In one of the most high profile games of the RaboDirect PRO12 competition this weekend, the unbeaten top table Scarlets host their nearest rivals the Ospreys in front of a capacity crowd at Parcy Scarlets.
The Scarlets have started their campaign on a positive note having so far dropped just one point out of a possible 15, whilst Ospreys are still looking for their first victory of this campaign.
Scarlets continue to set the pace in the RaboDirect PRO12 and are unbeaten in their last ten matches at Parc y Scarlets in the tournament, and were the uncontested Welsh derby kings last season – having not lost to a fellow Welsh region in the competition in the 2011/12 season. Last time the two teams met the Scarlets’ secured a 22-14 victory over Ospreys in front of a record Boxing Day crowd of 14,756 last Boxing Day.
The only other time that Ospreys have begun a season with three successive defeats was in 2007/08. However the defending league champions, the Ospreys have won their last three clashes with fellow Welsh sides in all competitions and as Scarlets Head Coach Simon Easterby is fully aware were lifting the trophy just a few months back.
Simon Easterby has announced a strong side for the big game with all of the Scarlets internationals involved in the match day squad with experience and flair to call on from the bench as well as a starting XV which will bring plenty of mix to their game management.
With the Scarlets coaches admitting early in the week they had some tough selection calls to make, there are three changes to the starting line-up that led the Scarlets to a 7-try victory over Leinster at the last outing at Parc y Scarlets . Jon Davies joins up in a centre partnership with Scott Williams, Rhys Priestland controls in the 10 jersey and Phil John starts at Prop with emerging Wales cap loose head Rhodri Jones sidelined with a shoulder injury which was operated on last week.
Scarlets team v Ospreys Friday 21st September 2012, Parc y Scarlets kick-off 7.05pm:
15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 1 Phil John, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Deacon Manu, 4 George Earle, 5 Richard Kelly, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 Josh Turnbull, 8 Rob McCusker (capt).
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Peter Edwards, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Johnathan Edwards, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Gareth Maule.
Simon Easterby said: “There’s no doubt this is going to be a big night, and one to capture the imagination of supporters, coaches and players alike as these derbies have done for many years – and it’s great that we’ll have a packed house here on Friday evening and an atmosphere fitting of a big West Wales derby.
“Welsh regional rugby comes alive at these fixtures and there’s no need for any introduction with all the history, heritage and passion of between our respective rugby communities.
“The Ospreys may not have had the start they wanted, but a few months ago they were the league champions and know they have the quality within their ranks to turn things around.
“Last season we held them to a draw at the Liberty as well as decent win here at Parc y Scarlets but before that we lost a run of games against them, so we’re not getting ahead of ourselves and form or favourite tags don’t mean much in these fixtures.
“It’s been a strong and positive start to the season for us and winning all three of our opening games has given this squad confidence in what we have worked hard to create and to achieve this season. There are elements of our performance that were disappointing to us and are also very conscious there’s a long way to go and plenty for us to prove over time.”
Easterby said that it was encouraging to see his Scarlets team take their chances well in their opening three rounds with a try count of 14 from three games.
“What we have done well is take our opportunities – we created plenty last season, but weren’t executing as well as we have in these opening games. The players have shown the mentality and clinical edge that makes the difference.
“There is real depth growing in the squad and selection is becoming increasingly difficult which is a good situation to be in. We’ve seen a wide group of players perform well, and when we’ve changes to the line-up it’s not altered the results. We have some talent and ambition here and that doesn’t just come from our internationals but throughout our squad and competition is a vital ingredient in creating a winning team.”
The Scarlets will observe a minute’s silence at kick-off on Friday evening in memory of the loss of Nevin Spence and his father and brother, to pay respect to his family and Ulster Rugby