The Scarlets take on Magners League leaders Munster this Saturday at Parc y Scarlets (kick-off 6.15pm) for one of this weekend’s top billing games in the final stages of the race for a top four play-off place.
It’s a big rugby weekend for the teams in the top six of the table with results after round 20 giving a clearer picture of who’s in the running for semi-final places.
Munster travel to Llanelli after their big European battle last weekend in Brive, knowing a win at Parc y Scarlets could secure them a league semi-final at home. Sixth placed Scarlets must win to keep their hopes of a play-off place alive.
The Scarlets will field a strong backs division for the contest with some changes to accommodate returning Scottish international Sean Lamont who comes into the centre alongside Kiwi star Regan King. Wales centre Jon Davies is ruled out as he’s still recovering from a dead leg from the Scarlets last outing against Ulster.
Morgan Stoddart and George North provide pace, creativity and power on the wing and Rhys Priestland takes the pivotal role at 10.
Wales fly-half Stephen Jones is coming back from injuring his wrist against Ulster and will start on the bench. Australian no8 David Lyons returns to the starting line-up after recovering from a knee injury. Ben Morgan is ruled out with slight hamstring strain and Peter Edwards is ruled out with a bruised shoulder.
Scarlets starting XV v Munster 16/04/2011, Parc y Scarlets kick-off 1815:
15 Morgan Stoddart, 14 George North, 13 Regan King, 12 Gareth Maule, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 1 Iestyn Thomas, 2 Matthew Rees (c), 3 Rhys Thomas, 4 Lou Reed, 5 Josh Turnbull, 6 Rob McCusker, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 8 David Lyons
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Damian Welch, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Stephen Jones, 23 Scott Williams
Head Coach Nigel Davies said: “We know Munster present us with a big physical challenge. They’re a quality side and the winning mentality is engrained in them and they have the level of experience and belief to make the right decisions at key moments.
“We want to finish strongly. We’ve put in some big performances this season at home and on the road and our league form in the first half of the season has been a real positive. We’ve had an intense week in training and a lot of our internationals have been throwing themselves into the sessions and getting really stuck in despite rigors of the Six Nations and the World Cup ahead of them. To see these players at the forefront of the drive and passion at this juncture in the season is a credit to them and their commitment to the Scarlets shirt.”
Scarlets and Wales skipper Matthew Rees said: “We have to win our next three games and on Saturday we have a tough, physical challenge ahead of us – we know how good they are in the contact area. They are the best team in the league and they’re not top for nothing. They have strength in their squad, they are an old and experienced team that’s gained a lot of success with the players they’ve got. No matter what team they field, they’ll play with confidence and pace.
“I thought we played some great stuff out in Ulster, it was one of our best defensive performances this season and we held them. The game was there for us, it was frustrating in terms of the outcome, but we put in a performance in Ravenhill and I couldn’t fault the endeavour from the players that night.
“The most important thing is getting your own house in order, set piece is key against them. On our day we can compete with any pack of forwards, the great thing is that our pack is willing to work, carry ball, hit rucks and share the workload and that’s what you need when you come up against a top team like Munster.”
The Scarlets are on 51 points and sit in sixth with Munster already leading the field clear by 12 points. The Scarlets only Magners League defeat at their home at Parc y Scarlets was against Ulster on 18 February. The Scarlets have not beaten an Irish opponent in their last six encounters. Munster have won their last six games in all competitions.
The Scarlets have three games left to play against Munster then Glasgow away and then Cardiff Blues at home on 6thMay.