Scarlets legend Mark Jones believes it will be ‘curtains’ for Leinster’s European dreams if they play the Welsh region at their own game.
Saturday: Aviva Stadium, 3.30pm
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
TV: Sky Sports
Bet: Leinster 1/6, Scarlets 7/2, Draw 22/1
The reigning Guinness PRO14 champions have one of the deadliest back-lines in European rugby and Jones believes Leo Cullen’s side would be better served playing a tighter game.
Jones, who spent 12 years at the Scarlets making 162 appearances, is better placed than most to assess the qualities of the Welsh region having spent five years as their backs coach between 2010 and 2015.
“If Leinster make the game a fast and furious affair it could be curtains for them because the Scarlets are one of the best sides in the competition in the wider channels,” said the former Wales backs coach.
“They would be better served by sticking it up the jumper and trying to take the Scarlets on up front. It’s far easier to go through the Scarlets than it is to go around them even though Leinster have a great back-line themselves who are dangerous in broken field.
“I think it is going to be an incredibly tight affair and it’s the toughest draw the Scarlets could have faced. But they have a decent chance because of the way they play and they have strike runners throughout their side.
“When the Scarlets won at the RDS in the PRO12 semi-finals last season Leinster adopted the blitz defence and it backfired on them as the Scarlets got around them. So they will have to be smarter this time.”
Jones was a member of the last Scarlets side to reach a European semi-final in 2007 where they were eventually knocked out by Leicester Tigers.
The 47-times capped Wales international sees many similarities between the current side and the class of 2007. But he believes the current crop of players are in a stronger position to reach a first European final. “I think this is undoubtedly the strongest Scarlets side since we reached the semi-finals in 2007,” he said.
“We played some fantastic rugby that season where we went through the pool stages unbeaten and convincingly beat Munster in the quarter-finals at Stradey Park. We had some great individual players such as Dwayne Peel, Stephen Jones and Regan King a bit like the current group have.
“But I think this current Scarlets side have more power upfront. If you look at their front-row they have Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee and you’d be hard pushed to find a better front-row than that in the competition.
“That’s not to say that Leinster won’t have the edge up front because they’ve got one of the best packs in Europe. But the Scarlets pack should prove a stern challenge but it’s behind the scrum where they are very dangerous.
“The two back divisions are mouthwatering. The likes of Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and James Lowe can rip any side to shreds.”
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has a host of selection issues ahead of Saturday’s titanic clash.
With Kiwi flyer Johnny McNicholl and Australian utility back Paul Asquith ruled out for the season the Scarlets are faced with the dilemma of whether to select usual out-half Rhys Patchell at full-back with Leigh Halfpenny moving wider or to throw a rookie in on the wing.
But Jones is adamant the Scarlets must resist the temptation of moving Halfpenny away from his preferred position.
“Personally I would keep Halfpenny at full-back because his positional play is world class and they are going to need that against Leinster,” he said.
“Leinster’s blitz defence didn’t go to plan in the semi-final last season so I expect Sexton to play a lot deeper and kick more ball than he usually does. In my opinion the Scarlets need to be careful not to focus too much on Leinster as they need to focus on themselves.
“With that in mind I think they need to keep Patchell at out half because he is such an attacking threat and he is a guy that gets the back-line moving very well. It is going to be a very tight game and I really don’t want to call it.
“If you pushed me I’d say Leinster by a few points but it could go either way.”
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