Phil Bennett is backing Rhys Patchell to make the Wales No.10 shirt his own this summer – despite the Scarlets’ loss of their Guinness Pro 14 crown.
Patchell was part of the Scarlets team overwhelmed 40-32 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday, where the Irish province completed an historic Pro 14 and European Champions Cup double.
Leo Cullen’s men ran in five tries and Jonathan Sexton kicked 13 points as they became the first Celtic side to win the domestic and European Cup titles in the same season, a feat their 2011 and 2012 predecessors failed to achieve.
Scarlets wing Johnny McNicholl scored a stunning hat-trick of tries for the Scarlets, with Werner Kruger also crossing late on, but they were always chasing something that was out of reach.
Now, a dozen Scarlets – but without injured flanker Aaron Shingler – must fly to the USA to face South Africa, before moving on to Argentina for two further Tests.
Former Wales fly-half Bennett believes Patchell has done enough to see off the challenge of Anscombe, despite the Cardiff Blues man’s heroics in helping his side lift the European Challenge Cup.
“I enjoyed watching Anscombe in the Challenge Cup final for the Cardiff Blues,” said Bennett.
“He played very, very well and he’s a talented guy who we often haven’t seen the best of because of injuries.
“But Rhys Patchell adds pace to the Scarlets when he plays at No.10. He plays off the front foot, right up in the opposition’s faces.
“He’s a big guy, solid, but very dynamic. Few big men like that are as quick off the mark. He’s also got a great ambition to bring fluidity to any team he plays for.
“He has vision and his tactical appreciation is improving. It depends on what type of game Wales want to play. If they want someone who can create a threat from fly-half when the game opens up, then Patchell is the man.
“His line-kicking has improved dramatically, although his goal-kicking still has room for more consistency.
“But he has been a revelation for the Scarlets. They have been very lucky to have him.
“I also like his attitude. He’s a team player – up for it all the time and the first guy to congratulate a Scarlets player when they score a try. In a short space of time, he’s become Scarlet through and through.
“Let’s hope he can now get the chance to do it for Wales. Like many other former internationals, I want Wales to play more like the Scarlets with an off-loading game and with ambition. Patchell adds to that mix of excitement and flair.
“But Wales are in for some very tough games in Argentina. They will really have to earn their money down there.”
Both Shingler and Dragons wing Ashton Hewitt have been ruled out of the tour. Shingler suffered a knee injury in the first-half at the Aviva Stadium and will be replaced by Cardiff Blues’ Josh Turnbull.
The uncapped Hewitt also misses out after suffering a shoulder injury in training on Thursday. No replacement has yet been named for Hewitt.
The Scarlets now have to ponder the challenge of bridging the gap between themselves and Leinster.
Both the scoreline margin and performance level was far closer than a month before, when Leinster crushed Wayne Pivac’s side in the Champions Cup semi-final, but the Scarlets coach has conceded it will be a difficult task trying to bridge the divide further.
“We don’t have the budget to have the sort of numbers you are talking about with the calibre of players at the moment,” he said.
“We will be looking to improve as much as we can when we can. They (Leinster) have a very good system and a very good budget.
“We have a pretty good record too which we are proud of with a lot of locally based players.
“We have to try and match what Leinster are doing because they are the double champion side.
“We have to try and compete with them on all fronts as well as developing young players in the market place to make sure we get the balance of our side right as they clearly have done.”
Leigh Halfpenny booted Scarlets into an early 6-3 lead and Johnny McNicholl’s well-taken try cancelled out a Devin Toner effort, but James Lowe’s deftly-finished score on the stroke of half-time had Leinster 21-11 to the good.
Man-of-the-match Sexton stepped up as captain after injury unfortunately ended Isa Nacewa’s 185th and final Leinster appearance in the 18th minute, while Scarlets also lost Aaron Shingler to a knee injury.
The Conference B table toppers put the game beyond Scarlets’ reach with third quarter tries from Sean Cronin and Jordan Larmour, coupled with a further score from Jack Conan.
Time ran out on the defending champions’ late comeback, although the classy McNicholl finished with a hat trick and replacement prop Kruger also crossed late on.