The Scarlets host Italian side Zebre on their first visit to Parc y Scarlets for Saturday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 which the league approaching its half-way stage.
The Scarlets come into the game on the back of a five point bonus win in Murrayfield last weekend against Edinburgh and sit in second on 25 points – one point short of unbeaten Ulster who have a game in hand.
The Scarlets have only lost two games in their campaign to date and with four tries under their belt last weekend are keen to keep their hold on their top two place before they break for LV=Cup action next week.
Five Italian teams have visited Parc y Scarlets and all have lost with only Treviso attaining a losing bonus point during a 16-22 defeat on 27 March 2011.
Zebre have yet to record a victory in the RaboDirect PRO12 but after holding out Munster to a draw by half-time last week, the Scarlets will not taking anything for granted at their home ground on Saturday night (kick off 6.30pm).
With 12 of the Scarlets squad now on duty with Wales ahead of the autumn internationals, the home game is a chance for the West Wales region to hand starting-place opportunities to a number of their younger developing players and wider squad members.
Former Ospreys duo Kristian Phillips and Gareth Owen get starts in the side to face Zebre with Owen partnering up with Gareth Maule in the centre. Phillips replaces the absent George North on the right wing with Andy Fenby, who has notched up five tries in six appearances this season returning to the field after a fortnight out with injury. Morgan Stoddart moves to full-back.
In the pack, hooker Kirby Myhill returns from a injury with South African second row pairing George Earle and Joe Snyman back to the field after a week’s absence and Argentinean international Tomás Vallejosmoves to the back row alongside Johnathan Edwards who takes over as Scarlets skipper with Rob McCusker on international duty and Kieran Murphy comes in at number eight.
Scarlets Attack Coach Mark Jones said: “We spoke after our disappointment in Europe about maintaining our momentum in the league and the boys fronted up well, there were a lot of pleasing things in the game and overall to come away from Murrayfield with five points is a good day in the office.
“However, with the points we had on the board and try count against Edinburgh last weekend, we had liked a lot less pressure in the last six minutes of that game; it was way too uncomfortable based on what we had scored and our ill-disciplined and penalty count allowed them to stay in the hunt.”
Jones said that despite being the Welsh region with the most players now away on international duty, he believed that the depth in the squad would show itself in the next run of games both in the league and LV=Cup competition.
He said: “As we saw last season, we have plenty of talent and ambitious players here to bolster us during the period and do well when our internationals are away. We are very fortunate that the group here very often drive things even harder as a result. It’s great to work with these guys as they put everything into their performances and training and see it as their opportunity to come into the team and make an impact.
“It’s now their fight for a spot in the next European rounds and hopefully that will give the coaching team a headache or two.”
Jones added that after a close finish in Edinburgh, there was no complacency in the Parc y Scarlets camp this week. He said: “Zebre can bring a very competitive game and can be very aggressive – they are a big tackling side and it showed against Munster that they can stay in games.
“We’re associated with plenty of width in our game and will keep our attack versatile, but we have to create the space to play in and exploit those areas – so there’s plenty we have to bring to our game on Saturday evening. We look forward to seeing a number of new combinations on the field in the starting line up and boys who are handed opportunities in a key game for us in our league ambitions.”
Scarlets team v Zebre Saturday 3rd November 2012, Parc y Scarlets kick-off 6.30pm:
15 Morgan Stoddart
14 Kristian Phillips
13 Gareth Maule
12 Gareth Owen
11 Andy Fenby
10 Aled Thomas
9 Gareth Davies
1 Phil John
2 Kirby Myhill
3 Deacon Manu
4 George Earle
5 Johan Snyman
6 Tomás Vallejos
7 Johnathan Edwards (capt)
8 Kieran Murphy
Replacements: 16 Craig Hawkins, 17 Shaun Hopkins, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Craig Price, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Nick Reynolds.