Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has made wholesale changes to his side ahead of Friday’s PRO12 clash against Ulster at Parc y Scarlets.
A gruelling schedule, with three games in eleven days, has taken its toll on the Scarlets with Pivac having to make eleven changes (two positional) to the side that beat Cardiff Blues on New Year’s Day.
Having sat out the New Year’s Day clash captain Ken Owens makes a return to lead the side and is joined in the front-row by Rob Evans and Werner Kruger. Lewis Rawlins moves to the blindside flank making way for Tom Price to partner Jake Ball in the second-row. James Davies returns to action from suspension with John Barclay remaining at number eight.
A new half-back pairing of Gareth Davies and Dan Jones sees the 20-year-old fly-half make his first start of the season in the PRO12. Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes are reunited in the midfield. Liam Williams makes a return to the side on the wing with Johnny McNicholl given the nod at full-back. Steff Evans, who was named man of the match on Sunday, retains his place on the wing.
Looking ahead to the all-important clash Pivac said: “Ulster are a good side. We expect a big game. If you look at the points table – ourselves, Glasgow and Ulster are probably at the moment fighting it out for the fourth position, unless there’s a change in form.
“It’s a massive game in the context of that push for top four; both teams will want a result from this one definitely.
“Our next two games in the PRO12 are Ulster and Glasgow, teams sitting in fourth, fifth and sixth all within a couple of points of each other. This game Friday is a big match and so is the Glasgow one in terms of our campaign. The home games are vital and Friday is the first focus.”
Meanwhile, Les Kiss has recalled Ireland quartet Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall to his Ulster side.
Those players are among nine new faces in the starting XV, after a number of players were ruled out by injury earlier this week.
Best will start at hooker and will be joined in an all-new front-row by props Callum Black and Ross Kane, who will make his second senior start.
Henderson will partner Kieran Treadwell in the second-row, while Chris Henry is elevated from the bench to start in the back-row alongside Clive Ross and Sean Reidy, who switches to number eight.
Louis Ludik and Jacob Stockdale come into the back three, where they are joined by captain Andrew Trimble. Marshall and Stuart McCloskey will line up in midfield, with Paul Marshall and Jackson occupying the half-back positions.
Named among the replacements, Jonny Simpson will be hoping to earn his second cap after impressing off the bench last week against Leinster. John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Franco van der Merwe and Pete Browne will provide additional forward cover.
Elsewhere, Dave Shanahan could make his first senior appearance of the season, if called upon. Brett Herron and Tommy Bowe complete the match day squad.
Form: Scarlets have been defeated just once in the last nine rounds of Guinness PRO12 play: 9-19 away to Ospreys on 27 December. The Welshmen have won their last eight matches at Parc y Scarlets in all competitions since Munster beat them there in the opening round of this season’s PRO12. Ulster have gained just two victories in their last six Guinness PRO12 encounters: in Cardiff in round 10 and at home to Connacht in round 11, the victory over Blues being their only one on the road in any competition since September. Ulster won 19-8 when the two sides met in Belfast in round 3 and have not achieved a season’s double over Scarlets since they won all three encounters that were played in 2012/13, coinciding with their most recent victory at Parc y Scarlets in December 2012.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Lewis Rawlins, 5 Tom Price, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Nicky Thomas, 19 Joshua Macleod, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Steff Hughes
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Andrew Trimble (c), 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rory Best, 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Jonny Simpson, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Pete Browne, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Tommy Bowe
Date: Friday, January 6
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Elia Rizzo (Italy), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)