The excitement of the new RaboDirect PRO12 season kicks off for the Scarlets with a big home fixture at Parc y Scarlets against Italians Aironi on Sunday afternoon.
The Scarlets finished just one point off the top four places in last year’s tightly contested league competition and will be looking to get off to a flying start against the Italians. Aironi will be looking for their first elusive win away from home.
The Scarlets, who are missing 10 internationals on duty at the World Cup, say they know it will be a big, physical battle in their league opener against an Aironi side that has strengthened with new signings and worked hard on building a winning mindset.
Head Coach Nigel Davies said the hosts were eager to get started in the new competitive season: “There is a certain amount of anticipation building, we know a lot of our recognised young talent is away with Wales particularly in the back line but this creates opportunities for us as region to continue to invest in our young, emerging talent.
“We’ve had some big, testing pre-season games against Clermont and Exeter away which really pushed the players; they competed well in very physical games and it allowed us to do exactly what we wanted, which was to see where the rough edges were.
“We knew we’d lose a lot of our quality and X-factor from our group to the World Cup – particularly in the back line, which is why we’ve brought in some new players as well as creating opportunities for our young Welsh talent. Players like Rhodri Gomer-Davies, Aled Thomas and Rhys Jones who’ve joined us this summer have experience of big games and they have shown-up well in pre-season and are eager and relishing the fresh opportunities being presented to them in a Scarlets shirt.
“We look to provide an environment here at Parc y Scarlets that not only invests in those young players that have come through our own development system, but also one where players we spot and bring in can develop and mature. Our new vice-captain this season Gareth Maule and players like Ben Morgan are an example of that in terms of how quickly they have progressed.”
On the opposition on Sunday, Davies says the players know they have a big test ahead and expectation is on them. He said: “Aironi undoubtedly will see this is a good time to play us and targeting this game with so many of our quality players away – but we’re comfortable with that. We know they’ve worked hard on their mindset to create winning performances and
‘However, we’ve prepared well and worked very hard in our pre-season and the boys know they are going to have to show great intensity in their performance on Sunday and deliver on the day.”
Captain Iestyn Thomas, who plays in his 198th game for the region on Sunday said: “You could see Aironi improving from the start to the end of last season; they’re a strong, physical side and it will be testing for us. They’ll bring a big scrum and driving line-outs and now they are starting to get backs that match them up front as well.
“The early results in this competition will obviously be important to us, it hard to play catch up and we’ve stressed as a group we have to do well in our first opening month. We had a good season coming that close to a top four place and losing out so closely to a play-off spot gives us confidence as well as a little frustration which we can use to push us forward this season.”
Scarlets team against Aironi Sunday 4th September at Parc y Scarlets kick off 1600: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Lee Williams, 13 Rhodri Gomer Davies, 12 Aled Thomas, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Dan Newton, 9 Rhodri Williams, 1 Iestyn Thomas (capt), 2 Emyr Phillips, 3 Rhys Thomas, 4 Aaron Shingler, 5 Dominic Day, 6 Rob McCusker, 7 Josh Turnbull, 8 Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Phil John, Simon Gardiner, Lou Reed, Richie Pugh, Justin James, Rhys Jones, Adam Warren.
The Scarlets will soon celebrate a major landmark in their history as they play their 5000th match at a showcase game at Parc y Scarlets against Leinster in the RaboDirect PRO12 league on Saturday 24th September 2011. The Scarlets region match statistics to date: Played 4996, won 3165, drawn 365, lost 1466.