THE Scarlets are adamant they can still qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals despite losing their first two matches of the competition.
After the Llanelli region were beaten by Leinster in October, head coach Simon Easterby was resigned to the fact that his side were effectively out of the Heineken Cup.
But as the Scarlets welcome back a host of their Wales internationals for Saturday’s home clash against Exeter, they insist they can keep their European hopes alive.
“We were under no illusions how tough this group was going to be,” Scarlets forwards coach Danny Wilson said of Pool 5, which also features French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne.
“The first two games have not gone for us and we are in a position where we have to win the double-header against Exeter to give us any chance of progressing.
“It would not be a strange situation for Clermont and Leinster to have a couple of draws or points shared because they are two well matched teams.
“There is an opportunity for this and we have not given up on Europe.
“The Heineken Cup is the pinnacle that everyone wants to be involved with. We have got a lot to play for and the minimum is that we want to finish as high in this group as we can.”
Even if the Scarlets’ bid for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals proves fruitless, they could yet be presented with the consolation prize of a place in the Amlin Cup. They did so last season, where they lost to Brive in the last eight.
The Scarlets’ chances of beating Exeter will be boosted by the return of Wales players such as Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams and Rhys Priestland following the conclusion of the autumn internationals.
It was a miserable period for Wales, who lost all four of their Tests, and Priestland had a particularly difficult time as he sought the help of a sports psychiatrist in a bid to rediscover his form.
But Wilson is delighted too have the fly-half back at Parc y Scarlets, and he is confident the 25-year-old will soon be back to his best.
“Rhys is a good professional and a very talented player in a position that attracts a lot of pressure,” said Wilson.
“If you are playing 10 for any region or Wales in particular it is a huge pressure position.
“He knows and accepts that. When things are not going quite so well he then comes under some criticism, but he has broad enough shoulders to be able to deal with that.
“Class is permanent and Rhys will have more good games than bad games.
“He is an excellent guy to have around the place and I am glad he is back with us and he can breed confidence around the squad.”