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Preview: Scarlets v Munster

20th April 2012 13:47

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George North Scarlets 2012

Fully fit: George North

Scarlets are expecting a game of Test level intensity on Saturday as they host Munster for their first of two big home games for the region.

Sitting in sixth on 55 points, the Scarlets know they are still in the battle for a top-four spot and play-off place if they can get good results in their last two RaboDirect PRO12 home games against Munster and then Cardiff Blues on May 5.

With just seven points separating the teams in second to sixth place, it could be any one of five teams making the trip to Dublin with Leinster already through. And with a number of the top six set to play each other in the final rounds, nothing can be taken for granted.

Scarlets welcome back George North who is back at full fitness, Jonathan Davies (centre) is out with a groin injury and is replaced by Stephen Jones with the Scarlets opting to put as much senior experience and game intelligence on the field as possible.

Jones played at 12 last weekend in Aironi for the injured Davies and the Scarlets will be looking to his vision and leadership in midfield this crucial game. Alongside Jones is bright young centre talent Adam Warren who put in some eye-catching performances in the early part of the season.

Matthew Rees takes the reins as captain once again and tighthead prop Deacon Manu is back fit after a spell out with concussion with young prop Rhodri Jones switching back to loosehead for what is expected to be a physical battle up front.

"This is a huge fixture for us and we are expecting international level intensity and we have to be right up there in terms of our performance, Munster bring such a big game for 80 minutes, we know what a tough side they are to beat," said Head of Rugby, Nigel Davies.

"There's so much in this game for us - not withstanding that they have proved an almost impossible side for us to win against in the past and that will give them a psychological edge over us and it will be a big barrier we have to overcome.

"We need to put a marker down against them now and the boys know that they came very close to beating them twice in the Heineken Cup this season. It was very fine margins that let us down - our Scarlets players have a point to prove now and if the importance of this fixture wasn't big enough anyway - our record against Munster is motivation enough."

Munster meanwhile have made four changes to their team, one of them for the trip to Llanelli sees Dave Kilcoyne handed his first start at loosehead.

Academy prop Kilcoyne's only other involvement at this level was back in December when he came of the bench in the 69th minute of a clash with Connacht.

Always highly regarded, he produced an impressive performance when Munster defeated Leinster A in the British & Irish Cup semi-final a fortnight ago.

McGahan's one backline change is at nine, Conor Murray in for London Irish-bound Tomas O'Leary and upfront, not surprisingly the return of Paul O'Connell meant one of the Os who started against Warriors had to go. So Donncha O'Callaghan is benched and Mick O'Driscoll, partners O'Connell in the second-row.

The back-row remains the same with BJ Botha coming back into the front-row ahead of Stephen Archer.

Form: Scarlets have won four of their last five matches in the RaboDirect PRO12, whilst their only home defeat in the tournament this season was to table-topping Leinster in round four. Munster's only defeat in their last five away games was at Aironi on 11 March. The Munstermen have won their last four matches againstWelsh regions in all competitions, and have triumphed on six of their last seven visits to Wales. Munster's incredible run of success against Scarlets now stands at 14 successive wins in all competitions since Scarlets won 24-15 at Stradey Park in the quarter-finals of the 2006/07 Heineken Cup.

The teams:

Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Stephen Jones, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Josh Turnbull, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Sione Timani, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Matthew Rees (capt), 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Phil John, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Mat Gilbert, 20 Kieran Murphy, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jordan Williams, 23 Viliame Iongi.

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Luke O'Dea, 13 Johne Murphy, 12 Lifiemi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Paul O'Connell (capt), 4 Mick O'Driscoll, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Peter Butler, 21 Tomas O'Leary, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Ian Dineen.

Date: Saturday, April 21
Kick-off: 18:30 BST
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), David Jones (Wales)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

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