With just five league games left in the season and everything to play for in reaching the top four play-off positions, the Scarlets travel to Cardiff Blues for a thrilling Welsh derby encounter.
A stand-out fixture in this weekend’s rugby, the Scarlets welcome back their Six Nations internationals back to their regional home and field an exciting starting line-up and bench for the crucial RaboDirect PRO12 match on Saturday evening (kick-off 6.30pm Cardiff City Stadium).
With the Scarlets sitting in 6th and the Blues in 7th on 45 points a-piece and with a Cardiff Blues return fixture to Parc y Scarlets on May 5th to mark the final of the league fixtures before the final four play-offs – the occasion couldn’t be bigger for the two Welsh regions.
The Scarlets have won back-to-back matches in the PRO12, at home to Treviso and Connacht and are unbeaten against all fellow Welsh regions this season. The Cardiff Blues have lost just one home game in any competition since October.
The Scarlets welcome back into their 22 Grand Slam heroes Matthew Rees, Ken Owens, Jon Davies and Scott Williams as well as Scottish wing Sean Lamont and England’s no 8 Ben Morgan.
They line-up within a strong Scarlets side with key regional players who have carried the mantle and taken the Scarlets regional campaign forward this season with the side captained by centre Gareth Maule.
And with the clocks going back this weekend and spring weather in the air, the Scarlets are looking forward to an intense, physical and high tempo game at Cardiff City Stadium.
Scarlets team against Cardiff Blues at Cardiff City Stadium, Saturday 24th March 2012 kick off 6.30pm: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Gareth Maule (capt), 12 Scott Williams, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Rhodri Jones, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Deacon Manu, 4 Dominic Day, 5 Damian Welch, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 8 Ben Morgan.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Phil John, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Kieran Murphy, 21 Liam Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Jon Davies.
Head of Scarlets Rugby, Nigel Davies said: “This is a key part of the season for us and all our players both regional and international, know and respect that and they’re all keen to be involved and give everything to these crucial last five league games for us and our Amlin Cup quarter-final.
“We know we need to win every contest now in the final run-in for top four places and there can be no bigger games that the two contests we have with the Blues away this weekend and then back with us at Parc y Scarlets on May 5th.
“We are mindful of the intensity of the Six Nations and the players that have been in the national set-up now for the past 10 weeks and we will manage individual players in the best way possible.
“We also know that they are keen to pull their Scarlets shirts back on and commit to their regions – many of them have only played in 8 of our 28 competitive games this season and the boys at home have been stepping up and so there’s more competition for places. All our players want to front up for the region now at such an important phase in our season, and that’s great for the squad’s development and to build strength in depth in our group.”
Davies said that despite the Scarlets recent strong record against the Blues, this game would be highly competitive: He said: “We know this is a very tough place to come and we have a lot of respect for the Blues, they are very physical and contact area is going to be focal. As in most tight and competitive games, it’s decided by a couple of moments – and we have to get those right.
“This is a great occasion for regional rugby in Wales as we see a lot of our international players coming back into regional colours and playing in one of the most competitive leagues in world rugby. There’s lots of anticipation and positivity around this game and rightly so. We should celebrate the range of quality and Welsh talent that will be on the pitch on Saturday evening and the potential for some great match-ups.
“We hope our travelling supporters who have been brilliant all season, will make the trip up the M4 in numbers to back our boys in what should be a great night for Welsh regional rugby as a whole.”
Rhys Priestland and George North are rested for this game. Not available for selection through injury: Lou Reed, second row (knee), Aaron Shingler (toe), Dan Newton (shoulder).