The Scarlets have named a strong starting XV to face Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday evening in their Magners League fixture away at Rodney Parade (kick-off 7.05pm).
The Dragons encounter is the first in a Welsh derby double-header for the Scarlets – who then face the big local derby game of the season next Saturday as they entertain old rivals the Ospreys at Parc y Scarlets kick-off 8.05pm.
The next two games are seen as crucial to the Scarlets as the West Wales region seeks to build momentum in its Magners League campaign.
Head Coach of the Scarlets, Nigel Davies said: “These two games are massive for us as a region not only as local derbies but because it’s all about the momentum factor and getting into a winning habit – so that we can go into the next series of games on the back of success which helps breed confidence.”
There are only two changes to the Scarlets starting line-up that put in a commanding six-try winning performance (49-10) over Italians Aironi last weekend at Parc y Scarlets. The only changes are Josh Turnbull who starts at flanker along with experienced lock and Scarlets’ seasoned campaigner Vernon Cooper (354 appearances) who joins Lou Reed in the second row.
The Scarlets have won their last four matches against Newport Gwent Dragons but will be not be taking that for granted against their Welsh derby rivals who have strong home form and a point to prove after their last outing against Cardiff Blues last weekend.
Head Coach Nigel Davies said: “They will need to be up for this game. The Dragons are team with a lot to play for this weekend as we have. And they will be hurting after their last performance so it will be backs against the wall for them and they’re a dangerous animal, when that’s the case.
“They will also be playing in their environment, which can be intimidating for visitors. The Dragons are always a different proposition at home and will come out all guns blazing and we are expecting that – so we know that physically we have to match them.
“We have to be very accurate, as much as there is a lot of potential in our back line, we’ll need get our type of ball in the right areas and we build into the game, not but pressure on ourselves and not to throw the ball too wide too early.
“It’s about being very tight on our game plan, in the heat of this battle we’re not going to be able to second guess them. There will be a lot of pressure on the players because of where it is and because it’s a local derby. We can’t allow them to come into the game through our mistakes – and the thing that underpins that is our ability to front-up physically.”
Davies said that the Scarlets’ back-to-back wins were encouraging but said it would mean nothing if they don’t get results out of their next two derby encounters.
“We’ve got a long way to go yet, but in terms of where we are at the moment we are pretty happy.
“But it won’t count for much if we don’t back it up and that’s what we have got to do this weekend and next against the Ospreys at home. It’s a big season for us and we have a lot of ground to make up.
“I have been impressed with the players and their real endeavour and spirit to play rugby so far this season, to keep the ball alive and keep the game alive. I am excited about the potential of this team – we do have some great strike players but it is about building consistency in our performances and a habit of winning.”
Scarlets starting XV against Newport Gwent Dragons Friday 24th September 2010: Andy Fenby, George North, Regan King, Jon Davies, Sean Lamont, Stephen Jones, Tavis Knoyle, Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees (capt), Deacon Manu, Lou Reed, Vernon Cooper, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, David Lyons.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Phil John, Rhys Thomas, Jonny Fa’amatuainu, Dominc Day, Martin Roberts, Gareth Maule, Rhys Priestland.
Rob McCusker does not make the fitness race with a bruised shoulder after last weekend’s game against Aironi. Morgan Stoddart is expected to return in the next fortnight after picking up a minor tear in his hamstring three weeks ago.