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Scarlets going back to the future with local talent; HEINEKEN CUP: We have had our share of adversity to deal with but I am looking forward to the next three years - GARETH JENKINS.

Byline: Simon Roberts

THE Scarlets may have got nowhere near the Heineken Cup quarter-finals in recent seasons - but they are still the Welsh side with the best record in the tournament.

For many, especially those outside Wales, they are still the Welsh side inextricably linked with the tournament.

Gareth Jenkins, the former Scarlets coach and now head of regional development and recruitment, guided them to two of their three semi-finals in 2000 and 2002.

Back then, the Scarlets were among European rugby's elite. Not any more, the Scarlets only qualifying for this season's Heineken Cup when the Blues won the Amlin Challenge Cup.

But Jenkins reckons something is stirring out west after owning up to mistakes in the Scarlets' past.

"There have been decisions that were made, understandably, over the last five years that saw us move away from local talent," said Jenkins.

"It was meant to give us a broader competitive edge by looking at journeymen rugby players, who arguably had more experience, to making us a more competitive force in Europe.

"There were times when we had the finance to follow that model, but realistically, on reflection, we have realised in the long term that is not for the Scarlets.

"We lost our identity and failed to gain respect and support for that model.

"The reason we have had success over the years because we unearthed local players from the villages and towns of the Scarlet region."

The Scarlets' financial problems have been well-documented and there has been a batch of players, coaches and chief executives coming and going through a revolving door at Parc y Scarlets.

There is no denying that the Scarlets got 'lost' and started chasing quick-fixes in a bid to land the Holy Grail of European rugby, but it came at a cost.

They became a remote cause, rather than a team at the heart of their community - and Jenkins is the first to admit that they forgot who they were and what made them such a unique force.

"We learnt some hard lessons," said Jenkins.

"I have always believed the hardest lessons are the ones you learn the most from.

"We have had our share of adversity to deal with here. We have had two dark periods here in our history - when the game went professional in 1995-96 and when we had to mortgage Stradey Park.

"And we had a difficult time when we moved to Parc y Scarlets, especially in the first year. "Those have been two significant tough times in our history. But we came back from the experience in the mid-90's with a team which competed for 10 years with the best in Europe.

"We have repositioned the business here now and it is sustainable.

"I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to the next three years."

Jenkins' trademark enthusiasm for the Scarlets, Welsh rugby and rugby in general is never far beneath the surface.

His new role is key to the region's new homegrown player focus and underpins any rugby revival down west.

Nobody understands more than Jenkins that the Scarlets are a bit different from their three big-city rivals - the Ospreys, Blues and Dragons - and that they are a cause at the very heart of a rugby-mad community.

Jenkins famously said after a Heineken Cup pool defeat to Northampton Saints at Franklin Gardens in 2005 that the only way a Welsh side could win the tournament was by buying overseas talent.

He has changed his tune since and is now an ardent supporter of Welsh rugby's regional approach.

But he is also realistic about how it will compete with the big-money sides in Europe.

"Things have moved on since then," said Jenkins.

"European rugby is flying, but we have to understand that the Scarlets have been here before.

But we are not like-for-like with England or France.

"I do have concerns at the moment about the buying power of some of the bigger teams in Europe and the amount of available income will always dictate lots of things.

"But what we want is to have the type of support to back a professional team.

"That means you can support your academy, employ more coaches and people to improve what you do there."

Jenkins admits that the Ospreys and Blues have certainly stolen a march on Welsh rugby's traditional flag bearers in Europe.

But he is now out and about building relationships with junior clubs in the region, talent-spotting and building a solid regional base for the Scarlets at age-grade level.

The Scarlets are nowhere near where they want to be, but the green shoots of recovery have been glimpsed so far in the Magners League this season.

The acid test, though, for any Scarlets side is Europe, and this season they are in Pool 5 with English champions, Leicester Tigers, Italian champions Benetton - who beat them in their Magners League opener - and Catalan giants Perpignan.

"I am totally confident. I know that it is an easy thing to say, but we will be a better team this season," said Jenkins.

"We couldn't have been much worse than we were last year, but how much we improve is difficult to gauge now.

"The bad experiences the players have had will only be invaluable for them going forward.

"I think we have a balance in the squad which I am really excited about."

Jenkins, who adopted a real boot room policy when he was in charge, has welcomed Nigel Davies' decision to have old Scarlets Robin McBryde, Simon Easterby and Mark Jones on his backroom team.

"Nigel has made a very brave decision and I am very happy about him restructuring his coaching team," said Jenkins.

"The energy and expectation here is tangible now.

"I have always believed that history is important and belonging to something gives you a real focus.

"That means so much more. Otherwise, it's just a job."

Jenkins would know all about that.

2 Gareth Jenkins led the Scarlets to two Heineken Cup semi-finals 7The shirt number Jenkins wore in the Scarlets' historic 9-3 victory over the All Blacks in 1972 13 Welsh Cup wins he enjoyed as Llanelli coach 24 Years spent as coach of Llanelli and the Scarlets THE ENERGY AND EXPECTATION AT THE SCARLETS IS TANGIBLE NOWGareth Jenkins

CAPTION(S):

Gareth Jenkins says the Scarlets lost their identity by bringing in journeymen Scarlets' Regan King gets away from Ospreys' Andrew Bishop on Saturday. The Scarlets are aiming to make the most of the talent on their doorstep from now in a bid to get back on glory trail
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 5, 2010
Words:1098
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