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Williams column: Exploit the weak link in Leinster midfield

By Shane Williams

IF it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s why the Scarlets don’t need to change anything for their Champions Cup semi-final with Leinster. It’s going to be a fascinating battle at the Aviva Stadium and I can’t wait for kick-off because, by the time it comes round, both teams will just be desperate to get going.

For me, the game is going to be decided out wide.

Whoever gets the advantage behind the scrum will come out on top because I think the two packs are going to be very equally matched.

So, how do the Scarlets go about doing that? Of course there is more than one way to skin a cat and Stephen Jones will have had a busy few weeks decoding the Leinster back line.

We all know how good a coach Wayne Pivac is and I’m sure he will have noticed – as I have – a couple of areas where Leinster can be exploited.

The first of those is in midfield and I think that is an area the Scarlets can attack their opposition.

Isa Nacewa is a wonderful player – someone I faced numerous times during my career – but he’s 35 now and more used to playing full-back or wing than centre.

Robbie Henshaw’s injury means Nacewa is likely to start in the blue 12 jersey and while he is a top-class operator, the Scarlets must look to exploit him in that position.

In Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams the Scarlets have two men in peak form. Their challenge is to tie in Nacewa, target him with some initial carries, and then work off that platform.

If I was Wayne, I’d tell my backs to try and isolate Nacewa in defence – initially with some brute power – and then later in the game, by getting outside him and doing him for pace.

Should the Scarlets manage that, then the Leinster back three will be forced to cut inside and the likes of Steffan Evans and Leigh Halfpenny will have plenty of joy and more space to work in.

I’m sure the Scarlets will look at Nacewa as a man to target, but it’s not quite as simple as that alone.

There are other things to consider, specifically the Scarlets kicking game and this is where the only back line selection Wayne has to consider comes in.

Paul Asquith’s hamstring injury means there has to be a change to the semi-final team. Moving Leigh from full-back to Asquith’s wing position and shifting Rhys Patchell to full-back is one option.

That would leave Dan Jones to start at fly-half, but I think it’s vital Rhys stays in the 10 jersey to control the game.

Dan is an excellent prospect and we’ve seen in Europe already this season that he has all the potential to be a top-class talent.

But for a game as big as this one, I’d put Rhys up against Johnny Sexton because he has that ounce more of big game experience.

I’d have no trouble with the Scarlets opting for someone like Ioan Nicholas on the wing instead of Asquith because we’ve seen the young players from Llanelli really step up at times this seaon.

If Nicholas was to start he’d have his hands full with a dangerous Leinster back three. Sexton is the conductor, the master tactician, but Scarlets need to limit the amount of ball that finds its way to the likes of James Lowe and Rob Kearney. If they don’t, they could end up in trouble.

To ensure that doesn’t happen, Scarlets must defend, kick and tackle with precision and that’s why I’d keep Rhys and Leigh in their favoured positions.

Both are brilliant at those aspects of the game and in Leigh, Scarlets have one of the best kickers and defensive full-backs in world rugby. That could prove key on Saturday, and that’s without mentioning his accuracy from the tee.

Scarlets might not have the strength in depth Leinster can boast, but I’m confident they will go out and win.

It will be tight and it won’t be easy, but the underdog tag will suit the Welsh region and so long as they don’t go into their shell, they can come out on top.

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