Preview: Scarlets v Cardiff Blues

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Just two weeks later the standalone derby is back in our lives as Cardiff Blues make the return journey to Llanelli to face a Scarlets side looking for revenge.

After European competition was postponed the Guinness Pro14 have brought forward the fixture between the sides from the capital and the wild west, out of obscurity during the international window and into the primetime Friday night slot.

It was only 13 days ago that at the end of a week that had seen the head coach depart and confusion reign over the future of the club, Cardiff Blues players and the remaining coaches pulled together to produce a fine attacking performance against 14-man Scarlets to win 29-20 and keep the season alive.

Of course this time the challenge will be even harder, with the hosts no doubt keen to keep a full complement of players on the pitch and being on their own patch, looking for revenge. They also have some experienced internationals in their back line who now have 80 minutes under their belts and will be more up to match speed with the Six Nations on the horizon.

Cardiff are boosted too though, as Dai Young takes charge of his first game since returning to the club as interim director of rugby. He actually returns to the scene of the final game of his first spell, where tries from Chris Czekaj and Daf Hewitt, as well as the boot of Dan Parks, could not prevent a 38-23 defeat.

Since then we have lost eight times in 10 visits to Parc y Scarlets, including on our last visit to Llanelli back in August when we went down 32-12 in the first game back after the first lockdown.

In preparation for this weekend’s clash, Scarlets head coach Glenn Delaney has made six changes to his starting XV, with three coming up front as Wales internationals Wyn Jones and Ryan Elias are back, while Javan Sebastian replaces the injured Pieter Schlotz on the tighthead.

There is also a Wales international back in the second row as Jake Ball is in for Tevita Ratuva, who drops to the bench, while Josh MacLeod is ruled out with an ankle knock so blindside flanker Ed Kennedy fills in on the openside. The final change sees a fit-again Johnny McNicholl replace the suspended Liam Williams.

On the bench there is the potential return of Wales international hooker Ken Owens who has been absent through injury since early October.

Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Jon Davies (c), Johnny Williams, Steff Evans, Dan Jones, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Javan Sebastian, Jake Ball, Sam Lousi, Blade Thomson, Ed Kennedy, Sione Kalamafoni

Replacements: Ken Owens, Phil Price, Werner Kruger, Tevita Ratuva, Uzair Cassiem, Kieran Hardy, Angus O’Brien, Steff Hughes

On the back of a win Dai Young has not felt the need to change much in the Cardiff Blues side as he selects it for the first time, making just two alterations to the starting XV. One is enforced as Shane Lewis-Hughes is ruled out so Alun Lawrence starts at 8 with Josh Turnbull, becoming just the fifth man to make 200 league appearances, switching to the blindside.

It is unclear whether the other is enforced or tactical but James Ratti misses out altogether as Seb Davies starts in the second row and Rory Thornton covers from the bench. There are new faces joining Thornton among the replacements as Kris Dacey covers hooker and Josh Navidi could make his first appearance of the season in the back row.

Matthew Morgan starts at full-back making his 100th Cardiff Blues appearance four-and-a-half years after joining from Bristol.

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Josh Adams, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Hallam Amos, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Cory Hill (c), Josh Turnbull, James Botham, Alun Lawrence

Replacements: Kris Dacey, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Rory Thornton, Josh Navidi, Lloyd Williams, Ben Thomas, Aled Summerhill

It is set to be another excellent clash between the two sides with the sub-plots of revenge, a battle for places in conference B and the impending Six Nations all making this an even more tense standalone derby. All that’s missing is the supporters!

With the weather set to be dry on Friday evening hopefully we will see the attacking intent that made the game two weeks ago such an enjoyable spectacle, and gives Dai Young’s men the chance to get a foothold in the game. Dictating the tempo through quick tap penalties, quick throw-ins and the use of the blindside in attack can help us dominate proceedings against a Scarlets side without a recognised openside.

The it will need a physical defensive effort to front up to that home pack, but with plenty of quality to come off the bench there is a chance for what would be a superb double over our West Walian friendly rivals. Come on Cardiff!

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