Scarlets will play the Taine game this season and hope Plumtree can deliver

Dwayne Peel believes the great Scarlets turnaround can continue apace this autumn.

Like a tanker attempting to change direction, it took a while for the region to end up facing forward’s last season.

Under Peel’s coaching, the Scarlets managed just one win in their opening 10 fixtures and for a time, there were doubts that the club’s former Wales scrumhalf might be able to alter the settings.

He did, though, with a victory over the Dragons on New Year’s Day, a win that propelled Peel’s men to five wins in six games.

It wasn’t just the results, either. There were flashes of some of the Scarlets’ best running rugby at times – particularly in a win over a Sharks team laden with South African international players currently at the World Cup in France.

Now, the Scarlets are preparing to face the Dragons once more in their final pre-season friendly on October 6, before the United Rugby Championship gets underway two weeks later.

“We had a big emphasis last season on starting quickly and it didn’t really happen,” says Peel, whose team eventually finished a lowly 14th in the 16-team URC table.

“We just didn’t come out of the traps. It took us until halfway through the season to find our rhythm.

“We got into a rut, and it wasn’t until the European games came around that we found our feet. We stayed true to what we wanted to do, but we focused a bit more on our kicking game, we added a bit more bite to our defence and we had some players coming back from injuries.

“All that helped us turn things around, but we are certainly hoping for a much better start to this season.”

What makes the Scarlets the most intriguing of the four Welsh regions has been their recruitment. Whilst the other three regions have all lost key performers from last season, the Scarlets have managed to maintain their core personnel and add some eye-catching new faces.

Chief among those is Taine Plumtree, the 23-year-old back row forward who arrived from New Zealand in July, was summoned by Warren Gatland for his national squad, and might well have made Wales’ World Cup squad had injury not intervened.

A shoulder problem picked up against England scuppered what would have been a meteoric rise.

Plumtree is the son of former Swansea coach John Plumtree and like a chip off the old block he has made an immediate impact after relocating to South Wales.

“Taine is a naturally athletic back row forward who has been on our radar for a while,” says Peel.

“He is an athletic No.6, who can play at No.8 and step up into the second row when needed. Good teams around the world now have that tall, rangy No.6 and I’m sure that is why Wales have been looking at him.

“In many ways, this has been a whirlwind few weeks for Taine, because originally he wasn’t due to be here until November.

“Getting into the Wales squad was a massive bonus for him, and we’re really excited about what he can now do for us this season.”

Plumtree is one of four significant new players to join the Scarlets this summer. Ioan Lloyd, already capped twice by Wales, has moved from Bristol, and wants to claim the No.10. shirt, Teddy Leatherbarrow is a Wales U20 back row forward who has moved from Sale, while Charlie Titcombe is a youngster who can understudy Lloyd, having impressed at Loughborough University.

Like the rest of the Scarlets squad, the newcomers will be desperate to get going since 17 weeks of pre-season training will have elapsed by the time the URC kicks-off, because of the World Cup.

“The season is still a while away, so we are still sharpening the blade a bit. But I think we are in a good place,” adds Peel.

“But it’s certainly been a very challenging pre-season because of the World Cup.”

As the Scarlets look to bed in their new recruits, the other three regions are also gearing up for the URC kick-off on October 21.

The Dragons have taken two players from the Scarlets – Dane Blacker and Corey Baldwin – and will also welcome home Dan Lydiate from the World Cup to the region where he began his career.

Cardiff have lost a raft of players but signed two fly-halves in South African Tinus de Beer and Arwel Robson from the Cornish Pirates, plus props Ciaran Parker from London Irish and Rhys Litterick from Harlequins.

The Ospreys have also shed a team-load of players but picked up forwards Ethan Lewis from Saracens and James Ratti from Cardiff.

In the backs, they have welcomed scrum-halves Luke Davies from Jersey Reds, and Cam Jones from Glasgow, plus centre Dom Morris from Saracens.

Once the World Cup curtain falls, the stage will be re-set.