but are there wider implications for the Region should victory be achieved on 10th December?
Over the last few seasons an underpowered front five, albeit hamstrung further by unprecedented front row injuries last season, have struggled to compete with Europe’s top tier teams. As a result, only the most one eyed of Turks has genuinely gone into a HEC campaign since 2008 believing that any realistic challenge on this great competition was achievable.
However, despite these failings, the trade-mark brand of champagne rugby has drawn huge praise from rugby purists acrossEurope, and in particular from the broadcasters at Sky. Indeed, those atFranklinGardenswill remember fondly the sight of Stuart Barnes in front of the massed ranks proudly waving a Scarlets flag.
So, after two rounds are the winds of change now genuinely in the air for Pwding and his bois, or is this a false dawn? And what effect could a home win overMunsterhave for the Region? These are important questions, not only in terms of these seasons ambitions, but also for the manner in which the Region moves forward over the next few years.
With regard to the game itself, another Feverite recently mentioned that many of the young guys within the squad genuinely believe they are contenders this season. Brave words perhaps, but given recent events both for club and country, can such confidence and expectation be ignored?
It is arguable that the two results to date show the genuine progress that this team has made. Indeed, the soft underbelly, seen so recently atWelford Roadlast season, appears to have gone, to be replaced by a steely determination which has arrived, miraculously, without any significant expenditure. But, is it more than that?
Historically, despite being the team renowned for its silky backs, in truth we never really scared anyone did we. Teams with a half decent HEC pack knew that they would ultimately strangle the life out of us, and sadly we have watched our ambitions in the HEC die a slow and painful death over the last few seasons. However, we suddenly now possess a backline that is not only silky, but which can also physically hurt you, and there is clearly a new physical edge to the team as a whole. We even have a driving maul!
So, a win, and we would sit pretty at the top of the pool with serious aspirations of qualification in the New Year.
But, what of the effect on the Region as a whole if we do make the knock-out stages? Our attendances this season appear to be moving in the right direction which, given the effect of the World Cup, is a genuine achievement. Whilst full houses may still be the stuff of dreams, is an average gate of 9k so unrealistic in the coming seasons, particularly on the back of a potential successful HEC campaign? Perhaps not.
There is also to be considered the fact that his change in our fortunes coincides with the misfortune of others. For years we have looked on as other regions have made much of the fancy Dan’s and pin-up bois that graced their teams. Ultimately, it may not have boosted their attendances, or brought huge success, but in the age of celebrity people wanted to be associated with them, and this ultimately benefitted revenue streams.
However, the boot is now firmly on the other foot, and many of the pin-up bois of Welsh rugby grace our backline. For years, we all shouted out for the big name signing, but suddenly from within came Rhys, George, Foxy, Scott et al.
The status and celebrity of these bois, and dare I say their looks, will perhaps bring people to Parc Y Scarlets but, more importantly, so too will the brand of rugby they try to play. Add to this the marketing prowess now coming to the fore under the leadership of Mark Davies, and suddenly you realise that it is a damn good time to be not only a Scarlet fan, but also part of our Region.
We owe Munster, too many narrow defeats and draws in recent times, so let’s use them as a stepping stone for moving forward, not only this season but also into a new Scarlet Dawn.