By Graham Thomas
Wales prop Wyn Jones has spoken of his admiration for Dwayne Peel in guiding the Scarlets to the threshold of a European final.
Jones – who will pack down in the front row when Glasgow visit Parc y Scarlets on Saturday – admits he can’t quite believe how his head coach has dealt with so many obstacles in a campaign like no other.
“I don’t know how he’s done it really, with everything that has been going on this season,” says the Scarlets loosehead, ahead of their Challenge Cup semi-final showdown
“It’s been a really difficult season, with so many things to deal with, but Dwayne has been really focused and the squad of players have responded really well.
“To have this reward now, of being one game away from a final and the potential of winning some silverware, is a fantastic achievement but we have to take the last step.”
The Scarlets announced last week that 15 players are leaving at the end of the season, including household names like Leigh Halfpenny and established international such as Aaron Shingler and Rhys Patchell.
Such has been the chaos and tumult in the Welsh game over the last few months, that similar-sized clear-outs and shakedowns are happening at the other three regions.
For a time it looked as if the cash crisis and contractual quagmire in Wales was sucking the Scarlets downwards. At the turn of the year, they had won three games – against Zebre, Bayonne and the Cheetahs.
But Jones has been part of a squad which suddenly recovered to win nine of their next 11 matches, including Challenge Cup knockout ties against Brive and Clermont-Auvergne.
“Dwayne changed a few things around in training that weren’t working so well and the players responded,” adds Jones.
“He’s a good man-manager, which is a big part of the modern game alongside the technical side. You have to be able to get players to perform at their best at times when it really matters.”
It’s no coincidence that the Scarlets’ return to form has coincided with the Lions’ forward’s own comeback after a knee injury disrupted three months of his season from October to January.
In his absence, youngster Kelmsley Mathias has proved a real find for the region in the No.1 shirt, but having both players fighting for the starting spot – and backing each other up from the bench – has given the pack far more durability.
Mathias started the games against Brive and Clermont, but Jones – who had regained his Wales place by the end of the Six Nations – is likely to start against Glasgow.
“We have a number of high quality loose-heads in Wales at the moment, including Kelmsley, and that drives up the standards,” adds Jones.
“I’ve been pleased with the way things have gone for me since I came back from the knee injury and because I missed a fair chunk of the season, I still feel fresh.
“To have a semi-final now feels like a real bonus and I can’t wait for the Glasgow game.”
The Scottish side beat the Scarlets 12-9 only a fortnight ago in the URC at Scotstoun, but Jones says not so much should be read into that result.
“There was a real downpour which affected the game and I think both sides maybe had one eye on this game coming up.”
That defeat was also the background for criticism directed at the Scarlets from Glasgow assistant coach Peter Murchie who said this week,” They went hard at our breakdown – double jackals.
“It will be interesting to see how that gets refereed. There has been a fair amount put out about jackal technique and stuff. Whether they adapt, I’m not sure.
“We’re in attack trying to play with quick ball. They’re trying to slow it down. It’s who can do that better.”
The Scarlets have endured their fair share of heartbreak in European semi-finals. In 2000 and 2002 they went into their shells against Northampton and Leicester and paid the price.
Dwayne Peel has told his players not to die wondering against Glasgow.https://t.co/2r1xLUPZ9D
— Steffan Thomas (@Steffan_Thomas1) April 27, 2023
That produces little more than a shrug from Jones who says: “We’ll play our normal game and it’s been pretty effective recently.
“Glasgow are a really good team. They don’t kick very much and they like to attack with the ball in hand, so it should be a good spectacle.
“But it will also be a great event – a big European game at Parc y Scarlets, these are the things we all wanted to have when we joined.
“I remember those European semi-finals the Scarlets made 20 years when I was a kid, watching on. Now it’s our turn and we’re really looking forward to it.”
S4C: Saturday – 5.00pm – Rygbi Ewrop: Scarlets v Glasgow
Live coverage of the Scarlets v Glasgow, European Challenge Cup semi-final form Parc y Scarlets.