By Rob Cole
James Davies believes playing against the Leinster back row in the Guinness Pro 14 final will be even tougher than facing the Springboks or Pumas on Wales’ summer tour.
The Scarlets’ fetcher was himself turned over by Leinster when the two teams met in the semi-final of the Champions Cup at the same Aviva Stadium at which they will clash in Saturday’s final. Dan Leavy took the plaudits and Davies and co. were left licking their wounds.
“It is basically going to be like playing against the Irish back row this weekend – and they won the Grand Slam this year and are ranked at number two in the world,” said Davies.
“So, it is going to be as difficult, if not harder, playing against Leinster as it will be playing against the Springboks and Pumas in the next few weeks. They are on fire.
“When I came off the pitch in the European semi-final I said that’s one of the best teams I’ve ever played against. They executed everything to perfection.
“They played us off the park, especially in the back row, and I’d be the first to admit that. It is just great that we’ve got another chance to have a go back at them on the same stage where we took a hiding.”
Leinster ran in five tries in the Champions Cup clash and Leavy was once again one of the stars of the show as he helped to physically dominate the Scarlets with his all-action performance.
Having totally eclipsed Davies three weeks ago, he can expect some pay-back in the return.
“Dan had a great season last year and he’s a quality player in a quality pack. He is reaping the rewards of his front five doing so well,” said Davies.
“Leinster have a cracking back row and this year Dan and Scott Fardy have been the top two players in European rugby. Hopefully, me and Aaron Shingler can replicate their performance or do even better.
“I am looking forward to having another crack at Dan after our last meeting. I’m hoping I can come out on top this time, but I know how tough a challenge that is going to be because he is a great player.
“He is always involved in the game, he is great over the ball in defence, but he also offers himself as a carrier in attack throughout the game. You see a lot of No 7s who are good in defence and over the ball, but not all of them are as good in attack.
“The running lines he offers just suit Leinster down to the ground. He runs those hard lines and good angles on weak shoulders to consistently get Leinster over the gain line.”
But Davies, the king of the turn-overs in the Pro 14 in recent seasons, reckons the wounds from the 38-16 ‘hammering’ in Dublin three weeks ago will be very much a thing of the past when he returns with his Scarlets teammates to the scene of their magnificent final triumph over Munster last year.
“Last year’s win at the Aviva Stadium is still pretty fresh in everyone’s memory. Wayne Pivac told us this week to just remember that feeling we had in the changing rooms after the final whistle,” added Davies.
“It was the most special moment I’ve had in rugby and we will be doing everything we possibly can to get that same feeling back in the changing room this year.
“I think we can turn it around. When we took that beating a few weeks ago we looked at it to discover how we got beat up so badly.
“I think we’ve put a lot of those wrongs to right in the last few weeks. Our focus in the last few games has been on getting to a standard where we can beat a team like Leinster.
“Every preview and review we have done has been about playing them again. That hasn’t been about looking past the teams we have been playing, but seeing Leinster as the best team in Europe and wanting to be at their level.
“We have taken our learnings from the Champions Cup semi-final and we have tried to put things right. Now we are just really excited.
“It is a role reversal from a few weeks ago. They were smarting after we beat them in the PRO12 semi-final in Dublin last year, and now it is our turn to come out and look for revenge.
“They really stuck it to us after last year’s loss and, hopefully, we can do the same to them this weekend.”