The Scarlets say they are expecting a game of international level intensity on Saturday evening as they host Munster for their first of two big home games for the West Wales region.
Sitting in 6th on 55 points, the Scarlets know they are still in the battle for a top four spot and play-off place if they can get big results in their last two home games against Munster and then Cardiff Blues on May 5th.
With just seven points separating the teams in 2nd to 6th place, it could be any one of five teams making the trip to Dublin with Leinster already through. And with a number of the top six set to play each other in the final rounds, nothing can be taken for granted.
The Scarlets v Munster game a must win game for both teams if they wish to further their ambitions in the knockout stages.
Scarlets have won four of their last five matches in the RaboDirect PRO12, whilst their only home defeat in the tournament this season was to table-topping Leinster in round four.
Munster’s only defeat in their last five away games was at Aironi on 11th March. The Munstermen have won their last four matches against Welsh regions in all competitions, and have triumphed on six of their last seven visits to Wales.
Munster’s incredible run of success against Scarlets now stands at 14 successive wins in all competitions since Scarlets won 24-15 at Stradey Park in the quarter-finals of the 2006/07 Heineken Cup.
The Scarlets welcome back George North who is back at full fitness, Jonathan Davies (centre) is out with a groin injury and is replaced by Stephen Jones with the Scarlets opting to put as much senior experience and game intelligence on the field as possible.
Jones played at 12 last weekend in Aironi for the injured Davies and the Scarlets will be looking to his vision and leadership in midfield this crucial game. Alongside Jones is bright young centre talent Adam Warren who put in some eye-catching performances in the early part of the season.
Matthew Rees takes the reigns as Captain once again and tight head Prop Deacon Manu is back fit after a spell out with concussion with young Prop Rhodri Jones switching back to loosehead for what is expected to be a big physical battle up front.
Scarlets team against Munster Saturday 21st April 2012 kick off 6.30pm at Parc y Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Stephen Jones, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Rhodri Jones, 2 Matthew Rees (capt), 3 Deacon Manu, 4 Sione Timani, 5 Dominic Day, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 Josh Turnbull, 8 Ben Morgan.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Phil John, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Mat Gilbert, 20 Kieran Murphy, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jordan Williams, 23 Viliame Iongi.
The Scarlets will be eager not only to take vital points for their league play-off hopes but also put down a marker against the Irish province that have won their past 14 encounters.
Scarlets Head of Rugby Nigel Davies said: “This is a huge fixture for us and we are expecting international level intensity and we have to be right up there in terms of our performance, Munster bring such a big game for 80 minutes, we know what a tough side they are to beat.
“There’s so much in this game for us – not withstanding that they have proved an almost impossible side for us to win against in the past and that will give them a psychological edge over us and it will be a big barrier we have to overcome.
“We need to put a marker down against them now and the boys know that they came very close to beating them twice in the Heineken Cup this season. It was very fine margins that let us down – our Scarlets players have a point to prove now and if the importance of this fixture wasn’t big enough anyway – our record against Munster is motivation enough.
The Scarlets Head Coach said that after five games away from Parc y Scarlets against Northampton, Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh, Brive and Aironi – it would be good to be back playing on home soil.
“We’re hoping for a good Scarlets home crowd as we’ve been on the road for the last seven weeks with five games away from home; this promises to be a great game for rugby supporters in Wales across the board to enjoy so we expect a very vocal home support and a buzzing atmosphere at Parc y Scarlets.”
Davies said they would have to be flawless in their finishing as well as matching and maintaining Munster’s intensity.
“We know a lot about our opponents, they keep going and come at you and it will be a fierce game. We know our set piece has to function – it’s the one thing you have to be able to rely on and use it to take something away from the opposition.
“Our game strategy against Aironi was proved right last weekend and in the last 15 minutes we put ourselves in the right place for a bonus point – it was an intimidating atmosphere and they were a big physical side. The boys will draw on that last weekend ahead of our next two home fixtures.”
Those unavailable for selection through injury: Centre Gareth Maule sustained a broken finger against Brive and will be out for a minimum of six weeks. Scott Williams, centre (shoulder) failed a late fitness test. Lou Reed, second row is in rehab with a knee injury, Jonathan Davies (centre) is not fit with a groin injury, Johnathan Edwards (back row) has a dead leg, Ken Owens (hooker) failed a late fitness test with a minor ankle sprain.