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Scarlets get mentally tough for Murrayfield challenge

Guinness PRO12 Editor

25 Mar 2010


The Scarlets travel to Edinburgh tomorrow evening (Fri) for their second away Magners League fixture in the past fortnight focused on turning around a cycle of defeats against the Scottish side at Murrayfield.

Head Coach Nigel Davies said the Scarlets coaching team have been looking at new ways to mentally prepare their players and get the mindset right for the crucial game on Friday night.

Edinburgh are currently second in the table on 34 points following a consistent and strong Magners League campaign this season. The home side that has ex-Scarlet lock Scott Macleod in its ranks, has won nine of its13 encounters against the Scarlets, including last time out when Edinburgh narrowly claimed a victory (17-16) at Parc y Scarlets in early December.

The Scarlets are currently neck-and-neck with the Cardiff Blues who sit one point ahead in the league. And the battle for European qualification is hotting up with five games to go, as the teams fight for a Heineken Cup place next season, as one of the three best-placed Welsh regions in the Magners League.

The Scarlets coaching team has opted to rest two internationals – outside half Stephen Jones and wing Sean Lamont after their heavy Six Nations campaigns with Wales and Scotland.

Scarlets Head Coach Nigel Davies said: "Unless you’ve played at that level, it is difficult to appreciate fully the level of pressure and intensity that international players come under, mentally as much as physically.

"We have an important run of games now and it is important that both Stephen and Sean have a week completely away from rugby – it will be in their best interests and ours in the medium term with the amount of games we have coming up, that they freshen up before the challenges ahead."

Wales hooker Matthew Rees, who was out injured during part of the Six Nations campaign, will however travel to Edinburgh and is on the bench for Friday night’s clash. Two other Wales internationals, centre Jon Davies and hooker Ken Owens both start on Friday night.

Davies has put faith in his young squad and says the investment made in playing his younger players in key games over the last 18 months is starting to pay dividends. Local Carmarthenshire talent, 23 year-old fly-half Rhys Priestland is one of a crop of young players that Davies has invested heavily in.

He said: "Rhys is playing superbly for us and the fact that he has so much exposure this season has been good for him – you can see how much his performances have come on this season and the last couple have been right up there. The only way you will see true progression is for these players to be part of the big games – it can be painful at times but there is a swathe of young Scarlets players who are starting to come through for us."

Wing Lee Williams returns to start after injury and there is switch in selection this week at scrum-half, with Martin Roberts starting in the no9 jersey instead of 19-year-old talent Tavis Knoyle. Daniel Evans is selected at fullback and Damian Welch comes back to start following time-out from a planned operation on his ankle.

Scarlets Head Coach, Nigel Davies said: "The fact we are playing on a Friday night can be a positive thing if we get a result, because it can put pressure on the other teams involved over the weekend, so it’s important that we draw first blood.

"This group of players have a lot of ahead of them and there is plenty of pressure but we have only been concentrating on this game and the players have been really focused this week.

"It is frustrating that we have such a poor record up in Edinburgh and lots of teams struggle up at Murrayfield – it’s a massive stadium, there’s little atmosphere and the conditions are often tricky. Our kicking game will be important and we will need to be accurate.

"It challenges you to think about doing things differently – a lot of it is making sure our players are mentally right for this game. The game is late on Friday night so we’re going to be managing the player’s day and schedule on Friday more closely, to ensure their mindset is right and that they’re up for this game.

"There is no reason why we can’t come away with a result if we are accurate enough, in Munster we put ourselves under too much pressure and gave up good field position and penalties. If we put that right we can be confident of taking something from this game."

Davies said that the region had a high pressure few weeks ahead both in the league and Amlin Cup out in Toulon and hoped Scarlets’ supporters would turn out in force to back their team at the next big home fixture against the Cardiff Blues on Saturday 17th April at Parc y Scarlets.

He said: "The run to the end of the season going to be really interesting, there’s so much to play for at this stage and it’s an exciting contest now. We’d obviously rather not be in this position but it is forcing us to look long and hard at ourselves and really dig deep. Everyone is fighting for every single point and we have some hugely intense local derbies to come up as well.

The Scarlets squad is without injured wingers Morgan Stoddart and captain Mark Jones as well as centre Rob Higgitt and flankers Simon Easterby and Dafydd Jones.

Scarlets selection v Edinburgh; Magners League 26th March 2010 (KO 1930) at Murrayfield.

15 Daniel Evans, 14 Lee Williams, 13 Regan King, 12 Jonathan Davies 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Martin Roberts, 1 Phil John, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Rhys Thomas, 4 Damian Welch, 5 Dominic Day, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Richie Pugh 8 David Lyons (capt).

Replacements: 16 Deacon Manu, 17 Matthew Rees, 18 Lou Reed 19 Rob McCusker, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Daniel Newton, 22 Gareth Maule