The Scarlets see a welcome return of many of their international stars for the beginning of the double header rounds of the Heineken Cup. Whilst they offer a boost to the squad, in themselves they represent a problem of disruption and lack of training time, having been absent from the west Wales region for more than six weeks.
The limited time together as a squad will be something they need to overcome and quickly, and they will hope that stars such as Captain for the match John Davies, are able to slot straight back in with minimal disruption.
Mathew Rees and Aaron Shingler are great additions to the forwards pack, and with a strong second row pairing of Earle and Kelly their only weakness is likely to come in the back row. Injuries to key players in Turnbull and McCusker have left them light in that area, and their visitors, Exeter Chiefs, will be looking to target the breakdown and gain dominance.
The Chiefs are a committed, disciplined and effective squad of players, with their forwards especially capable of getting on top in a match and grinding out a win. The Scarlets’ set piece will have to weather a stern test in order to gain parity in possession, yet they must not underestimate their visitors’ abilities in wider play. Players such as Shoemark, Camacho and Naqelevuki are all dangerous with ball in hand and will have to be watched carefully by Scarlets centre pairing Davies and Williams.
In form Liam Williams and Andy Fenby slot in on the wings, and Newton is rewarded for his solid display against Ulster last week with a starting shirt at full back.
The Scarlets have gone for a new halfback pairing of Aled Davies and Rhys Priestland, with Knoyle on the bench.
What will be key to the Scarlets’ endeavours is how soon their team settle back into a collective unit. Exeter Chiefs’ strength is built on a superb team ethos, who provide a stern challenge for any team that faces them.
Set pieces will as ever be important and the Scarlets have clearly gone for strength in this area with the selection of Shingler and Kelly. The Chiefs’ pack, led by Hayes and Baxter will be targeting this game, as will the rest of their squad as one to get their first Heineken Cup victory.
The Chiefs are in great form in the Aviva Premiership, and the Scarlets will have to be at their very best to fight of what is without doubt going to be a fierce challenge.
Composure and discipline will win the day, whether it will be the home side who have without doubt a talent filled squad, or the visitors who have a unity, strength and cohesion to be admired, it should be an excellent encounter on Saturday finding out.
Scarlets:15 Dan Newton14 Liam Williams13 Jonathan Davies (capt)12 Scott Williams11 Andy Fenby
10 Rhys Priestland 9 Aled Davies1 Phil John 2 Matthew Rees 3 Samson Lee 4 George Earle
5 Richard Kelly 6 Aaron Shingler 7 Johnathan Edwards 8 Kieran Murphy
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Shaun Hopkins, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Johan Synman, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Gareth Maule
Exeter Chiefs:15 Luke Arscott 14 Gonzalo Camacho 13 Sireli Naqelevuki 12 Jason Shoemark 11 Matt Jess
10 Gareth Steenson 9 Haydn Thomas 1 Brett Sturgess 2 Simon Alcott 3 Hoani Tui 4 Tom Hayes (capt)
5 Damian Welch 6 Tom Johnson 7 James Scaysbrook 8 Richard Baxter
Replacements:16 Neil Clark 17 Ben Moon 18 Carl Rimmer 19 Aly Muldowney 20 Dean Mumm 21 Kevin Barrett 22 Ignacio Mieres 23 Ian Whitten