By Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
If you can get a bookmaker to give you odds on the 2011-12 Heineken Cup then stick a sneaky bet on the Llanelli Scarlets, as they have one of the best group of young players in Europe.
After seeing them blown away by Leinster earlier this season they have now produced three stunning results, beating London Irish, Brive and now a very strong London Wasps side away from home.
And this win was also built on some incredible defence. The Scarlets put in an impressive 143 tackles on the night, to just 51 from Wasps – that takes skill, guts and a lot of heart. The fact that they could rest David Lyons and still win says it all for me.
Obviously no one in West Wales is getting carried away with themselves, and they have to go to Toulon in the Amlin Challenge Cup, but these guys genuinely have the opportunity to create something special at Parc Y Scarlets.
I would liken it to the Leicester dynasty that is building at Welford Road and puts paid to the argument that you need to go and buy success. The Scarlets are building their side on local lads, with a sprinkling of big signings, which is exactly the right way and three cheers go to Nigel Davies for the way he has brought them on as this will be great news not just for Llanelli but Wales as well.
The Scarlets have had poor representation in the national side of late but that is about to change with guys like Rhys Priestland, Lou Reed, Damian Welch, Gareth Maule, Rob McCusker and Josh Turnbull about to breakthrough into the highest level.
Coach Davies is certainly marking himself out as a Wales coach in the making in my mind and the way he has turned around the region, after a couple of desperate years, should earn him the Freedom of Llanelli.
Scarlets’ fans would also have been delighted to see Regan King emerge in the second half and Matthew Rees confirm his place in the starting line-up against England next Saturday.
Wasps created two chances in this game and one of the best finishers in Europe, Tom Varndell, slipped over to score, one on each wing. Rather than describe these as ‘soft tries’ as Priestland did at the end each player should watch the scores over and over and see how they can stop one of the best in the business next time they meet him. But apart from Varndell’s scores there was little from Wasps.
On the Wasps side only Martin Johnson can explain why Tom Varndell isn’t playing – at least – for the England Saxons at Bath against Ireland.
The guy scored his 13th and 14th tries of the season against the Scarlets and is one of the best finishers in the business. We all know he is as quick as anyone but I have also seen his kicking and defence improve his season. Why not focus on what he can do, which is a lot and not on what he can’t do!
Jack Wallace made an impressive debut at full-back, only being told on the day of the game that he was playing instead of Mark van Gisbergen. He is clearly a star of the future, while Bob Baker continued to make good progress in the front row.
Wasps should also break the bank to hold on to Joe Ward, their all-action hooker as his battle with Rees was worth turning up for. David Lemi is a big threat, but this was the Scarlet’s day.
The future is bright, the future is the colour of Scarlet!
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