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Gareth Jenkins And The New Signings

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    Posted: 22 August 2004 at 12:31pm

from ic wales

GARETH JENKINS accepts searching questions are being asked about the Scarlets ability to live without Stephen Jones this season.

The Wales star and former Scarlets' play-maker guided his old side to the Celtic League title last season.

But that was before Jones decided to quit Wales and sign a two-year-deal with French giants Montferrand in the summer. Jenkins admits the decision not to replace Jones with a big-name fly-half has left his Scarlets open to accusations of a lack of ambition.

Jones' deputy last season, Gareth Bowen, and Arwel Thomas, who was signed this summer, will fight it out to fill the void at fly-half berth.

And Jenkins has been around long enough to know that how the Scarlets learn to live without Jones could hold the key to their whole campaign.

"I know the only area where people can say we have shied away from our ambition is not identifying a No.10 to replace Stephen," said Jenkins

"But they just aren't out there. You are talking there about a world-class player.

"Whatever we feel about Stephen Jones emotionally, if you look at the best in Britain he is one of the top three or four.

"You are talking about one of the best in the world.

"The southern hemisphere, at the moment, is struggling for outside-halves.

"They are just not down there. So how do you replace one of the best in the world ?

"You can't, is the answer.

"There isn't a market out there, players are tied into contracts and you just cannot go out there and pick up a player and bring him in.

"You can't say he's gone but now we have so and so, instead." With Jones gone to pastures new in France, it seems likely that Bowen will be given his head at No. 10.

The former Bristol and Bridgend fly-half impressed everybody with the way he stepped in during the Celtic League when Jones was on international duty.

Bowen showed signs of growing maturity and appeared more comfortable in the position as the season went on.

But Jenkins isn't a mug and the Scarlets will be desperate to defend their Celtic League title and make a major assault on the holy grail - the Heineken Cup.

But the Scarlets boss is backing his rugby nous (who would question that?) by gambling on Bowen to step up to the plate this season.

"We have had to make a decision and I am very comfortable with giving Gareth the responsibility and the opportunity to step up," said Jenkins.

"I think he is more than capable and I think this season he will prove himself.

"He is a player of high quality in his own right and that is my judgement.

"Gareth had a great season last year.

"He knew what was happening with Stephen and I don't think we have surprised Gareth. I am very comfortable with the decision we have made.

"We have given him the tap on the back and the real support that we really owed him anyway.

"He has proved himself."

While the other regions have strengthened significantly for this season, there is no getting away from the fact that the there are question marks over the Scarlets' recruitment policy.

Arwel Thomas, Gavin Thomas, Andrew Powell and Aisea Havili are the four new signings at Stradey Park.

Arwel and Gavin Thomas and Powell all come with baggage - with something to prove.

All three have were released by their previous sides mid-season and thrown on the scrap-heap. Jenkins is bullish about the strength of his squad.

"We were comfortable with our squad last year," said Jenkins. "The dynamics have been improved with our signings this year.

"I am very comfortable with where we are. You might call them bargain-basement but they have a lot to prove.

"Arwel has a lot of motivation to make this work and that is important.

"We can all talk about what Arwel can do and can't do - but he has a fantastic reason to do well.

"From my point of view that is a great quality for a player to have. Andy Powell is the same. He has a lot of things to prove and it's a second chance for him.

"Gavin Thomas is very similar too.

"Havili is exceptionally talented. He has pace that you don't see in world rugby.

"We just have to make him fit into what we do."

Jenkins had a good record of dealing with difficult characters and has a reputation for getting the best out of players.

So you can't help but feel all three have come to the right place to kick-start their careers.

"Who knows about that," said Jenkins.

"Time will tell, but I do think they have come to the right place. We have clear standards, ambition and we have a low tolerance of people who don't want to be professional."

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