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Daunting task awaits as Scarlets seek to a prove point

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 18, 2013

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IN a bar close to the RDS Showground in Dublin on Saturday night, a group of Scarlets fans burst into a rendition of 'Sosban Fach'.

'Men of Harlech' would have been more appropriate after the Rorke's Drift effort they had just witnessed.

Ultimately, for this battalion of Welsh scrappers, there would be no triumphant finale after attempting to quell wave upon wave of Leinster assaults.

And for the walking wounded who flew back from the Irish capital, there was also the knowledge that they were going to have to do it all over again this weekend.

A week after taking on the European champions on their own patch, the Scarlets must attempt to see off a side many regard as the most potent attacking force in the tournament.

Clermont Auvergne have so far crossed for 19 tries in their opening five games — some effort in what was supposed to be this season's 'Pool of Death'.

Amidst their vast arsenal is a formidable bludgeon in the form of international forwards Tomas Domingo, Nathan Hines, Jamie Cudmore, Julien Bonnaire and Damien Chouly, while deadly cuts are made by the star-studded rapiers behind.

The Scarlets, after their 49-16 mauling in south-west France on the opening weekend of the tournament, won't need any reminder about Clermont's vast threat.

But a replay of the French side's first try against Exeter at the Stade Marcel Michelin last Saturday, will at least provide confirmation.

Former Scarlet Regan King, who didn't even make the match-day squad in the opening game of the pool, glided effortlessly across field, pulling in a handful of Exeter defenders, before flicking a sublime reverse pass to France star Wesley Fofana, who sliced back on an angle before side-stepping the final defender on the way to the whitewash.

It was a clear message that if the Scarlets fail to show the same defensive resolve as they did in Dublin, a tough finish to a tough European campaign awaits.

"We'll probably have to make even more tackles than last weekend," said lock George Earle, who headed the Scarlets' tackle tally with a remarkable 26 against Leinster.

"Against Leinster it was ruthless. It was one of the toughest matches of the season so far.

"I felt we were in the game for moments and the team showed a lot of character.

"But I'd rather play badly and win than play good and lose. It's all about results for me and the team.

"Hopefully, we can get the victory this weekend for the efforts we've put in." Brought in to add some granite to the Scarlets front five, Earle is set to come up against two locks who the term "no-nonsense" was written for.

Jamie Cudmore and Nathan Hines are forwards who could easily be standing in front of a nightclub door on a Saturday evening as rampaging around a rugby field for 80 minutes. And they are two players who left their mark on Earle in the corresponding fixture back in October.

"The first game I played against him (Hines) was quite a shock," admitted Earle. "I'm sure he has some tricks up his sleeve again, but I think I'm ready for him this time.

"He was very physical and it's intimidating playing in Clermont, but I think I'm good enough to stand up to these guys."

You sense that has been the message across the board at Parc y Scarlets this week.

Ironically, the opening half in Clermont was probably as well as the Scarlets have played this season — not withstanding their hammering of an under-strength Leinster on the first weekend of the season.

On that day, the likes of skipper Rob McCusker and Josh Turnbull hurled themselves into tackles, while Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams and Rhys Priestland were constant threats behind.

The red card issued to Morgan Stoddart close to half-time not only changed the course of the match, but the Scarlets season and the West Walians are currently trying to halt a run that has seen them lose six of their last seven matches in all competitions.

It has been a testing period for everyone at Parc y Scarlets with flak flying from frustrated fans.

Some of the criticism prompted McCusker to hit back in his column for the Post's sister paper the Llanelli Star this week.

McCusker wrote: "There are a small minority that call themselves 'supporters' but do not seem to understand what that term means, and I'm not entirely sure if it aptly applies to them.

"There are a faceless few — we never see them at our meetings or at appearances, who send anonymous Get Well Soon cards and letters to players and coaches alike, and post non-constructive comments online under some witty pseudonym, expressing their disgust at the players' level of effort and commitment.

"Let me assure you of one thing.

"There is NO lack of effort from this team, there is NO lack of commitment either.

"No-one out there is more frustrated with the way things are going on the field than the players in this squad."

McCusker's words were echoed by Earle.

"I think we've been letting our fans down, especially with our bad record at home," he added.

"To beat a team like Clermont on our own patch would be an immense boost for our season.

"It's going to take an 85-minute effort, in defence as well as attack and we've got to be ruthless and want it more than them.

"I know we've let people down — we've let ourselves down — but we don't do it on purpose.

"We wear the jersey with pride, especially for the people here.

"It will always drive me, to play for a team as great as this.

"I went to a dinner the other day and saw a lot of the old players.

"It made me realise how much this jersey means.

"There's so much history and you cannot let them down.

"That must be the biggest motivation."

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