The Scarlets welcome back five of their Wales internationals into the starting line-up for a crucial home fixture in the RaboDirect Pro12 this Friday night (kick-off 7.30pm).
Stephen Jones starts at outside half with Wales squad colleagues Liam Williams (wing) Rhodri Jones (prop), Lou Reed (second row) and Aaron Shingler (second row) are all back in their regional jerseys after being released back to the Scarlets on Tuesday this week. Wales U20’s captain, hooker Kirby Myhill is back with the region and on the bench.
And the Scarlets are fired-up to make it seven home wins in a row in the league – their best run in six years. Another vital home tie faces the hosts after their bonus point win over Treviso last week which kept their RaboDirect PRO12 top four ambitions alive.
As contenders for a top four finish, the Scarlets know they have to get a win and will face a physical battle with Connacht taking nothing for granted against their Irish opponents.
The Scarlets have won their last six games at Parc y Scarlets in the RaboDirect PRO12 – their best run since 2006. Connacht’s only reversal in their last four games in all competitions was 15-22 at Cardiff Blues in the PRO12 on 10 February. Connacht have won just once on the road in the tournament since September 2010: 11-9 in Treviso on 3 September. Connacht have won their last two games against Scarlets and are chasing a first ever season’s double over the West Wales side.
And the fight for the second home play-off spot is intense with six of the chasing pack still in with a realistic chance of landing a coveted home tie.
Scarlets Head of Rugby Nigel Davies said: “We will have to start a lot sharper than we did last week, we made hard work of that first 20 minutes against Treviso, but the players showed composure and pushed on to get the four tries we needed and we know that we’ll have to be intense and right on top of game to get a result on Friday.
“This is another massive game for us – we need a good win and they’re a tough team to face so we take nothing for granted.
There’s a fierce level of competition amongst all the teams in this league and it’s all pretty level – there’s no difference between playing a Connacht or an Ulster or a Munster anymore.
“We need to come out with the right mindset. Connacht are a well-coached side, they are very competitive and physical and will try to outmuscle us and they play some good rugby as we’ve seen in the Heineken Cup.
“It’s a challenging time for international players coming back to us and then leaving again – into one environment and then into another and the intensity of international rugby means it can be difficult just to slot back in. But the boys have trained well with us and we’ve had more time with them week and they know how crucial this game is for us and our season’s ambitions.”
Scarlets team against Connacht Friday 2nd February 2012 kick off 7.30pm, Parc y Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Gareth Maule (capt), 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Liam Davies, 1 Rhodri Jones 2 Emyr Phillips , 3 Deacon Manu, 4 Lou Reed, 5 Aaron Shingler, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 8 Kieran Murphy.
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Phil John, Peter Edwards, Dominic Day, Mat Gilbert, Gareth Davies, Nick Reynolds, Liam Williams.
England and Scarlets no 8 Ben Morgan arrived back with the Scarlets for training today (Thursday) but is not passed fit by Scarlets physios having picked up a calf strain in training with England this week.