Preview: Scarlets v Cardiff Blues

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The Guinness Pro14 returns after a European break this weekend with another Welsh derby weekend, as Cardiff Blues make the long journey to west to Llanelli to face the Scarlets.

Following on from last week’s superb win away to Toulouse, Danny Wilson will want ensure his charges carry as much confidence forward as is possible, but the tough trips keep coming with a visit to Parc y Scarlets and last year’s Pro12 Champions.

Scarlets have largely picked up where they left off last season, with five wins from their opening six games, the solitary defeat coming away to Ulster in round three. They have also continued the free-scoring attack form, with 201 points scored being the most in the Pro14.

Scarlets Pro12 champions
Scarlets lifted the last ever Pro12 trophy in May

It was a different story in European terms though, as two defeats have left the West Wales side with a mountain to climb in terms of qualifying for the record stages, after being built up as the side that could end the rotten run of Welsh form in the premier Northern Hemisphere club competition.

A disappointing losing bonus-point in Toulon, from a performance that deserved more, was followed by a home defeat to Bath amid the wild weather conditions of Storm Brian, which will no doubt leave the Scarlets reeling.

Fresh from signing a new contract, head coach Wayne Pivac has made three changes to that XV which lost to the English side last Friday, as Ryan Elias and Werner Kruger come into the front row, while Scott Williams will captain the side from inside-centre a few days after being snubbed by Wales.

Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny Mcnicholl, Hadleigh Parkes, Scott Williams (c), Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies, Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Werner Kruger, Jake Ball, Lewis Rawlins, Aaron Shingler, Will Boyde, Tadhg Beirne

Replacements; Ken Owens, Dylan Evans, Simon Gardiner, David Bulbring, Josh Macleod, Jonathan Evans, Paul Asquith, Jonathan Davies

scott-williams-toulon
Scott Williams leads the Scarlets from 12

For Cardiff there will have to be a shock of the statistics to get a result in Llanelli on Saturday night, as Scarlets did the double over us last season, and have lost just one league game this calendar year so far.

There is the memory from the conclusion of the 2015/16 season though, when Lloyd Williams, Gareth Anscombe and Tom James all scored as Cardiff won 22-28. A win at Parc y Scarlets at least able to be recalled.

tom-james-scarlets
Tom James scored against the Scarlets last season as well

Danny Wilson has kept the majority of the XV that beat Toulouse in an attempt to recreate that performance this weekend, with two changes coming in the front row, as Brad Thyer and Dillon Lewis start at prop, while Seb Davies returns to lock, and Olly Robinson is chosen to partner Josh Navidi at flanker.

A solitary change in the backs sees Willis Halaholo re-join Rey Lee-Lo at centre and, while Garyn Smith particularly will feel aggrieved at losing his place, none of the players coming into the side should weaken the team at all. Cardiff flexing what strength in depth muscles we have.

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Blaine Scully; Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Brad Thyer, Kristian Dacey (c), Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, James Down, Josh Navidi, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams

Replacement: Matthew Rees, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull, Lloyd Williams, Steve Shingler, Rhun Williams

Rhun Williams
Rhun Williams returns to fitness on the bench

In terms of how Saturday night will go, it will take another committed 80 minute performance to take any sort of result away from Parc y Scarlets, as well as once again having a cutting edge about us to take try-scoring chances when presented.

If the forwards can carry on their dominance of Toulouse’s pack then it will stand us in good stead against Scarlets lighter pack, but of course they are more mobile as a result of that, and our defensive awareness will need to be straight out of the top draw to deal with their seemingly unstructured attacking game that works so well.

Picking both Olly Robinson and Josh Navidi is definitely a clever tactic in that respect, with both men needing to work well in tandem to at least slow down, or preferably steal, Scarlets ball at the breakdown.

As ever though, that 100% effort will be the basis upon which to build this performance, and in a game where little is expected, not being afraid to express ourselves when we do have the ball is required. Keep taking the steps forward and do us proud again boys, come on Cardiff!!

Josh Navidi Edinburgh 2
Josh Navidi starts at blindside after receiving his Wales call-up this week

Stats

Cardiff record v Scarlets: W 17  L 11

Scarlets form: WWWLL

Cardiff form: WLWWW

Scarlets top try scorer: Johnny McNicholl (6)

Cardiff top try scorers: Tom James, Willis Halaholo, Macauley Cook (2)

Scarlets top points scorer: Leigh Halfpenny (71)

Cardiff top points scorer: Jarrod Evans (49)

Ref Watch

Stuart Berry (SA) – Unfortunately the reputation that precedes Mr Berry is not one to be proud of.

The Durban-based business owner has been a Super Rugby referee since 2011, but has regularly fielded accusations of bias during games, especially when South African teams are involved, and general incompetence.

So far he has officiated two Pro14 fixtures, a win for Munster at Ospreys, and for Edinburgh at home to Dragons, seeing Saturday complete his Welsh team checklist.

 

 

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