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Scarlets’ Play-Off push set for international boost

Guinness PRO12 Editor

23 Mar 2011

A host of Scarlets stars could be straight back into domestic action in a crucial Magners League encounter this weekend.

Having slipped out of the Play-Off places following three defeats in four games, the Scarlets host Benetton Treviso on Sunday night knowing nothing but a win will do if they are to keep their semi-final hopes alive.

And head coach Nigel Davies could be boosted by the return of the majority of his international stars following the conclusion of the RBS 6 Nations.

Only Wales skipper Matthew Rees looks set to be rested for the Round 18 clash with the Italian newcomers, with fly-half Stephen Jones, centre Jonathan Davies, back row Rob McCusker and wings Morgan Stoddart and George North all desperate to play after their involvement in the matchday 22 against France last weekend.

“They do not arrive until Thursday, but it is a measure that they are phoning you up desperate to play,” Davies told the Western Mail at the Scarlets’ press conference.

“Jon is desperate to play, Steve is, Stodds is and George has only had a handful of games.

“The only player we won’t consider is Matthew Rees, who has played in all the Six Nations games and as captain there has been a lot of stress, physically and mentally.

“He probably needs a break. Apart from that, all being fit, they will all be considered.”

Wales were comfortably beaten in Paris but Davies is unconcerned by talk of that defeat affecting his returning international quartet this weekend.

The former Wales centre and caretaker coach insists Jones, Davies, McCusker, Stoddart and North are hugely enthusiastic about the prospect of returning to Magners League action.

Davies has dismissed any suggestion of physical fatigue or mental tiredness and he believes the group will bring a renewed energy to the Scarlets set up.

“I am expecting a hugely energised bunch of boys,” added Davies.

“A few haven’t played much rugby even though they have been involved in the camp so they will be frustrated and will want to prove some points.

“They don’t feel like it is a hangover after the France defeat. It can work in reverse: when it has been a difficult campaign at international levels, players often look forward to coming back for their regions.

“It is where they feel comfortable and ply their trade and they know we have everything still to play for.”

It’s a massive plus for Davies and his coaching staff who know their return could be just the tonic their team need ahead of a crucial few weeks.

The Scarlets have been one of this season’s success stories, bouncing back from last year’s disappointing campaign to seriously challenge for a top-four spot.

But recent reverses at the hands of Irish trio Connacht, Ulster and Leinster have seen them drop to sixth in the table with just five games remaining.

“From our point of view it is a really strong position. To have the luxury to pick the back line we have got is something we have not had all season.

“It is really energising to have the international players back. In their absence we have been able to give more development opportunities to other players which will pay dividends in the long-run.

“We have a series of five huge games and a target of what we need to make the Play-Offs.

“It is basically going to mean three home wins and one away win, preferably against Ulster next week because they are in the same position as us.

“This is the start of a run-in where we could potentially get a Play-Off place. That is what we are targeting and Treviso is the start of that run-in. We need to build momentum.”