The Scarlets travel to Newport Gwent Dragons for their second Welsh derby contest of the festive season just four days after their victory over the Ospreys (22-14) on Boxing Day at Parc y Scarlets.
With such a tight turnaround between games and a core of Scarlets’ emerging talent eager to take their opportunities after strong performances earlier in the season, Scarlets Head of Rugby Nigel Davies has selected a fresh team retaining one player in the starting line-up and all eight replacements from the team that beat the Ospreys.
To manage the scheduling of these games, the Scarlets trained pre-Christmas with two separate 22’s for their two Welsh derby encounters – bringing more focus into the game preparations and a level of competition and responsibility into their team environment over the past fortnight.
Head of Rugby Nigel Davies said: "I have made this team selection based on a strong belief that this is the right team to take to Rodney Parade and get a result; there’s a potent balance of quality experience with fresh ambition from a number of emerging players who have shown great enthusiasm, talent and commitment to our shirt already this season.
“Given the physical impact of our last game coupled with a tight turnaround and the block of rugby ahead of us, it’s good that we have the depth building in our squad now where we are able to train and prepare two separate teams in this way.
“The players across our group are eager to front up and that level of hunger and competition in our squad is something we should feel very positive about.
“We don’t underestimate the size of the task ahead of us on Friday night but neither should anyone underestimate the competition for places within our squad and how close some of the calls on selection currently are.”
Davies said the Scarlets knew how important the trio of RaboDirect PRO12 games against the Ospreys, Dragons and then Glasgow back at Parc Y Scarlets next Saturday was on his team’s league position.
He said: “We are clear as a squad how important these games are for our season. We have respect for the Newport Gwent Dragons; whenever you go up to Rodney Parade you’re aware they have a very good home record, they will be physical and manage the contact area well and will be expecting to win in front of a home crowd.
“It will be a big challenge for us, but we’ve got a fresh and eager Scarlets team who are keen to go there and fight our cause in our shirt – so that will to win will be strong in both sides and should be another great derby contest.”
The Scarlets have won their last seven fixtures with Dragons in the competition.
Newport Gwent Dragons are winless in their last five matches in all competitions, whilst the Dragons most recent victory in RaboDirect PRO12 was 22-9 at home to Ulster on 30 September. The Men from Gwent have won their last three games against fellow Welsh opponents at Rodney Parade.
Scarlets solo defeat in their last six RaboDirect PRO12 encounters was 17-24 at Ulster on 2 December. Scarlets only away win in the tournament SINCE last January was 37-29 at Glasgow on 22 April.
There are wholesale changes to the starting line-up with vice-captain and centre Gareth Maule taking the skipper’s armband to lead the Scarlets’ away battle at his old home ground.
Adam Warren joins Maule in the centre-partnership after impressive performances in the early part of the Scarlets season including a brace of tries on his competitive debut against Edinburgh and scoring 20 points in his 13 appearances this season.
Back to the starting-line up is Wales and Scarlets back row forward Josh Turnbull who returns after a shoulder injury with Kieran Murphy another of the Scarlets new breed of talent taking the no8 jersey in his seventh appearance for the West Wales region – having scored 20 points in his six appearances this season. Andy Fenby returns to the Scarlets wing following an ankle injury.
Scarlets team against Newport Gwent Dragons, Friday 30th December 2011, kick off 7.05pm at Rodney Parade: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Viliame Iongi, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Gareth Maule (capt), 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones , 9 Rhodri Williams, 1 Phil John, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Deacon Manu, 4 Sione Timani, 5 Dominic Day, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 8 Kieran Murphy.
Replacements: Emyr Phillips, Iestyn Thomas, Peter Edwards, Lou Reed, Richie Pugh, Gareth Davies, Aled Thomas, Daniel Evans.
George North and Mat Gilbert travel to Rodney Parade as 24th and 25th men.
Not available for selection through injury include: Damian Welch, second row (fractured finger), Liam Williams, wing (minor ankle sprain). Tavis Knoyle (scrum-half) who has an ongoing shoulder issue which under advise from medics will require an operation to be undertaken in the early part of the new year to strengthen and stabilise his shoulder joint. Knoyle will be out of competitive action for a minimum of three months.