It’s that time of year again, the one we all wait for, when the Turks come to the Arms Park. Unfortunately this year’s game is set against the backdrop of what is technically described as a cock-up, involving the WRU and Pro12 fixture list, but fear not, desire to beat Scarlets is as strong as ever.
After last season’s first double over our West Wales rivals in six seasons it’s time to make sure we’re not waiting that long again by completing half the job on Friday night. With two wins under our belts from European action to recover from that hammering away to Ospreys prior to the Pro12 break hopefully we can carry some confidence back into the domestic schedule.
It’s been almost four years since Llanelli last won at the Arms Park going back to December 2012 when Aled Thomas’ three penalties were better than Rhys Patchell’s two to take the away side to a 6-9 victory. It’s three home wins on the bounce for Cardiff since then culminating in a brilliant victory over Scarlets last New Year’s Day when Patchell was on hand to kick the winning conversion in the last minute to secure a 29-27 scoreline.
Obviously since then the utility back has moved down West himself to try and nail down the number ten jersey at Parc y Scarlets. It’s not been an easy transition so far this season though with three defeats, home to Munster and away to Edinburgh and Ulster, kicked off the season before they finally registered a scrappy win over Connacht and settled into 7th in the Pro12 following further wins over Treviso and Newport, five points of us.
A respectable European break has seen them register an impressive 28-11 win over English Premiership side Sale before a 44-26 loss away to Saracens which, when you consider how dominant Sarries have been in all competitions in the last year, is not a bad result at all.
Unfortunately the visitors will be missing six players from the XV that pushed the English champions last week thanks to a mess-up in the scheduling of this weekend of Welsh derbies a week before Team Wales kick-off their Autumn Internationals. Under the terms of the Rugby Services Agreement signed between the WRU and Professional Clubs the players must be available 13 days before a test match.
With Cardiff also missing seven players as a result of this, and Scarlets losing Scott Williams who wasn’t involved last week, it takes the total of missing Welsh internationals to 14. When Welsh derbies are the biggest draw of the season for crowds and the most anticipated games by fans, to have the best players withdrawn from these is incredibly disappointing and frustrating.
The scheduling issue isn’t the fault of the Pro12, who sent out a draft fixture list to be viewed by the WRU and Pro Rugby Wales, who managed to miss the clash and then have said nothing about it since which, specifically in the case of PRW, is poor as the body supposedly representing the professional clubs interests.
The Irish national team, playing New Zealand away in America next week, have still managed to release a sizeable amount of players back to the Irish provinces for their derbies, yet here in Wales we’ve had four players, two of which are Ospreys players they don’t particularly need. You really couldn’t make it up.
Scarlets have benefitted from none of those players meaning all seven Welsh internationals are missing from their squad. Coming into the side is Aled Thomas, Steff Hughes, Jonathan Evans, Ryan Elias, Werner Kruger and Tom Price. Emyr Phillips and James Davies return to the bench to add a bit of experience to the substitutes.
Llanelli Scarlets team: Aled Thomas, DTH van der Merwe, Steff Hughes, Hadleigh Parkes [c], Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Jonathan Evans; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Werner Kruger, Tom Price, David Bulbring, Aaron Shingler, Will Boyde, John Barclay
Replacements: Emyr Phillips, Dylan Evans, Peter Edwards, Lewis Rawlins, James Davies, Aled Davies, Dan Jones, Ioan Nicholas
In terms of Cardiff we’re missing out on Gethin Jenkins, Kris Dacey, Scott Andrews, Sam Warburton, Gareth Anscombe and Alex Cuthbert who are with Team Wales and haven’t been released, although fortunately Rhys Gill and Lloyd Williams have been to cover at loosehead and scrum-half where we are particularly short on the ground.
Bizarrely Ellis Jenkins is also missing due to international duty, despite the fact he’s not officially in the national squad and is just training with them. If you ever wanted an example of how the Welsh Rugby Union views the professional game in Wales then this is it. Depriving a club of their key player for tackle bag holding.
With Josh Navidi also out with a continuing failure of his return to play protocols, and Nick Williams also injured, there’s a somewhat botched feel to the back row as Cameron Dolan comes in at number eight, Macauley Cook at 6 and Josh Turnbull, playing in his fifth position of the season, captains the side for the first time from 7.
Elsewhere, George Earle returns from injury to partner James Down, who passed return to play protocols, at lock, while Tomos Williams is preferred to the Wales released Lloyd at scrum half. Newly arrived centre Willis Halaholo is not ready for action yet meaning Rey Lee-Lo and Cory Allen’s partnership returns in the midfield and at full-back Matthew Morgan and Dan Fish swap again, with Nipper starting.
On the bench the loss of a whole front row to Wales means props Brad Thyer and Dillon Lewis are included in the squad, while Seb Davies keeps his place amongst the replacements and the back row shortage allows Shane Lewis-Hughes the chance to make his first team debut as part of some very young forward substitutes
Cardiff Blues team: Matthew Morgan, Blaine Scully, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James, Steve Shingler, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, James Down, Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull (capt), Cam Dolan.
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Lloyd Williams, Jarrod Evans, Dan Fish.
So there’s been plenty of complaints this week over Team Wales, Pro12 scheduling and player availability, but now is the time to put them aside for a moment. This is still Cardiff v Llanelli, a historic derby and an opportunity to beat the Turks which is always welcome. After two losses pre-Europe it’s also a chance to get back on track in the Pro12.
Danny Wilson has picked a very heavy pack, as opposed to Scarlets mobile forwards meaning the big lads will have to dominate the game, and in defence one-on-one tackling will be key to avoid the defensive line being moved around too much. The backs are fairly evenly matched making it key for the Cardiff quick guys to be at their best playing the simple attacking game off hopefully a good platform from the forwards.
Yes there are players missing, but there’s still a squad of 23 to support, including some of the best players on the fringes of Wales selection, excellent foreign talent and the best young players in the country. I’m sure there’ll be a great atmosphere at CAP and we’ll be treated to some top rugby on Friday night. Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff record v Llanelli: W 17 L 9
Cardiff form: WLLWW
Llanelli form: WWWWL
Cardiff top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (56)
Llanelli top points scorer: Rhys Patchell (62)
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (5)
Llanelli top try scorers: Steff Evans, Liam Williams, DTH Van Der Merwe (3)
Lloyd Linton (SRU) – A massive Welsh derby and a referee officiating in only his 15th ever Pro12 match. Despite being around the league for over three years now Linton has never refereed much, whether due to injury or other commitments I’m unsure. His third visit to CAP and hopefully it’ll be the third home win for Cardiff!