Wayne Pivac believes the Scarlets will need to overcome European Rugby’s “form horse” on Saturday when they target a place in the Champions Cup final.
The Welsh region contest a first European semi-final since 2007 by facing Leinster in Dublin.
Leinster, despite being drawn in a group that also featured Exeter, Montpellier and Glasgow, won all six games and collected 27 points from a possible 30 before knocking out European champions Saracens at the quarter-final stage.
And while the Scarlets will travel in confident mood, head coach Pivac knows how big the task lies ahead.
“They (Leinster) are unbeaten in the competition, and to do that home and away against the quality of their pool shows the strength of their squad,” Pivac told reporters in Llanelli on Tuesday.
“It’ll be nice to have the opportunity to go a step further in this competition, and we certainly know it’s going to be a massive task.
“Leinster are the form horse, and we are going to have to have probably our best performance so far as a group.
“It is just going to be one of those games where, from the first whistle to the last, we’ve got to be at our best.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 16, 2018
“Our discipline has got to be right up there. You give them the ball, and you don’t see it for a while. They are very good at looking after possession, they have a strong set-piece and quality players across the field.
“It is a great challenge, and it’s one where we aspire to be, playing against the best sides at this latter stage of the competition.”
The Scarlets – last season’s PRO12 champions – recovered from a poor start in Europe to end their pool fixtures by beating Bath and Toulon, then saw off quarter-final opponents La Rochelle.
All three of the Scarlets’ previous European semi-finals ended in defeat, yet they have shown under Pivac that big games do not faze them.
After knocking out PRO12 semi-final opponents Leinster at Dublin’s RDS last May, they returned to the Irish capital a week later and destroyed Aviva Stadium opponents Munster.
Pivac added: “We can certainly take a lot of confidence out of the fact we went to Ireland two weeks in a row, with one of those games at the Aviva.
“But it was 12 months ago. They are a different side, we are a different side.
“It is something we have worked towards for the last four years. It is very exciting times for the players, the club and the community in general.
“Hopefully, we can put up a very good performance that will reflect the hard work that has gone into getting us in the position we are in.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Super Rugby, the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 may be considered the most popular club rugby competitions in the world, but if you want to see the pinnacle of club rugby, watch the Irish teams in action in the Champions Cup semi-finals this weekend.
Leinster and Munster go into the last-four ties with efficient game plans and squads purring with confidence – with the possibility of an all-Irish Champions Cup final a thrilling prospect for rugby fans.
Standing in the way of Munster are Top 14 giants Racing 92 – a team who Johann van Graan’s side met twice in the pool stages, with the Reds prevailing 14-7 in October and falling short by four points (34-30) in the reverse fixture in Paris in January.
For Leinster – the most in-form team in the competition this season – a meeting with Welsh side Scarlets separates them from a first final since 2012.
Two tense matches await, but if the provinces can prevail then Irish rugby will get the dream final in Bilbao on May 12, which will be just a second-ever all-Irish final – Leinster’s comprehensive 42-14 win over Ulster in 2012 the other one.
It’s fair to say the Munster-Leinster rivalry has declined in recent years, with the Blues winning 16 out of the last 22 fixtures, but nothing would bring it roaring back into the public interest than a Champions Cup final between the two.
It’s no surprise to see Leinster at this stage of the competition after an impressive year, but Munster – after a mixed campaign – have arrived in the last four following a stunning victory over three-time champions Toulon in the last round.
The back-to-back wins over the Cheetahs and Southern Kings in South Africa will surely boost morale, with the warm weather training, bonding and victories setting them up nicely for the trip to the south of France.
With Conor Murray playing the best rugby of his career and Ian Keatley in sparkling form of late, the men from Limerick will be a tour de force when they step out for the semi-final.
This Munster side may not have that same European experience when you think to Munster teams of old, but they are a vastly improved side with tactical prowess and a pack that have clear ideas of what they need to do with quality ball from line-out and scrum time.
With a maturing squad and Six Nations Grand Slam winners at their disposal, this match is set up to be a thriller.
In the other semi-final, Leinster are home to Scarlets with Leo Cullen’s side clear favourites for the title, having won their six pool games and especially after a convincing win over reigning champions Saracens in the quarter-finals.
The men from Dublin have been playing rugby at a frightening pace, with accurate kicking, a strong scrum and a superb passing and offloading game at the forefront of their game plan.
In Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan and Dan Leavy, Leinster possess four players who are also in the form of their lives and who will be integral to how the Blues perform at the Aviva Stadium.
It will be a difficult test for Scarlets but head coach Wayne Pivac has proven himself to be a master tactician, although he needs to tighten his defensive maul before the trip to the Irish capital, with two mauls collapsing at critical moments during the quarter-final win over La Rochelle.
If Leinster come out on top against the defending Pro14 champions, they will have a two day break and can relax and watch Munster play on Sunday before preparing for the decider.
But for all the talk of Leinster and Munster dominance, Scarlets and Racing won’t fear anything and this is set up to be the most promising semi-final pairing in recent years.
Scarlets beat Leinster in the Pro14 play-offs last year and there’s no reason why the Welshmen can’t do it again.
For Racing, any team with Carter pulling the strings is a force to be reckoned with, and after a solid win over Clermont in the quarters, they have proved themselves to be battle-hardened.
The club game is continuing to improve, but to see Leinster and Munster in the final would be a serious advertisement for the sport, especially from a tactical and viewing perspective, with both teams knowing each other so well from various confrontations down the years.
For now, the Irish sides must leap the semi-final hurdle this weekend before they can dream further, but an all-Irish final in northern Spain on May 12 would be an intriguing affair.
Rugby Australia said on Tuesday it would not sanction Israel Folau for his comments on homosexuality posted on social media as the Wallabies superstar revealed he was willing to walk away from the sport over his religious beliefs.
The decision came after Folau defended the post late on Monday on www.playersvoice.com.au, a website for sportspeople to air their views, saying he had written them “honestly and from the heart”.
“Rugby Australia will not sanction Israel Folau for his comment posted on a social media platform on April 4,” said a statement from the sport’s governing body.
“Anyone who knows me knows I am not the type to upset people intentionally,” the 29-year-old wrote, adding that suggestions he was bigoted “could not be further from the truth”.
Folau also hit out at Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle for her comments about him after he was summoned to a meeting with the governing body, which has an inclusion policy to stop discrimination, over his remarks.
Castle had said the star had agreed to “think about” the impact of his posts and had acknowledged his comments could have been made “in a more respectful way”.
“I felt Raelene misrepresented my position and my comments, and did so to appease other people, which is an issue I need to discuss with her and others at Rugby Australia,” he wrote.
Despite Folau’s criticism of Castle, the rugby chief said Tuesday that “we accept Israel’s position” and that the playersvoice post “provided context behind his social media comment”.
Folau also revealed he told Castle he was ready to walk away from his contract immediately “if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through”.
The offer to break the contract, which finishes this year, was not in order that he could return to rugby league, Folau added, amid speculation that several National Rugby League (NRL) clubs were interested in signing him.
“At no stage over the past two weeks have I wanted that to happen,” he added.
“This is not about money or bargaining power or contracts. It’s about what I believe in and never compromising that, because my faith is far more important to me than my career and always will be.”
Rugby Australia have been trying to balance their desire to re-sign Folau with the demands of leading sponsors including national airline Qantas, who made it clear to the governing body that it was not happy with Folau’s posting.
New South Wales Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said he wanted his player to stay in the code, adding that he knew discussions were continuing between Rugby Australia and Folau.
“We want Israel to stay in rugby, he enjoys the game and so our immediate concern is making sure he stays in rugby,” Gibson told reporters on Tuesday. “There hasn’t been a timeframe put on those discussions.”