The Scarlets play host to the Dragons at Parc y Scarlets for the first game and Welsh derby of 2011 and the opportunity for the home side to keep their hold on a top three place in the Magners League table.
A proud and committed home team will be looking to put right their defeat last time out and replicate some of the strong home form they have shown this season which has seen them notch up six wins and one draw out of eight home games.
The Scarlets have a good record against the Dragons having done the double on the Men of Gwent in the last two seasons plus a victory earlier this season in a hard-fought contest at Rodney Parade at the end of September – making it five wins from their last five encounters.
And the faithful and spirited Parc y Scarlets home crowd will get the chance to applaud a number of individual landmarks reached in the last two Scarlets games – including hooker Ken Owen’s 100th appearance for the Scarlets (v Ospreys 27/12) and back row Josh Turnbull’s 50th appearance in the shirt which he achieved out in Treviso (18/12).
It’s a warm welcome back to the starting line-up for centre talent Jon Davies, whose will be looking to keep up his six out of six games try scoring record this season. Experienced front rowers Iestyn Thomas and Phil John will bring an impressive combined total of 373 appearances for the Scarlets on New Year’s Day.
In-form Scarlets outside half Rhys Priestland will stand to reach his century points landmark in the Magners League this season (currently on 99 points) joining three others (Ian Keatley, Isa Nacewa, Dan Biggar) who have also exceeded 100 points.
With excitement building in West Wales for the New Year’s Day fixture, Parc y Scarlets stadium operations team have today announced that they will be opening up an additional stand for the derby with ticket sales past the 8,000 mark already.
Scarlets starting XV v Newport Gwent Dragons, Parc y Scarlets, 01/01/2011, kick-off 1830: Dan Newton, Morgan Stoddart, Gareth Maule, Jon Davies, Sean Lamont, Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle, Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees (capt), Phil John, Vernon Cooper, Jonny Fa’amatuainu, Rob McCusker, Josh Turnbull, David Lyons.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Rhodri Jones, Simon Gardiner, Damian Welch, Ben Morgan, Martin Roberts, Regan King, Lee Williams.
Head Coach Nigel Davies said the Scarlets squad had been in fighting spirit and positive mood this week in training and after some honest and firm appraisals of their last performance had firmly put their Ospreys defeat behind them.
Davies said: “The boys are just desperate to get their boots back on and get back on the field at Parc y Scarlets to put things right after the last derby game. It was very disappointing for us all but we’ve had some very frank team sessions this week. This squad are a committed and passionate group of players and we know the way to put it right is to show what we can do on the pitch.
“We will not let one game, however poor a performance affect how we move forward. We’re not dwelling on it and instead we have got to use it as a springboard going into this game against the Dragons game, which is a huge game anyway, a proud home game for us in front of our passionate Scarlets supporters.
“What I’ve told the players this week is that we have got to keep our heads and hearts up, we acknowledge and respect that we were outperformed and we weren’t good enough on that afternoon. We know we are better than that as this season has shown so far – we have achieved a fair amount already given where we have come from and there is everything to play for.
“The Dragons will be fresh and fired-up after their fixture with the Blues was postponed earlier in the week so we are expecting a real battle and our last encounter earlier this season against them was a really tough, hard-fought contest at Rodney Parade.”
The Scarlets are without Johnathan Edwards who has a hamstring injury plus Stephen Jones (knee), Andy Fenby (groin) and Lou Reed (leg). Tighthead prop Rhys Thomas is back running and is targeting a return at the Scarlets’ Leicester game later in January. Other long-term injuries include props Peter Edwards, Deacon Manu and wing George North (shoulder).
The Scarlets have won 11 and drawn one of their 17 competitive games this season, with six home wins out of eight (plus a draw against Leinster) and five wins away from home at Treviso, London Irish, Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons and Aironi.
They are currently placed 3rd in the Magners League, sit in top position in Pool 5 of the Heineken Cup and are joint leaders in their LV=Cup group.