The Scarlets visit their closest rivals at the Liberty stadium for the traditional Boxing Day derby – an encounter that never fails to provide intensity on the pitch and invoke the emotions of supporters.
The Scarlets travel to Swansea having not lost in their last four outings and with growing confidence after a strong first half of the season in all three of their competitions.
However, the Scarlets know a win at the Liberty is something that has eluded them recently, and they are intent on reversing a record that has seen the Ospreys win the last five derby encounters.
Head Coach Nigel Davies says the players need little motivation for the big derby games and the Scarlets trip to the Ospreys will be “a tough challenge but one that will bring out the very best in this team”.
The Ospreys only loss at home this season has been against another Welsh rival, the Newport Gwent Dragons 21-16 in October 2010. The Scarlets have won both their Welsh derbies away from home this season (Cardiff Blues 10-16 and Newport Gwent Dragons 14-27).
And Scarlets supporters can look forward to a festive derby double as their team hosts the Dragons at home on New Year’s Day at Parc y Scarlets (I/01/11 at 1830), with the Scarlets looking to continue building momentum and kick of 2011 on a positive note.
The Scarlets sit in second place in the Magners League. They have won 11 and drawn one of their 16 competitive games this season, with six home wins out of eight (plus a draw against Leinster) with five wins away from home at Benetton Treviso, London Irish, Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons and Aironi.
Back into the starting line-up comes Wales and Scarlets skipper Matthew Rees to provide experience in the Scarlets pack that is ready to do battle up front against a physical Ospreys group of forwards.
And Scarlets supporters will be pleased to see the return of talented centre Jon Davies who is back on the bench following an ankle injury that has kept him out since the beginning of November.
Head Coach Nigel Davies has opted for a strong Scarlets bench to create impact when required with a host of talent to call-on including David Lyons, Ken Owens, Rob McCusker and Tavis Knoyle.
Scarlets starting XV v Ospreys, Liberty Stadium, 26/12/2010, kick-off 4.10pm:
Dan Newton, Morgan Stoddart, Gareth Maule, Regan King, Sean Lamont, Rhys Priestland, Martin Roberts, Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees (capt), Simon Gardiner, Jonny Fa’amatuainu, Dominic Day, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Rhodri Jones, Phil John, Rob McCusker, David Lyons, Tavis Knoyle, Jon Davies, Lee Williams.
Davies said the Scarlets have their feet firmly on the ground going into two festive Welsh derbies and would not show any complacency after their impressive run of form this season.
He said: “We are pleased with what we have achieved so far and the progress we have made with this squad, who have shown great endeavour and team spirit this season. But we all realise there is a long way to go. Things can be taken away from you very quickly in this game so we have to keep the momentum going and our heads are firmly focused.
“We have worked hard to put ourselves where we are and now we have to ensure we fight hard to stay in a similar position for the rest of the season. A lot of effort and commitment from behind the scenes has gone into developing this squad and these players have responded in a very positive way – stepping-up and showing determination and belief.
“It’s about encouraging developing players to have faith in themselves and importantly, creating the right environment for your squad to perform. There’s a good group of coaches working hard to ensure the players keep their development going.
There’s no complacency here, we are very humble as a group and we are just focused on maintaining our momentum right now. We still have a lot to prove.”
Davies said the Boxing Day visit to the Liberty is a contest that will inspire his players.
“They’re a side full of current internationals. We know it will be very tough and physical and both sides are prepared for that, it’s always a great occasion and a huge fixture for the players and supporters. It brings out the very best in the teams and we know how much it means to our supporters. Our last meeting was a hard-fought close game and we were disappointed not to have won,” he said.
“These matches can swing on a couple of key moments and hopefully they are dictated by the play. Key decisions can make the difference and one area that will be crucial will be the contact area, not only the way the players manage it but how it’s interpreted by the referee.”