Leinster’s ability to find different ways to win has led Scarlets captain Ken Owens to believe Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 final opponents are close to “perfect”. Yet the British & Irish Lions hooker is keen to dispel the myth his own side cannot mix it up themselves.
Defending champions Scarlets were powerless to prevent Leinster steamrolling through them at the Aviva Stadium in last month’s Champions Cup semi-final with tenacious breakdown accuracy and a cutting edge in front of the tryline.
Yet Owens has been equally impressed by Leo Cullen’s side’s flexibility in adapting to different situations, conditions and opponents in the way they clawed their way to a European final victory over Racing 92 in Bilbao three weeks later and backed it up with a tense one-point PRO14 semi-final win over Munster at the RDS last Saturday.
“I think you know you’re not going to win every game cruising through. I think they’ve got a way, they’re as close as you’re going to get to a perfect side, they can win in different ways,” Owens said.
“They’ll look at the win and then against Munster, to back that up five days later, a week’s turnaround, especially as Munster were trying to bounce back from their semi-final loss, and get to another final, pretty good in trying to grind out the victory and getting the job done and sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do.
“I thought Munster were pretty good on the day as well but the experience of the Leinster boys, they know how to win rugby matches, that’s why they are the best side in Europe at the moment.”
Scarlets’ Aviva defeat to Leinster underlined the perception that Wayne Pivac’s side had no plan B once their dangerous backline was nullified but Owens insisted the West Wales region can react to different scenarios with their run to Saturday’s final proving that point in a big win over the Cheetahs in the quarter-finals and in overcoming Glasgow Warriors in last Friday’s last-four battle on the artificial surface at Scotstoun.
“You’ve got to adapt what you’re doing as teams will come at you in different ways. It’s something else in your armoury, we’re always evolving as a side and we hope to show that on this weekend, how they defend, game of chess out there, it’s another opportunity there to right some wrongs from the semi-final.”
Owens said that chastening 38-16 European defeat in Dublin had given Scarlets plenty of food for thought as they approach this weekend’s rematch.
“I think in big play-off games like that you’ve got to turn up physically and hold on to the ball. I think Leinster did that pretty well and attacked for nine minutes in our 22, and when you’re playing a side like that who hold onto the ball for as long as they did and continued to get gainline in our 22 for nine minutes, it’s no wonder they scored their five tries.
“That was a big learning for us, we turned too much ball over and obviously in rugby if you lose the battle of the gainline you’re going to be in for a long day. So I think that was the biggest lesson for us.”
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