The Scarlets have to be one of the success stories of the Magners League season so far.
Italian newcomers Benetton Treviso may have stolen the headlines with a series of eye-catching victories on home soil but no team has come near to matching the improvement shown by Nigel Davies’ men.
Since winning the Celtic League title back in 2004, the Scarlets have tasted mediocrity on a regular basis in the domestic cross-border competition, finishing fifth, sixth, fourth, sixth, fifth and ninth in the six seasons that have followed that victorious campaign.
But all that seems set to change this term, with the Scarlets riding high with nine of the 22 regular season matches already played.
It would be fair to say that outside expectations weren’t at their highest prior to the start of the season after the Scarlets had finished the previous campaign just one place off the foot of the table. But fast forward just a few months and the club is suddenly being talked about in far more positive terms.
Saturday’s victory over Aironi ensured the Scarlets remain the highest-placed Welsh side in the Magners League and they’ve held that rank for all but two of the nine rounds so far this season. Only Munster sit above them in the standings and only the Ospreys have left West Wales with an away win.
It’s clearly a good time to be a Scarlet.
“It’s been a terrific start to the season’” said Wales centre and the Scarlets’ Magners League Ambassador Jonathan Davies.
“We came in in the summer knowing where we’d gone wrong over the last couple of years and we’ve matured as a group. Some of the results we’ve had have been really impressive. We’re winning a lot of close games now. Last year we had so many losing bonus points but now we’re coming out with victories.
“We’ve learnt a lot over the past few seasons. There’s a core of us who have come through as a bunch of youngsters and maybe we were a bit naïve last year and the year before. We’ve now got experience of this level and we know what’s needed in training and on the field as well.
“We’ve had to go through quite a bad patch over the last three years but we’re not youngsters now and it’s time to deliver.”
Jonathan Davies and the Scarlets started the season with a bang
And delivering is exactly what the Scarlets are doing this season. Whereas last year the squad would produce one outstanding performance followed by a couple of less impressive displays, the current campaign is already being characterised by a far greater consistency.
It’s an improvement built on hard work, ever-increasing confidence and a tremendous team spirit. Bringing those three key factors together has helped develop a mentality where nothing but the best is acceptable each and every week of the year.
“Confidence has definitely built after the first two weeks,” added Davies, who will be hoping the Scarlets can continue to improve all the way up to the Magners League Grand Final on May 28, 2011.
“Maybe after the defeat to Treviso we were questioning ourselves really and it was the same after Connacht when we thought ‘we’ve got out of jail here’. But since then we’ve been building and building and haven’t looked back.
“The team spirit is fantastic. We’re really close as a group. There are levels of seniority in the team but everyone can approach each other, everyone talks to each other, we have a good time together and when we get on the field we all work together. If you’re close off the field, you know that in that last 10 minutes when you need to work your guts out for your team-mates, they’re doing the same for you.
“Matthew Rees said at the start of the season that the last couple of years have been unacceptable and he wants very high standards in training. Maybe last year, if a couple of balls went down in training or we made a couple of errors, we thought ‘that’s fine, it won’t happen on Saturday’ but it evidently did.
“Matthew called all the players in and said to us that things have to change and they are going to change. He talked about the standards he wants and what he expects and we all agreed to that.
“We don’t want to be classed as a middle of the road team. We all want to be winners. We all have high standards and the lessons we’ve learnt we’ve brought into some of our performances this year. We don’t want to be a soft touch. We want to be a strong club and that shows in where we’re sat in the league this year.
“For the older players who have experienced success with the Scarlets, it’s coming back to what they are used to. But for us as a younger group, we haven’t really seen that. It’s where we want to be and it’s very exciting.”