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Scarlets new boy aims to revive memories of Welsh rugby legend

Wales Online logo Wales Online 18/09/2020 Mark Orders

The respected former Neath RFC team secretary Dai Shaw once said of the club’s ironman prop Brian Williams: “When he played, there was a sense that everything and anything was possible.”

“He was the man, the leader of the pack.”

All who saw the fearless farmer tearing the ball from mauls and steaming around the field like a back-rower would understand the reverence in which he is still held at The Gnoll.

Further west in Llanelli, those who witnessed Scott Quinnell in his pomp will apply similar sentiments to the big man. When Derek’s eldest boy carried ball, it was run-for-the-hills time for those unfortunate saps whose job it was to bar his way.

He didn’t so much break tackles as run over those who were attempting to bring him down. After he ended his Test career, a website contributor paid a warm tribute to him, saying: “There was no greater sight in world rugby than to see Scott charging in full flight at the opposition.”

Another asked, plaintively: “What are we going to do without you, Scott?”

The thing with Quinnell is that he played as well for for his club as he did for his country. It takes a particular sort of individual to pull off that trick. Phil Bennett did it years before, in the process cementing his own legend with the locals.

And so to Sione Kalamafoni today.

He hasn’t long been at the Scarlets, so it seems almost sacrilege to mention the summer signing from Leicester Tigers in the same breath as Quinnell, but he knows all about his predecessor in the middle of the back row and is keen to revive memories.

It’s worth pointing out, too, that he isn’t especially shabby as a ball carrier himself, with 721 runs for the Tigers over three seasons. There were also 629 tackles. For the avoidance of doubt, those are impressive figures.

On Saturday evening, Kalamafoni lines up for the Scarlets in the European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Toulon at Stade Mayol — a match covered live by S4C.

a group of people playing football on a field: Scott Quinnell in trademark action for Llanelli © David Jones, PA Scott Quinnell in trademark action for Llanelli

It provides the perfect stage for the new boy to make a statement.

“Growing up, I knew about the Scarlets and I had a lot of respect for Scott Quinnell who was one of the top No. 8s around,” he says.

“His are big boots to fill but, hopefully, I can bring something close to what he did for the club.

“I’ll bring a high work rate to the squad and I can bring some extra physicality on both sides of the ball.

“I would like to pride myself on my ball-carrying and physicality. As a back-rower, your work rate has to be top notch and you have to carry hard which I love doing.

“I love the physical side of the game and I pride myself on getting over the gain-line and making an impact. I think I can bring something different to the other players and I want to help the Scarlets be successful.”

Toulon wouldn't be a bad place to start.

The hosts defeated the Scarlets twice during the Challenge Cup pool stage — the first game seeing them edge home by a single point, the second encounter, in Llanell, resulting in a 27-15 French win after a performance built on impressive power.

The west Walians are missing players, with Jonathan Davies, Rhys Patchell, Liam Williams and Rob Evans absent for the trip to the Cote D’Azur, but their pack looks strong and their backline contains a number of attacking threats.

Kalamafoni has been impressed by the man who will pack down alongside him in Blade Thomson, playing his first game of 2020 after recovering from injury.

“I’ve been really impressed with the talent we have in the back-row,” says Kalamafoni.

“Blade is somebody who has really stood out.

“He brought a lot of his experiences from New Zealand and he’s a top-quality player. He’s an absolute nuisance to play against and he’s so skilful around the park.”

The 37-cap Tonga international feels the Scarlets are capable of upsetting the French: “Toulon will be very physical as they have some big boys in their forwards. We have to match them physically and get on top of them because otherwise it will be a dog fight.

“Hopefully, we can match them physically and mentally. This game will go to the wire and we need to really front up.”

Kalamafoni’s match-up with Sergio Parisse will be a clash within a clash. “It will be a hell of a tough battle in the back-row because they have some serious class and power there with guys like Facundo Isa and Sergio Parisse,” he adds.

“This is an exciting time for us because these European knockout games are really special.

“There’s a big prize at the end of it but first we have an extremely tough challenge ahead of us with Toulon. But I’m confident.”

S4C – Saturday, 8.00pm: Rygbi Cwpan Her Ewrop - Toulon v Scarlets

Live coverage of Toulon v Scarlets, in the quarter finals of the European Challenge Cup, from the Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon.

S4C – Saturday, 11.00pm: Rygbi Cwpan Her Ewrop – Bristol v Dragons

Highlights from Bristol Bears v Dragons.

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