Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Ulster

Scarlets will raise the bar against Ulster, warns Pivac

 

By Jonathan Bradley

In what will be a worry to the rest of the Guinness PRO14, Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has warned there is more to come from his side ahead of Friday's visit to Ulster and the Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm kick-off).

The Welsh region stormed their way to the title last season, becoming the first side in the competition's history to win an away semi-final after they beat Leinster at the RDS, before celebrating again on Irish soil when they overcame Munster at the Aviva Stadium to lift the trophy.

And having triumphed in such swashbuckling style last time around, the Llanelli outfit have picked up right where they left off to begin this campaign, scoring 13 tries in two bonus-point victories.

Even with British and Irish Lions Man of the Series Jonathan Davies out injured, their back-line still boasts the likes of Johnny McNicholl, Leigh Halfpenny and the on-song Rhys Patchell.

And while their clinical attack has no doubt had Les Kiss drilling his troops ahead of Friday's game, Pivac believes his side have yet to fully hit their straps.

"We haven't hit our top performance levels yet but we wouldn't expect it," he said. "We were on zero points after three rounds last year so we're in a much better position and very happy to be there."

And indeed while they took their time to get going last weekend, their ultimately stylish, five-try win away to Zebre in a rain-lashed Parma on Saturday night showed that theirs can be a game for all seasons.

"It was difficult out there in the first half," said the Kiwi coach of the win that left his side as one of only three boasting a perfect 10 points from two rounds.

"The rain was steady, we made a few mistakes and didn't play the kicking game that we really wanted to, but we addressed that at half-time.

"We were a lot more clinical and a lot more patient in the second half, not trying to play too much rugby in our own half. We were disappointed that we let one try in but to get a bonus point in the conditions was very satisfying."

Scarlets are one of only two PRO14 sides to win at the Kingspan Stadium since the start of the 2014-15 campaign - the other being Munster - although they did lose on their last visit to Belfast, a 19-8 reverse a year ago this weekend.

That was the side's third defeat on the spin to start last season, and few could have predicted that night what would play out over the next eight months.

Ulster, despite beating the Scarlets and their fellow league champions Clermont and Exeter, would go on to have their worst season in years, while Scarlets would lose only twice more domestically all year.

Even riding on the crest of such a considerable wave, Pivac is expecting his side's Conference B rivals to provide a considerable test on Friday evening.

"It's a great place to go with a fantastic crowd," he said of trips to Belfast.

"They sell it out and it's not an easy place to go. We're going to really look forward to that opportunity next Friday night but we know it's going to be a big challenge."

As well as the absent Davies, the Scarlets will also be without the former Clermont man's brother James, who has been a key flanker for the side in recent times.

Ulster, meanwhile, will expect to be able to name a stronger panel than the one that beat Treviso on Saturday.

Even at this early stage of the campaign, with Leinster as well as Scarlets also boasting a perfect record so far this season, the province will be wary of losing any more ground to sides they figure to be battling for play-off berths come season's end.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph