Planet Rugby

Preview: Scarlets v Connacht

09th September 2010 09:52

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SKY_MOBILE Stephen Jones Llanelli

Lining up: Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones, Matthew Rees and Sean Lamont will start for the Scarlets' to herald the region's first home game of the season, against Connacht.

The new season's captain, Wales and British Lions hooker Matthew Rees, will lead a strong Scarlets outfit to the field at home this weekend.

And both the Scarlets Head Coach Nigel Davies and his captain have taken a strong line with the players this week - giving them plenty to think about after letting a win slip out of their grasp out in Italy.

With competition for places building in the Scarlets squad, there have been some tough selection decisions made ahead of the first home game but its been a battle that Davies says is helping raise the bar in training.

"It's a very competitive environment here at the moment, which is what we wanted," said Davies.

"I made it clear that this week would be the first time we would be not preclude anyone from selection and would pick our starting XV from the entire squad.

"We planned to bring back some of our senior players for this first home game, after they have had full training and conditioning over the past four weeks and it's been good to see the spark in the squad on the training field this week.

"First and foremost we have to win games and maybe in the past we've tried to win games playing pretty rugby but we don't always need to do that - and if we were able to shut-up shop out in Italy we would have won that game.

This weekend's team sees Martin Roberts wins the battle of the scrum-halves, Rhys Thomas returns at tighthead prop, David Lyons does not make the fitness race for Saturday and is replaced by last week's captain Rob McCusker at number eight, and world-class fly-half Stephen Jones is back in the number ten jersey with Andy Fenby moving from wing to full-back. Rhys Priestland is on the bench.

After a stunning brace of tries on his competitive debut last week in Italy, 18 year-old winger George North is rewarded with a place in a top ranking starting Scarlets XV, with Scottish international Lamont, Wales international centre Jon Davies and former All Blacks centre Regan King for company.

But the Scarlets are taking nothing for granted despite a strong home record against Connacht - particularly as the visitors will be boosted and energised after their convincing victory over the Dragons last weekend.

"Connacht are a good team, when you look what they did against the Dragons, they played very well," said Davies.

"They are a very capable side. But this season, we must look less at the opposition and more about ourselves, our game and what we can bring.

"And we need to bring a strong defensive game and muscle-up more and that has been the focus for us this week after Treviso.

"This is our first home game of the season which is very important to us."

Meanwhile, the Irish have named a largely unchanged side to the one that secured a bonus-point win over the Dragons last weekend with Mike McComish starting in place of injured Ezra Taylor.

Taylor underwent scans on his knee injury during the week and is awaiting the results to see the extent of the injury. Frank Murphy retains the captaincy in the absence of injured John Muldoon with the tried and tested partnership of Swift and Upton offering plenty of choice at lineout-time.

Ian Keatley will hope to add to his points total of 25, last week he became the top Connacht points scorer in a single Magners League match overtaking Paul Warwick's total of 21 against the Scarlets in 2006.

Form: Scarlets slipped up in a 62 point thriller in Treviso on Saturday but have never begun a campaign with successive losses. Scarlets have won just one of their last eight matches in all competitions: 58-10 over Connacht at Parc y Scarlets in April. Connacht opened the Magners League season with a 40-17 eclipsing of the Dragons and a first four-try bonus point since April 2009. Connacht have not begun a season with back-to-back wins since 2006/07. Connacht's only victory in Wales since 2004 was at the Dragons (13-11) in April 2008. Scarlets have won three of their last four encounters with Connacht, whilst Connacht's most recent win in Llanelli was 29-21 at Stradey Park on 9 October 2004.

The teams:

Scarlets: 15 Andy Fenby, 14 George North, 13 Regan King, 12 Jon Davies, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Jonny Fa'amatuainu, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Matthew Rees (c), 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Iestyn Thomas, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Nic Cudd, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Gareth Maule, 23 Rhys Priestland.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Troy Nathan, 13 Niva Ta'auso, 12 Keith Matthews, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Frank Murphy (capt), 8 Mike McComish, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 Michael McCarthy, 5 Bernie Upton, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Rob Sweeney, 19 Dave Nolan, 20 Shane Coneely, 21 Cillian Willis, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Tiernan O'Halloran.

Date: Saturday, 11 September
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Kick-off: 15:00 BST
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Tim Hayes (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)

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