Preview: Scarlets v Cardiff Blues

Date published: December 30 2016

Centre Scott Williams will lead the Scarlets in the New Year's Day derby at Parc y Scarlets as the West Wales region look to do the double over Cardiff Blues.

Head Coach Wayne Pivac has rung the changes ahead of the clash with his side looking to bounce back to winning ways following defeat to Ospreys on Tuesday.

Williams will be joined in the centre by fellow international Jonathan Davies as he makes a return to fitness from a hamstring injury.

A new-look back-three sees Aled Thomas at full-back with Johnny Mcnicholl and Steff Evans on the wings. Rhys Patchell and Jonathan Evans make up the halfback pairing with Gareth Davies moving to the replacements bench.

Wyn Jones and Ryan Elias come in to the front row to partner international tighthead prop Samson Lee whilst Lewis Rawlins joins Jake Ball in the second row. Tadhg Beirne moves to the blindside flank in Aaron Shingler's absence with Will Boyde and John Barclay remaining at seven and eight respectively.

"Up until [Tuesday] we were reasonably happy to be honest. The slow start seems a long, long, time ago now. We'd won seven on the trot, we're going ok in Europe and we we're pretty pleased," he said.

"[Tuesday] was one of those days where under pressure we made some mistakes. I think it's a good learning for us, we're by no means the finished article. Players need to have a good look at that game and make sure learn from it and don't make the same errors again."

Pivac went on to say; "It's a big game for both teams; we can put some space on them or we can close it right up and the race for top six, let along top four. It's an important game."

Meanwhile, Danny Wilson has made two changes to his Cardiff Blues team to face the Scarlets.

With Tom James and Blaine Scully both unavailable for selection, Rhun Williams has made a timely return to fitness to start on the left wing. In the pack, Taufa'ao Filise steps up from the replacements bench at tighthead prop.

The Blues slipped to a 26-15 defeat in the corresponding fixture at Cardiff Arms Park in October, but won at Parc y Scarlets last season and go into the Big Weekend encounter on the back of a Welsh derby victory over the Dragons.

Head coach Wilson believes his side can go into the clash with confidence but he knows the in-form Scarlets will present a tough assignment.

He said: "We won both Christmas derbies last season and it would be great to do it two years on the bounce.

"Parc y Scarlets is a very tough venue and they are a very tough side to play but we have come off the back of a win and a first-half performance which will give us a bit of confidence.

"Last season we had a good away win there but historically it is a tough place to go – the Scarlets have a passionate crowd and are a proud region.

"Derbies are about who wins the physical battle and last year we won that, and that led to a really big win for us. We will need to have that and more this time around.

"The Scarlets are in form at the moment, they've had a great run, including a big win against Toulon and have a squad full of quality so we will need to be right on top of our game to have a chance."

While the Blues won on Boxing Day, the Scarlets saw a seven-match winning run in the PRO12 come to an end against the Ospreys a day later.

Wilson added: "Their results speak for themselves. They didn't start particularly well but have picked up some really good form and some great wins.

"They will be hurting from losing a derby and will want to put that right against us. But we picked up a win and want to build on a good first-half performance and there's no better place to do it than Parc y Scarlets."

Form: Scarlets seven game winning run in the PRO12 came to an end in Swansea on 27 December, however at Parc y Scarlets their only defeat this season came at the hands of Munster in the opening round of the PRO12. Cardiff Blues have won just twice in the last seven rounds of the PRO12: at Treviso in round Eight and at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on Boxing Day. Scarlets won 26-15 when the two sides met in Cardiff in round Seven and have not achieved a season’s double over the Blues since 2012/13. The Blues won in Llanelli last season, something that they had not done since 2010.

The teams:

Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Johnny Mcnicholl, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams (c), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 John Barclay, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Tom Price, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Hadleigh Parkes

Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Rhun Williams, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Josh Navidi, 5 James Down, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Gill,
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Nicky Robinson, 23 Cory Allen

Date: Sunday, January 1
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Time: 15:00 Local
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Craig Evans, Jon Hardy
TMO: Paul Adams

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