Welsh prop Rob Evans has no problem with the idea that his Scarlets side may still be underestimated in some quarters as they approach Saturday’s Champions Cup semi-final against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.
The Welsh region has experienced a remarkable rebirth of late. The Guinness PRO12 title was claimed on the back of wins against Leinster and Munster in Dublin 12 months ago, and they now find themselves back in the Irish capital seeking even greater glory. Warren Gatland clearly took note.
The Welsh head coach has attempted to ape the Scarlets’ expansive game plan with the national team and he has done so by flooding his side with men who had already been singing the gospel according to their club boss Wayne Pivac.
And it isn’t just fancy-free running rugby that has taken them so far. A giant La Rochelle pack was trumped in the last round by an eight containing five Welsh internationals, Scotland’s John Barclay, and Tadhg Beirne who is destined for Irish honours and joins Munster next season. Europe, though, has yet to be conquered.
Celtic Leagues have long been considered consolation prizes in Ireland and there is the sense that the Scarlets will have to do more than make a first continental semi-final in 11 years to turn the last of the sceptics into true believers.
“Maybe we are underestimated but it is something that we don’t really care about,” said Evans, one of 11 Scarlets in the Wales 23 that lost to Ireland in this year’s Six Nations. “We’re happy with ourselves and people in this community have belief in us as well.
“If people want to underestimate us then happy days, but we will do our talking on the field and see the outcome afterwards. If they are right, they’re right. We have to make sure we are on the money and get the result.”
Leinster are unlikely to be among those taking them lightly.
Scarlets lost Steff Evans to a red card in the first half of last year’s league semi-final and Rob Evans was one of a handful to break a finger in the line of duty. Yet they came through with 12 points to spare before accounting for Munster with even greater ease in the decider.
Evans, though, isn’t raiding that day for assurance.
He speaks highly of Tadhg Furlong, with whom he will lock horns this Saturday, and Cian Healy, his opposite number. Leinster have been bigging up Scarlets all week and Evans is more than happy to return the favour.
Scarlets have been a breath of fresh air this past two years.
Evans is five seasons on the go with them now and the difference between the side that finished sixth in the league and exited Europe at the pool stages back in 2013-14 is markedly different to the one in operation now.
Crowds, once dismal, are mushrooming. All of Pembrokeshire seems to be attuned to a team which, though trading under a different name now, has rekindled the free-spirited, attacking ethos of the Llanelli club of old under their Kiwi coach. Pivac is the man who gave Evans, a son of West Wales from the town of Haverfordwest, his shot.
The player describes a decent, knowledgeable, humble coach who has earned the respect of the squad and one who demands ever higher standards of them.
“No disrespect to Wayne but a lot of credit has got to go to other people as well,” he pointed out. “Like (backs coach) Stephen Jones and Byron (Hayward, the defence coach). We wouldn’t be here without a defence.
“Stephen does a hell of a lot of work in our attack as well. Wayne has got that input from people and we have always had that (attacking) print in the Scarlets and it is nice to see it coming back through.”
There is a hint of the Joe Schmidt about Pivac’s position right now: a Kiwi doing wonders with one of his adopted country’s leading clubs and a guy hotly-tipped for the national job. Gatland, after all, is stepping down after the World Cup.
High praise. For him and the Scarlets. But a distraction, maybe?
“No, not really,” said Evans. “Nothing at all really. Obviously there has been the odd bit of banter flying about but we’re very much focused on what we’ve got to do in hand and towards the end of the season as we want to be very successful.
“Nothing has really been spoken of. As soon as the media get hold of something in Wales they will make it massive, but as far as we’re all concerned it’s all Scarlets at the moment and concentrating on the job in hand.”
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