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Easterby stays on message as Scarlets aim to keep on track

By Michael Sadlier

He didn't necessarily sound it, but Scarlets' coach Simon Easterby was a fairly relieved man in the wake of last weekend's 41-33 win over in Treviso.

After all, this was the Scarlets' first PRO12 win in five games – their previous positive outcome coming in their narrow success back in late November at lowly Connacht – and it also ensured that the west Wales side racked up their first try bonus of the campaign at the 13th time of asking.

So, this was quite a result, particularly as it came after the gloom which accompanied their narrow defeat to Harlequins at Parc y Scarlets, in the final round of Heineken Cup pool games, which saw their chances – admittedly remote – of advancing to the quarter-finals of the Amlin Cup extinguished.

Indeed, it hadn't been a bad European season for the Welsh region as they had been in the running to finish second in Pool Four up until that shoot-out with Quins but, now, only the PRO12 really matters.

Indeed, the five points from last weekend's win in Italy allowed the Scarlets and their rather beleaguered coach – last weekend was only their fifth win in 13 outings – some wriggle room to float the belief that they are heading in the right direction again.

But though they did move up the table to sixth, their hopes of emulating last year's surge where they made the play-offs, only to be well beaten by Ulster, are hardly looking robust.

Still, with next season's European stand-off hopefully coming close to resolution and, with it a possible PRO12 structure based on finishing positions rather than automatic qualification, Easterby allowed himself stray from tonight's game to welcome the potential of a more meritocratic domestic league.

It is believed that a new 20-team European competition will allow for seven qualifiers from the PRO12, with each of the four competing countries guaranteed one place and the next three based on positions in the table, which as it stands would see the Scarlets included, as long as they finish the season ahead of the Dragons and Blues.

"Our priority is to get into the top four, if we don't do that, we must be in the top six," said former Ireland international Easterby (pictured).

"Qualification, for me, should be that way, it should be based on where you finish in your competition, it shouldn't be automatic."

The Scarlets coach also stated that last week's notable showing against Ulster by a severely diluted Ospreys side will have assisted his preparations for tonight's formidable challenge when the Scarlets will be attempting to do the double on Mark Anscombe's men after beating them in west Wales back in November.

"We've certainly taken on board some of the good stuff they did over there," stated Easterby.

"Ulster have a core to their team which is very strong, even in the Six Nations period

. "We're going there a little bit under strength," he added regarding the players still away with Wales, "but we can back up what we did in Treviso and I think it's a game we can win.

"There are very few games that we can afford to drop points in and we've given ourselves a fighting chance with that victory last weekend."

The Scarlets coach has made just two changes to his starting side with tight-head prop and Wales squad member Samson Lee coming in after his release for Jacobie Adriaanse while, second row Johan Snyman starts ahead of Richard Kelly. Much will be expected of the all international back row of Josh Turnbull, John Barclay and skipper Rob McCusker and Easterby will want – and needs – something to fuel his aspirations.

Belfast Telegraph

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