London (AFP) – Llanelli Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has said his side will need to beat European rugby’s “form horse” if they are to reach the Champions Cup final at Leinster’s expense.
The Welsh region face Leinster in the Irish province’s Dublin backyard on Saturday in what will be the Scarlets’ first European semi-final since 2007.
No Welsh side has yet won the continent’s elite club rugby tournament whereas Leinster have three European crowns to their credit.
They have been in outstanding form this season, winning all six of their pool matches against Exeter, Montpellier and Glasgow, collecting 27 out of a possible 30 points in the process, before defeating reigning European champions Saracens in the quarter-finals.
“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.”
– ‘Best performance’ –
Pivac, a possible successor to fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland as Wales coach, added: “Leinster are the form horse, and we are going to have to have probably our best performance so far as a group.”
Scarlets, who last season won the Pro 12 — now the Pro 14 following the addition of two South African sides to what was the Celtic League — bounced back from a poor start to their European campaign, with pool wins over Bath and Toulon taking them into a quarter-final where they overcame La Rochelle.
The west Wales side may have lost all three of their previous European semi-finals but high-profile games in Dublin have not proved a problem under Pivac.
They beat Leinster in a Pro 12 semi-final at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) ground last May before returning to the Republic of Ireland capital to beat Munster at nearby Lansdowne Road the following week.
“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 (Lansdowne Road),” said Pivac.
“But it was 12 months ago. They are a different side, we are a different side.”
– ‘Magnificent stadium’ –
Leinster were seeded to have home country advantage in the semi-finals, meaning they could not play at the RDS. But the decision by European Professional Club Rugby to stage the tie at Lansdowne Road, barely half a mile away, has raised eyebrows given how often Leinster play major matches at the 51,700 capacity stadium.
Pivac, however, was unconcerned by the choice of venue.
“We have worked really hard to get to the semi-final, and to be quite honest, wherever we played it, it was never going to bother us,” he said. “That is for other people to decide — what is neutral and what is not.
“It is a magnificent stadium, in terms of your preparation, changing rooms and everything is international standard.
“The location of the stadium as a neutral venue? Look, there will be plenty of support for the locals I am sure, they won’t have too far to travel, but I know one Scarlets supporter probably makes up for 10 of the opposition.
“Hopefully, there will be something like 5,000 Scarlets fans there by the sounds of it, which is a great number of travelling supporters. I don’t know if it will be the cauldron that some people think.”