Preview: Scarlets v Saracens

Date published: January 13 2017

Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has named eight internationals in his XV for their must-win clash with Saracens at Parc y Scarlets.

The Kiwi coach believes his side are still in with an outside chance of qualifying from the group but will have to secure a victory over the high-flying Saracens on Sunday.

Liam Williams returns to full-back as he prepares to face Saracens for the first time since announcing his departure from the Scarlets at the end of this current season to join the London-based club.

He’s joined in the back three by Steff Evans, making his 50th regional appearance, and Johnny Mcnicholl with Scott Williams making a return from injury to partner up with Kiwi Hadleigh Parkes in midfield.

Aled Davies and Dan Jones link up in the half-back partnership after helping the Scarlets to victory over Ulster last weekend.

An all-international front-row in Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee, leads the pack with Irish youngster Tadhg Beirne and Aaron Shingler both making a return from injury. James Davies and John Barclay retain their place at openside and number eight.

Speaking ahead of the Champions Cup clash earlier this week Pivac said: “We were in a pretty tough group last season and it doesn’t get much tougher than the champions! [Saracens] a class side and their record speaks for itself. It’s a massive test for us and one that the guys are really looking forward to.

“We have a proud record at home, it’s going to be one of the biggest games, if not the biggest game, of the season and that’s the way we’re approaching it.

“We need to win both games and that is a big challenge. We’ve given ourselves a starters chance and it’s all on this game this weekend. The fact that we’re playing at home is great for us. It’s going to be an exciting game and we’ll hopefully see a lot of good rugby!”

Meanwhile, Chris Wyles will make his 50th European appearance of his Saracens career as the Men in Black chase their place in the quarter-finals for a sixth successive season and set a record of 14 successive wins in Europe’s premier club rugby competition.

Chris Ashton returns to the side after recovering from a head-knock whilst Alex Lozowski starts of the full-back in the place of Alex Goode who is ruled out of the game with an ankle injury.

At centre, with Brad Barritt suspended for three-weeks, Nick Tompkins comes into the side to make his 50th Saracens appearance. Tompkins, who was Man of the Match in the corresponding fixture against the Scarlets in round two back in October 2016, is partnered by Marcelo Bosch in the Sarries midfield.

In the halves, Owen Farrell assumes the captaincy in Barritt’s absence, and is joined by Richard Wigglesworth, who starts at scrum-half.

Richard Barrington continues at loosehead prop alongside Schalk Brits and Juan Figallo in the front row, with Maro Itoje continuing to partner Jim Hamilton at lock as Mark McCall names an unchanged tight-five from the side who drew against Exeter Chiefs.

McCall’s only change to his pack that battled so heroically against the Chiefs is Schalk Burger coming into the side at openside flanker in the place of Kelly Brown in the back-row. Jackson Wray continues at number eight with Saracens top-tackler of the Champions Cup this season Michael Rhodes (38 tackles) named at blindside flanker.

Speaking ahead of the game, director of rugby Mark McCall said: “It has been a good campaign for us so far, 18 points from the first four games took a lot of doing and we understand the importance and the significance of the game in terms of getting us what we want which is a home quarter-final.

“Whether 22 points will be enough I am not sure, it might not be and then the Toulon game the week after becomes all the more important.”

Form: After beating RC Toulon in Round 4, Scarlets can now win three consecutive home games for the first time since 2010. Saracens are on a run of 13 consecutive victories in the Champions Cup, one more victory would be a new record for the competition (Munster won 13 between 2005 and 2007). This will only be Saracens’ fourth away game in Wales (W2, L1), the last such visit coming in 2011. The reigning champions have used just 29 players in the Champions Cup this season, the joint fewest of any side (level with Wasps). Only Owen Farrell (24) has slotted more kicks than Rhys Patchell (21) who boasts the best success rate of any player to attempt 10 kicks this season (91 percent).

The teams:

Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Aled Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Tom Price, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Jonathan Davies

Saracens: 15 Alex Lozowski, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Tim Streather, 23 Sean Maitland

Date: Sunday, January 15
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant Referees: Adrien Descottes (France), Thomas Déjean (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)