Preview: Scarlets v Connacht

Date published: January 8 2016

Scarlets have been handed a timely lifeline ahead of Sunday’s PRO12 clash against Connacht at Parc y Scarlets, with Scottish international John Barclay returning to fitness in time for the all-important clash.

Injuries at openside flanker have blighted the region in recent weeks with Barclay, James Davies, Will Boyde and Josh Macleod unavailable and Emyr Phillips, who played in the jersey last weekend, also ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

Rory Pitman also makes a return to the matchday 23 for the first time since facing Ulster in the second round of the PRO12 in September having ruptured a bicep.

All Black, Regan King, returns to the starting XV with Gareth Owen unavailable due to injury. Gareth Davies is ruled out due to illness handing Aled Davies the scrum-half jersey with Rhodri Williams featuring for the first time for the regional side since the third round Champions Cup defeat to Glasgow.

Hooker Ryan Elias, 21, is named as cover for captain Ken Owens, looking to continue his development on the regional stage. His last appearance came off the replacements bench in the 25-14 defeat to Leinster in October.

Another of the region’s next generation named on the replcements bench and looking for his first Scarlets appearance since December 2014 is centre Steff Hughes.

Scarlets Backs Coach Stephen Jones said: “We’ve played 11 games and we’re halfway through the season. We’ve put a lot of good things in place but we still have a lot of areas we need to tidy up on, that’s the focus for us as coaches. The good thing for us is a lot of those things are in our control.

“From our aspect, we’ll make sure our house is in order to get back to winning ways, that’s our goal. We’re expecting a tough game because they’re a tough opponent.

“They’re a very good side. Statistically they’re very good. They want to play open expansive rugby. We’re looking forward to it, it will be a great challenge for us.”

Meanwhile, head coach Pat Lam has named his side to face league leaders Scarlets in Wales on Sunday.

There is just one change to the Connacht side that travelled to play Leinster on New Year's Day. Second row Ultan Dillane, fresh from his first inclusion with the Ireland training squad on Sunday, rotates with Aly Muldowney.

Sunday's clash will make it eight appearances and six starts this season for 22-year-old Dillane, having made his senior debut while still in the Academy last term.

Jack Carty and Kieran Marmon are retained at half0-back while Niyi Adeolokun, try scorer for Connacht at Parc y Scarlets last season, starts on the right wing with Matt Healy on the left.

Up front, John Muldoon, who this week signed up for his 14th season at the province, will captain the side. Jake Heenan, who made his season debut last week after nearly 10 months on the sidelines, will start again at openside flanker.

Lam said: "While we were disappointed with the outcome last week against Leinster, there were a lot of positives we could take from the performance. We travel with the same squad to take on a strong Scarlets side on their home pitch this weekend.  There are certain aspects of our game that we are looking to improve from last week. With a solid week's training under our belt, we go with confidence knowing that if we add clinical execution to the work ethic already shown, we'll have every chance of getting the points on offer."

Form: Scarlets have slipped to four straight defeats in all competitions although achieving a losing bonus point in each of the last three encounters. Scarlets were defeated 26-27 at Parc y Scarlets on Boxing Day in their most recent home game and have not lost successive matches at the venue in the same season in the PRO12 since 2009/10. Connacht's only win in their last five fixtures in all tournaments was 25-10 at home to Newcastle in the Challenge Cup on December 11. Connacht have slipped to three straight defeats on the road since their momentous victory in Munster in the PRO12 on November 28. Connacht have won just one of their last seven encounters with Scarlets: 14-8 at the Sportsground in November 2014, whilst they have not beaten Scarlets on their own soil since a trip to the old Stradey Park in October 2004.

The teams:

Scarlets: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Steff Evans, 13 Regan King, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Morgan Allen, 7 John Barclay, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 4 Tom Price, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 
Ryan Elias, 17 Phil John, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Maselino Paulino, 20 Rory Pitman, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Steff Hughes

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Nathan White, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Finlay Bealham
16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Ian Porter, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Rory Parata

Date: Sunday, January 10
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Stuart Kibble (Wales)
TMO: Paul Adams (Wales)