The Scarlets fix their sights firmly back on their Magners League campaign this weekend, as they travel to Cardiff City stadium for a hotly contested derby game against the Cardiff Blues on Friday night (Cardiff City Stadium, kick-off 8.05pm).
And with six Scarlets named in the Wales squad for the autumn internationals that kick-off in a fortnight’s time, the region has handed fresh opportunities to a number of its eager, talented players within a squad that will take the Scarlets forward into the next phase of rugby.
The Scarlets will be without a number of their Wales internationals next weekend at a big home Magners League fixture against Glasgow at Parc y Scarlets (Friday 29thOctober kick off 8.05pm). Head Coach Nigel Davies said it was key at this time that certain players got their opportunity against quality opposition on a big derby night out.
With a strong bench to provide potential impact to Friday night’s game, the Scarlets have named an exciting starting XV for their encounter with the Cardiff Blues.
Back into the side comes centre Jon Davies who made such an impression at the start of the season – making the fitness race following an ankle injury. And after a series of strong performances at centre already this season Gareth Maule gets his place in the starting line-up with influential and experienced international wing Sean Lamont taking the captain’s armband for the away derby.
Rhys Priestland comes back at fly half and Rob McCusker is picked at no8 (replacing the injured David Lyons) alongside Johnathan Edwards and Josh Turnbull in the back row.
Scarlets starting XV against Cardiff Blues, Magners League, Friday 22ndOctober Cardiff City Stadium kick off 8.05pm: Daniel Evans, Morgan Stoddart, Jon Davies, Gareth Maule, Sean Lamont (capt), Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle, Iestyn Thomas, Ken Owens, Deacon Manu, Lou Reed, Damian Welch, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, Rob McCusker.
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Rhodri Jones, Peter Edwards, Vernon Cooper, Ben Morgan, Martin Roberts, Stephen Jones, Regan King.
The Welsh rivals met three times last season with the Blues taking the spoils each time, so the Scarlets will be keen to set the record rolling the other way. The Scarlets have won twice on Blues soil in 2004 and 2009. Cardiff Blues and Scarlets are currently the two top placed Welsh sides in the Magners League – the Blues on 18 points (2nd) and the Scarlets on 16 points (4th).
“We are in good shape for this derby and if anything last weekend’s result has motivated us even more,” said Head Coach Nigel Davies.
“Senior rugby players realise that you have to manage success and failure in the same way – you can’t be static when things go well and you can’t be too negative when things don’t go your way. You have to manage that emotion and that’s what professional sports people do. We were bitterly disappointed with that result but we have brushed ourselves down and moved on.
“As I said from day one in the domestic league you have to rely on the strength in depth right across your squad. You can’t keep going back to the same players, it doesn’t work that way and for us we’ve now built up a very competitive squad with people battling to get the shirt, which is really healthy.
“I’m confident and very comfortable with this selection and in the depth of this Scarlets squad, as I’ve said all season. This week is important to us and Glasgow at home next weekend is another key fixture. We know that we won’t have certain senior players available to us then so the Blues game is a prime opportunity for players who will be key to us in the next phase. You have to manage and plan resources cleverly in these international periods within the context of your whole season.
“We’re going into a big local derby game, the Blues have been going well and have had a similar start to the season to us in many ways. It will be intense, they’ve got real quality across their squad, with some great strike players and last season proved they’ve got some big games in them. It will be an exciting game.”
The region has confirmed that prop Rhys Thomas will be out for up to three months with a broken leg. David Lyons is not selected as he is carrying a minor shoulder strain. Andy Fenby is on target to return next month after groin surgery and newly called up wing George North is expected to be back in training in two to three weeks time after a lower leg injury. Davies said he’d anticipate that North would be released from Wales to get some game time with the region on his return to fitness.
On North’s selection into the Welsh squad, Nigel Davies said he was delighted his newly signed young wing has been handed this opportunity.
He said: “I think George has shown a lot of potential, he’s shown his worth he has great stature, great pace and is an intelligent rugby player. If I look at him, and I really don’t want to over hype him, but he seems a natural international rugby player to me. We don’t want to heap up too much pressure on him at his stage, he needs to focus on his rugby but he has all the ingredients required. I would anticipate in all reality that he’ll have to play some rugby for us before he potentially plays in any of the autumn series games.
“George has obviously benefited from the exposure he’s had with us this season, he’s fitted into this squad very well and very quickly and he’s not just a passenger he’s made an impact in games for us.
“I said to him from day one there will be opportunities here for him here – you can coach up and coming players for the how ever many years you want, but unless they play at the top level which you train for, they will never get where they need to.
He’s played against some of the best already and knows the standard he has to aspire to, and that has given him extra confidence and belief.
“Rhodri Jones is another good example, it’s only 18, and that’s young for a front row forward but he came on against Leicester for us last weekend and it doesn’t get much tougher than that! He acquitted himself very well, he’s shown up well in training and we’re excited about him. Our philosophy is to back and develop our players where we see real talent and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”