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Llanelli Fly Flag For Wales

Llanelli Fly Flag For Wales

Llanelli tackle 1998 Heineken Cup champions Bath Rugby in front of the BBC Grandstand cameras at The Recreation Ground on Saturday with the full weight of Welsh expectation on their Scarlet shoulders.
The two clubs – who have never met in the tournament before but are age-old “Rag Doll” adversaries – collide in a momentous Anglo-Welsh showdown with Scarlets coach Gareth Jenkins accepting “we are well aware of the heavy responsibility we carry into the match.”
Llanelli are the sole Welsh challengers left in the chase for European club rugby’s most coveted silverware, courtesy of a thunderous Pool 1 triumph over cup holders Leicester Tigers clinching them one of the top two runners-up spots, and already Jenkins has been swamped with good wishes from all quarters.
“The Heineken Cup is all about both club and country and Wales coach Graham Henry was the first to call and congratulate us on beating Leicester and getting into the quarter-finals,” said Jenkins.
“Since then I seem to have had a phone call from every coach in Wales with the positive message of ‘go for it.’ That is hugely encouraging and I know that all of them appreciate how vital it was for us to have a Welsh club in the quarter-finals, to earn a fifth qualifying team for next season’s tournament. Anything less would have been a massive disadvantage for Graham and the national team.”
And while Bath may have found it tough going in the English Premiership, Jenkins will look no further back than his opponents’ last two matches…Heineken Cup Pool 3 victories over Swansea and Biarritz that left Jon Callard’s team as the only ones with a six-out-of-six record from the group stage.
“You have to look what they have done in their most recent games and that is two wins in the Heineken Cup – that is the current form we are taking note of, nothing else that has gone before,” said Jenkins.
“Because everyone knows that Bath have made changes in their coaching set-up and that they are improving all the time.
“But on the other hand, there are not a lot of unknown elements to the game – which there would be if we were travelling to France, for example. We are familiar with the Bath players and we are familiar with the Bath ground.
“And this is a massive match on two fronts. First there is the fantastic kudos at stake and then everyone is aware of the financial aspect of going further in the Heineken Cup.”
While Bath had a free weekend in their build-up to the quarter-finals, Llanelli, minus many of their big guns, went down to Newport in the Welsh/Scottish League at Rodney Parade but the defeat in no way shook Jenkins’ confidence.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “In the big equation, our Welsh and Irish international players were away at national training camps where they worked extremely hard – and rightly so.
“It would have been totally unfair to expect them to then turn out in a Friday night club game and, as we have a fairly big squad, it gave us the chance to assess others. We lost the game but the resolve they displayed was marvellous.”
Llanelli will have 1,700 of their supporters at the quarter-final – “we could have sold the entire 8,000,” said Jenkins – and the coach promises Scott Quinnell’s team will be out to prove the taming of the Tigers was no flash in the pan.
“Come Saturday, we will be ready for it,” said Jenkins. “At the quarter-final stage you have to have your preparation absolutely right and be 110 per cent up for the game.”

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