Preview of The Scarlets by Carolyn Hitt, Western Mail

13th January 2014

The Six Nations is looming yet that usual frisson of excitement is missing for me this year. It’s not the game itself, it’s what surrounds it. If they could bring peace to Northern Ireland why can’t a pile of Welshmen sit in one room and sort out a bit of sport?

It gets more surreal by the day, though at least we had some humour last week – from Times correspondent Mark Souster threatening to walk naked down Westgate Street if a peace deal wasn’t sorted to the unintended comedy of the self-proclaimed resurrection of David Moffet.

But from the player drain to the fans’ disillusion, my love of the oval ball feels somewhat tainted at the moment. So it was a rather weary heart that I sat down to watch a preview of The Scarlets, the new BBC Wales series that starts tomorrow night, tracing a year in the life of the Llanelli-based region.

Access is key to this kind of fly on the dressing room wall television. You only have to consider the way the recent Lions Raw DVD glossed over the biggest story of the tour – the dropping of Brian O’Driscoll – in a matter of seconds to know it matters who has editorial control. But on the evidence of the first episode, The Scarlets have embraced the cameras. As the series progresses, it will be interesting to see how much inside knowledge will be provided on perhaps the most controversial episode covered in the filming period – the selling of their star asset George North to Northampton .

Tomorrow night’s programme kicks off at a pivotal point. The pressure’s on after a run of defeats. The Scarlets need to win to keep their league play-off hopes alive, while their big names are away helping Wales win the Six Nations.

There’s humour too as we see the 18-stone-plus bulk of prop Samson Lee straining the zipwire on a team-bonding assault course exercise. And we meet the characterful young groundsman whose devotion to the Parc y Scarlets pitch is so great it almost seems he would rather the team didn’t actually play on it.

But most of all it gives a compelling account of the commercial pressure on Welsh rugby regions as they endure one of the most turbulent periods in the history of the domestic game. Chief Executive Mark Davies provides an eloquent insight into the realities of running modern rugby. It’s more than a game, it’s an £8.5m business, with all the attendant challenges that brings.

Llanelli has a glorious past, rich in rugby icons, but this series explores how the Scarlets must battle through a firestorm and look towards an uncertain future. Whatever your views on Welsh rugby’s civil war, this is a timely dispatch from the regional battlefield, bringing the context of the current turmoil to life.

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