With just one point separating the Scarlets and Glasgow in the RaboDirect PRO12, Thursday night’s encounter at Firhill becomes a crucial game for both sides in their play-off aspirations.
The RaboDirect PRO12 makes a return after a five week break with the Scarlets travelling to Scotland just four days after their journey up to Sale Sharks in the LV=Cup returning home with a semi-final place.
Glasgow Warriors have won just one of their last six matches in all competitions: 17-12 over Edinburgh in the 1812 game at Firhill on New Year’s Day. The Warriors have won their last four encounters at Firhill in the RaboDirect PRO12 since their 13-15 reversal there to Treviso on 23 September.
Scarlets have been victorious in their last three RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures, whilst their only defeat in their last eight matches in the tournament was 17-24 in Ulster on 2 December. The Welshmen have won their last six games against Scottish opponents.
Scarlets have won their last three clashes with Glasgow since the Warriors’ 37-32 victory at Parc y Scarlets on 7 May 2010.
With attention back on the league, Scarlets Skills Coach Mark Jones said the next three games against Glasgow, Leinster and then Treviso at home at Parc y Scarlets (Thursday 23rd February 7.35pm) were big games in the Scarlets play-off hopes.
Jones said: ““This block of rugby during the Six Nations is very important to us and we need to come through with wins and keep a healthy squad with so many internationals away which does put the pressure on.
“The positive is that this wider squad of Scarlets players have been the core of our success this season and probably won most of our crucial games to keep us in contention in all three competitions. A lot of credit should be given to these boys, they’ve shown real mettle and commitment to the Scarlets campaign this season – they’ve played a major part in us reaching two play-offs already this season.
“The test is now how we compete in the league and that’s the one we are all really focused on now because if we can get into the top four at the end of the season, it will be a major indicator to us of how far we have come and that we are building consistency and depth as a group – despite the disruptions of losing our international players.”
Jones said they ready for a big physical battle. He said: “Glasgow are a good physical side, they have a strong set-up and it will be a bruising battle because as much as they have in terms of attack their pack will give us plenty to deal with.
“We’re hurting a bit after losing to Sale so I’m expecting some bounce back from these players and we know it’s going to be tough and a hard-fought game but there’s plenty to play for. We’ve keep the team tight this week in terms of our preparation and selection it’s important to maintain that continuity and focus when you have such a tight turnaround.
“Glasgow are a formidable side – many a good side has fallen to their sword up there whether they have a first team out or not.”
The Scarlets are still in all three of their competitions this season – having reached semi-finals of the LV=Cup and a quarter-final of the Amlin Challenge Cup this season.
Jones said: “Juggling the squad across all three competitions is a dilemma we are happy to have. I wouldn’t want it any other way and it’s great that these players have the motivation and focus of fighting on three fronts for the rest of our season and great for our supporters they have plenty of exciting rugby to come. It does put some pressure on us, but we have built a certain amount of depth now that allows us to do that and the character and determination of our players have been shown all season.”
The Scarlets name an almost identical starting XV to the team that faced Sale to provide continuity in a tight week’s training. The backs remain unchanged with some shifts in the pack with Iestyn Thomas coming back from injury and Josh Turnbull returning to the back row after recovering from a shoulder injury. Matt Gilbert gets the number eight jersey with Kieran Murphy on the bench.
Scarlets team against Glasgow Warriors Thursday 9th Februay 2012 kick off 7.05pm, Firhill: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Viliami Iongi, 13 Gareth Maule (capt), 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Iestyn Thomas 2 Emyr Phillips , 3 Peter Edwards, 4 Sione Timani, 5 Dominic Day 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 8 Matt Gilbert.
Replacements: 16 Craig Hawkins, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Kieran Murphy, 21 Liam Davies, 22 Nick Reynolds, 23 Daniel Evans.
With the Scarlets travelling up to Glasgow today (Weds) and a tight turnaround with only two days preparation, the team travels with one Welsh international player released early from the Wales camp to provide cover in the front row.
With Phil John (neck strain) and Deacon Manu (back strain) both injured after last weekend’s physical battle at Sale, Rhodri Jones returns from training with Wales to travel with his home region on Wednesday afternoon. Wales were only able to release other Scarlets internationals not involved in their 22 for Scotland on Wednesday night and therefore not in time to travel with the team to Glasgow.