Belfast Telegraph

Peel's plan to haunt old pals at Scarlets as Ulster seek crucial win

By Michael Sadlier

Saturday will feel strange as Ulster assistant coach Dwayne Peel returns to Llanelli for the first time in a professional capacity since leaving there a decade ago.

Yes, but that's not all that makes this an unusual occasion.

Ulster play the Scarlets a few hours after Ireland meet Wales down in Dublin, which means that the former Wales skipper will find himself back in Llanelli, and supporting the national side, before rapidly switching allegiance to go about trying to dig out a win for an Irish province over his old club.

"I may watch a bit of it," said the 36-year-old, who was capped 76 times by Wales, regarding the Six Nations game earlier in the day.

"It's different being a player and being a coach, as a coach you can have a bit more relaxation."

Still, it's anything but a run-of-the-mill Saturday afternoon for the former British and Irish Lion.

"I'm not really entitled to say anything," the former scrum-half quipped regarding nailing his colours too prominently to backing the land of his birth at the Aviva Stadium.

"I think it will be a good game and it'll be a big challenge for Wales, but I think it's one they're capable of (meeting).

"Dublin is a difficult place to go and not too many sides win there," Peel said, alluding to having tasted victory in Ireland just once in his 10-year international career, and at Croke Park at that, when benching for Wales back in 2008.

Not many sides win at Parc y Scarlets either, which prompts Peel to switch tack back to his day job.

Clearly things could be better in his first season at Ulster. After all, he was brought in by Les Kiss along with Jono Gibbes and Aaron Dundon and now Kiss has departed, the side have crashed out of Europe after being in a good position to qualify for the knockouts, and even a Guinness PRO14 play-off is no longer guaranteed as they have slipped to fourth in the table.

Though having seen plenty of off and on-field turmoil before during his stints with Sale Sharks and Bristol - he joined Ulster from the latter club after a season and a bit as a coach - this wasn't what the Welshman had bargained for when he signed up for two years in Belfast.

"Some things happen in sport and you have to crack on," said Peel of Kiss' abrupt departure.

"That's what we have done, we haven't let anything affect us.

"I am enjoying the work and it is a good challenge and we are right in the mix coming into the good end of the season.

"We are working hard to challenge in the league, and nothing is won until May so we will work hard in the next few games and hopefully get ourselves a (play-off) place.

"But we have to pick ourselves up because we know the challenge ahead of us," he said, alluding to last weekend's last-gasp and damaging defeat to Edinburgh, who moved above Ulster into third in Conference B.

Mention is made of Jared Payne's input as a current stand-in defence coach and Peel acknowledges the Kiwi's impact which seemed evident in Ulster's greater organisation against Edinburgh.

"I think we made 218 tackles, which is a fantastic effort," Peel admitted. "But we would like to flip that this week and get a bit more ball."

With a dire away record - since beating the Southern Kings in November, Ulster, in all competitions, have won just one in five trips away from the Kingspan - and four games outside Belfast in the six which remain to salvage a play-off place, the province look to have a real struggle on their hands to stay in the mix.

"We would like to think we have the ability to do it," Peel insisted of Saturday evening's game.

"I think the biggest thing for us is focus on our approach to the game and how we think we can challenge them and not enter into making a spectacle of it really," he added, meaning the visitors likely have a particular style of game plan in mind against a Scarlets side hugely hit by international call-ups.

It will also be his first visit to the Welsh side's fortress - they still played at Stradey Park when Peel shipped out for Sale back in 2008 - and another chance to go head-to-head with his friend, former team-mate and coach Stephen Jones after narrowly beating the Scarlets in September.

Peel and Jones go back a long way having played together for the Scarlets, as well as Wales and the Lions, and the pair have a business venture in Llanelli in the Sosban restaurant.

"Steve's doing a great job," Peel said. "They won the league in style last year and they've continued that this year, especially in Europe. They have been excellent."

If only the same could be said of Ulster.

Belfast Telegraph

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