Dai Flanagan believes Scarlets players will return full of energy after lay-off

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Scarlets assistant coach Dai Flanagan has highlighted the Welsh team’s “big energy” ahead of their return to competitive rugby after a 58-day absence.

The Scarlets host Heineken Champions Cup opponents Bordeaux-Begles on Sunday, more than eight weeks since their last outing – a United Rugby Championship game against Benetton.

They had been due to play URC fixtures in South Africa last month, and had already arrived there when it became a UK Government red-listed country as fresh travel restrictions were imposed following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant.

Their party of 32 players and 15 staff members subsequently flew home by charter flight and then spent 10 days quarantining at a hotel near Belfast before arriving back in Llanelli last Friday.

Scarlets forfeited their opening European Cup game against Bristol five days ago as a result, with the Gallagher Premiership club awarded a 28-0 win and five points.

But the squad are now back in full training, and Flanagan said: “There is a definite big energy around the place, and everyone is excited to be back.

“During lockdown (isolation), we had some excellent speakers speak to us, guys who have been through a lot of tough times as well, and the biggest thing everyone pushed was that there is no excuse.

“We need to really nail our plan this week to make sure we are firing on Sunday, and that’s a challenge, but everyone loves a challenge.

“The challenge is making sure we are ready physically. Game plan-wise, we can’t overthink that. We have just got to play free, and that excites players, especially in this part of the world.”

After South Africa was red-listed, the Scarlets’ travelling party faced an anxious wait before making their journey back to the United Kingdom.

And Flanagan added: “I can only speak for myself, but from that Thursday night to the Sunday – three days – it felt like three months.

“Has anyone ever read The Stockdale Paradox? Basically, it will be all right in the end – but we didn’t know the end.

“Some false hope comes in with a message that ‘we might fly tonight’, and then that’s taken away from you. It was just about being disciplined and understanding that we will be OK and we will get home, it just might take a little longer.

“The players will have big (training) loads going into the game on Sunday, which will give us a lot of confidence.

Wales v Canada – Summer Series 2021 – Principality Stadium
Scarlets and Wales hooker Ryan Elias (David Davies/PA)

“We hadn’t touched a ball for two weeks, things like that, and we expect little errors, but I think the energy we will bring should override that.”

Hooker Ryan Elias linked up with the Scarlets squad and flew to South Africa after playing in all four of Wales’ Autumn Nations Series Tests.

Reflecting on the last three weeks, he said: “It was tough, a big mental challenge. It was good for character-building.

“To be honest, with the uncertainty of being in South Africa, it was just nice to know we could get back to the UK and get on with it there.

“They were long, long days, especially when you are used to training day in, day out and are active. We had 23 and a half hours a day in a room.

“We were allowed out in groups of three. My group was at eight o’clock. I would get up at half seven, have a quick coffee, do a couple of leg swings, and get out into the car park to do some running.

“It wasn’t ideal, but at the same time I could still get two and a half to three kilometres of running in. I feel good coming out of it.”

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