After a strong start to their RaboDirect PRO12 campaign this season with two wins out of two, the Scarlets will be looking to keep their grip on the top of the league table with a win over Connacht in the ever-challenging Galway Bay.
The hosts will have added momentum after a comprehensive first win of the new RaboDirect PRO12 season last weekend when Connacht visited Zebre and triumphed 30-17.
However, Connacht’s only win in their last seven matches against Welsh regions was 27-19 against the Dragons at Rodney Parade on 30 March 2012.
Scarlets top the PRO12 table for the first time since round three in season 2008/09 following their successive wins over Leinster and Glasgow. The West Wales rugby region has won back-to-back away games, and will now be looking for three in a row on the road – which they last achieved in the tournament in 2006/07.
The last six clashes between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day, with the Scarlets securing a resounding victory last time the two teams met, winning 38-10 at Parc y Scarlets.
Scarlets Attack Coach Mark Jones said: “We haven’t had a great record at the Sportsground and have tripped up on our last two visits with narrow losses, so we don’t put ourselves in a position where we are fighting a tight margin at the end of the game.
“We will need to be ruthless and get ahead and then protect that lead. There is certainly no complacency in this side and absolutely no expectation on winning. What we expect is for the boys to perform to the level they have this season, improve on the margins and then we are in with a chance.
“Our only expectation is on the performance – that should then take care of the result.”
Jones said that the positive start had given the camp at Parc y Scarlets a confidence boost particularly winning over teams that were in the top of the mix last season.
“We’ve got some tough competition to start us off, if you think that in our first four games we’ve played three of last year’s semi-finalists but that’s given us a boost.
“We knew we needed to get off to a strong start in our first six games. Last weekend in Glasgow gave us a better indication of where we were, we did a good defensive job, put the ball in the right areas and nailed our opportunities.
“And it’s good to see those chances being taken. Part of our story last season was we just couldn’t finish off at key times, but our back three have started very well and it’s been good to see seven of our 10 tries this season come from the backs. Our centre partnership is working well and it’s good that Jonathan (Davies) and Scott (Williams) have had time training together now here at Parc y Scarlets – rather than just with Wales.
“The key thing is that the team is complimenting those strike players; we have good width in our attack and the players are excited to get ball in their hands and are working hard to get onto the ball.
“We have to maintain this type of intent in the group, but so far so good. What we also have to focus on is our ability to develop a tighter game as well so we have potent attacking options in other areas of our game, particularly when the weather isn’t so good.”
Scarlets Head Coach Simon Easterby brings in a few new faces to his match day squad and mixes up experience and youth with a number of player rotations for the contest in Galway.
Young Scarlets talent Jordan Williams getting his first senior Scarlets debut; new signing Australian Welsh-qualified second row Jake Ball (21) is on the bench and gets his first opportunity to appear in his regional colours with Scarlets and Wales international centre Jon Davies taking the captain’s armband on the field for the first time in his Scarlets rugby career.
Changes to the starting line-up from last weekend against Glasgow include Newcastle Emlyn’s scrum half Gareth Davies at nine, Nick Reynolds on the wing, Samson Lee starts at tight-head in his first competitive start and Phil John at loose-head prop, Sione Timani joins Richard Kelly in the second row. Kieran Murphy starts at number eight with Scarlets skipper Rob McCusker on the bench.
Scarlets team v Connacht Saturday 15th September 2012, Sportsground kick-off 3pm:
15 Jordan Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies (capt), 12 Scott Williams, 11 Nick Reynolds 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Phil John, 2 Matthew Rees, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Sione Timani, 5 Richard Kelly, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 8 Kieran Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Peter Edwards, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Rob McCusker, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Gareth Maule.