Two new Scarlets will pull on the jersey for their region this weekend, as they travel for the second RaboDirect PRO12 league fixture against Connacht on Saturday afternoon.
With five home-grown Scarlets making their Rugby World Cup debuts on the big stage out in Wellington this weekend, the next generation are stepping up in regional colours, with another young Scarlet who is making an impression – 20 year-old Swansea winger Liam Williams getting his first opportunity.
Twenty year-old 6’ 2”winger Williams from Morriston gets his first start for the region after a successful campaign both with Wales U20 and Llanelli RFC last season. The strong, quick young wing scored three tries in his eight appearances at international level in the Six Nations and World Championships campaigns earlier this year. He appeared 21 times for Llanelli RFC in 10/11, playing at fullback as well as on the wing, with three tries last season.
And the eagerly-awaited arrival on the pitch in Scarlets colours of specialist signing Ruki Tipuna will excite supporters.
Paperwork from New Zealand finally arrived Thursday after sustained chasing from the Scarlets, to clear the region’s new scrum-half for duty. The 28 year-old, a rugby sevens specialist has played for national New Zealand’s Sevens team, widely recognised as the best sevens team in the world, and also with international experience in XVs rugby with the New Zealand Maori. His provincial experience has been with Bay of Plenty and Wellington.
On joining the Scarlets Ruki Tipuna said: “You know what rugby means to the Scarlets and its supporters from the outside and now seeing the Scarlets stadium and set-up here, you can really understand that they’ve got a really strong rugby community – similar to back home.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s something new for me and nice to have a fresh start. I’m excited about the opportunities and can’t wait to get going now.”
Tipuna believes the Scarlets style of play will suit his game and coming from a competitive and intense sevens environment hopes he can add some edge behind the pack. He said: “Playing 7’s for New Zealand’s national team is hard work – they’re very tough on fitness and training. I like the quick game and to run about – I’ve got a strong kicking game too and as I’m not the biggest guy around, so I need to be vocal behind those forwards.”
Head Coach Nigel Davies said: “I think Ruki’s play will suit our style, he’s sharp and shrewd and a great ball player and has the talent to play at 10 and he’s a goal kicker too. Someone of his capability will be able to fit into what we do very quickly.”
The journey to Galway comes on the back of an important and solid first win at home and securing four league points last weekend against Aironi – beating the Italians 32-9.
A former Newport Gwent Dragons duo will make up the centre partnership with newly appointed Scarlets vice-captain Gareth Maule returning from a shoulder injury to take his place back in the centre alongside Lampeter born Rhodri Gomer-Davies who has impressed and says he’s delighted to be playing in his native Scarlets region.
Scarlets Head Coach Nigel Davies said he was pleased with this team’s solid performance against Aironi in tricky conditions last weekend.
“I was comfortable with that result and performance, we managed the conditions well which we’ll have to do that again out in Connacht, and we finished by far the stronger side maintaining our intensity for 80 minutes.
“Of course there are areas of accuracy that we need to improve on, but I was far happier by the way we finished the game and dealt with the conditions and circumstances well.
“What I was interested in was how we took the focus of our pre-season into that game – our physicality, ability to adapt and bringing an intensity for 80 minutes which showed and paid dividends in the last quarter against Aironi.”
Davies added that he didn’t thing that the unique Galway Bay conditions and environment at the Sportsground would have as much of a negative impact on his group of young ambitious players. He said: “Sometimes that environment has a negative impact on more experienced players that have played on bigger pitches in front of bigger crowds, whereas the new younger players have got a lot of energy and they don’t mind where they play.
“Connacht had a good win out in Treviso; they will be confident because they always win the majority of their matches at home but we’ve focused on the first two fixtures of the season with this group of players and we’re ready for it – we have to match them physically and if we can do that then we have a chance.”
Scarlets team against Connacht, Saturday 10th September at the Sportsground kick off 3.15pm: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Lee Williams, 13 Rhodri Gomer Davies 12 Gareth Maule, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Newton, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 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, Johnathan Edwards, Rhodri Williams, Aled Thomas, Adam Warren.
Not available for selection through injury: Andy Fenby wing (minor groin strain), Aled Davies, scrum half (knee) and Nick Reynolds, centre (ankle).
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 kick off 6.30pm.
The Scarlets region match statistics to date: Played 4997, won 3166, drawn 365, lost 1466; Points for 76,016 and points against 43,892.