The Scarlets host Edinburgh on Friday evening in their sixth RaboDirect PRO12 league game with plenty of ground to make up and the players focused on getting some winning form back on home soil.
With a number of players picking up injuries in the past few weeks, there were a series of late fitness tests completed today (Thurs) by the Scarlets ahead of the big fixture against an Edinburgh side who will be boosted by a big win over league champions Munster last weekend.
The Scarlets did the double on Edinburgh last season with an historic win away in Murrayfield in January this year for the first time in eight years. Edinburgh who have tasted victory in Italy on the road this season have not won at Parc y Scarlets since December 2009.
Making the race back from injury to the field at Parc y Scarlets are Andy Fenby on the wing as well as Dominic Day and Aaron Shingler in the second row.
Outside half Aled Thomas has retained his place at number 10 after a strong performance against Treviso last weekend. Having impressed at training so far this season the talented 19 year old Rhodri Williams gets his first start at scrum half whilst Rhodri Gomer Davies returns following an illness last week.
Those unavailable for selection include current skipper Iestyn Thomas, Prop (calf strain), Nick Reynolds, wing/centre (ankle), Lou Reed, second row (knee), Josh Turnbull, back row (shoulder).
The region has been boosted by the news that Wales and Scarlets captain Matthew Rees has returned to his first week of training and conditioning after his recent neck operation and is making excellent progress at Parc y Scarlets. He is expected to return to action at the end of this month.
Returning internationals from World Cup Duty for the Scarlets will include Fiji captain Deacon Manu (Prop), Scottish flyer Sean Lamont (wing/centre) and new signing Tongan second row giant Sione Timani. Manu has picked up a shoulder knock so will not return for a fortnight with Sean Lamont being rest for another week. They are due to be back at Parc y Scarlets w/c 17th October with Sione back next week (10th October).
Scarlets Defence Coach Simon Easterby said: “We’ve had a short turnaround for this game, it’s been a very focused week for us and despite the squad being stretched with injuries and bumps, the players have responded well in training and it’s been a positive week.
“We know that we’ve got to improve our position in the league, but there’s been no dent in confidence here, its been more about getting the best out of our performance and if we get that right the results will come.
“The past few games have been a frustration for us because in most of them you’d say we should have won. We haven’t been playing as well as we should, the players here know they are perfectly able to get these wins. Last week we were encouraged by what we were doing with the ball, it was just that we allowed them to do too much and we didn’t help ourselves with that intercept try.”
Easterby added that both the Scarlets and their opponents on Friday evening Edinburgh had been two of the rather ‘unpredictable’ teams in the RaboDirect Pro12 league competition so far but the Scarlets wouldn’t underestimate what Edinburgh will bring on their trip to West Wales.
He said: “I suppose you’ve not been able to pin down either side in terms of performance, but Edinburgh are being well-coached this year with Michael Bradley at the helm; they play with lots of width and have an expansive game like us, and they gave the league leaders a surprise last week with a confidence boosting win. They will want to try to continue that form here on Friday night.”
The Scarlets fixture at Parc y Scarlets comes the night before the big Wales V Ireland Rugby World Cup quarter-final with Simon Easterby saying how important the experience will be for a number of the rising Scarlets internationals in the Welsh side.
He added: “It’s been fantastic to see what a big contribution the Scarlets have made to Wales’ World Cup form particularly the likes of the back line with Rhys Priestland, Scott Williams, George North and Jon Davies. If you think of how far and quickly they have progressed as players in the past 18 months – it’s staggering and this experience is only going to contribute in a positive way when they return back. It’s certainly going to be an inspiration to our next batch of young Scarlets who can see what can be achieved with the right attitude and commitment.”
Scarlets team against Edinburgh Friday 7th October 2011, kick off 7.05pm Parc y Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Lee Williams, 13 Rhodri Gomer Davies, 12 Gareth Maule (capt), 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Rhodri Williams, 1 Phil John, 2 Emyr Phillips, 3 Rhys Thomas, 4 Aaron Shingler 5 Damian Welch, 6 Rob McCusker, 7 Richie Pugh, 8 Ben Morgan.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Peter Edwards, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Johnathan Edwards, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Adam Warren, 23 Liam Williams