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Scarlets set to up intensity for big Welsh derby at Arms Park

Guinness PRO12 Editor

20 Dec 2012

Flanker Josh Turnbull crossed on 28 minutes to start the Scarlets' comeback

Friday night sees the return to action in the RaboDirect PRO12 league, with second-placed Scarlets eager to earn points to retain their top table position.

The excitement of the Welsh derby festive fixtures kick-off with the Scarlets visit to a packed Arms Park for the first of three important away fixtures for the West Wales side.

With a strong record against their rivals in the East, the Scarlets know it will be a fixture with high levels of intensity as both sides will seek to prove a point after losing out in their Heineken Cup double-headers.

Scarlets are keen to keep up the pressure and close the gap on the league leaders Ulster and know there’s a tight contest ahead amongst the top six teams – with huge opportunities to take points away from rivals the Ospreys on Boxing Day, followed by Ulster away.

Sitting in second, the Scarlets are aware that retaining their place will give them a very significant home play-off berth in the top four.

The Scarlets players and coaching team are well aware of the drama and the build-up for traditional Welsh festive derbies, and Head Coach Simon Easterby said the level of preparation and build-up will be similar to the games in Europe.

He said: “Both our games against the Blues and Ospreys will have the same intensity and ferocity of any Heineken game, derbies are made that way and there won't be much in it or between the sides.

"We have three big games ahead of us and we can’t afford to lose any of the positive momentum we’ve gained in the league so far.

“We will have to be better than last weekend and while we competed well for forty minutes, we have to start much more strongly which we’ve really looked at this week.

“The game at Exeter showed we’re a team that can really attack and we were more creative with the ball and kept it moving. We didn't allow Exeter to set a defensive line but there were too many errors and we’ll need to make sure we sure up our first quarter well on Friday night.

“It will be a big atmosphere at the Arms Park and our players have responded well away from home this year and we’ll thrive on to going to three exciting grounds with big crowds to play our rugby over the next few weeks.

“The Blues have a number of impressive individuals in their side and some good young players coming through who looked comfortable in their European games – they came up against a pretty tough team in Montpellier and we know this is a crucial fixture for them on Friday.

"Phil's (Davies) sides are always well-prepared and I’m sure he’ll have a couple of things up his sleeve. Ultimately, it will come down will come down who is the sharpest, who starts the best and ultimately how much we want to win it.

“I know all our players just want to get out there and play in these next three games, the short turnaround isn’t going to affect them because mentally, every single one of us wants to show what we are about and give a much better account of ourselves.”

Cardiff Blues have won just one of their last six matches in the RaboDirect PRO12: 14-7 at struggling Zebre on 25 November. The Blues are the only side in the tournament who have tallied more league points on the road this season than they have accumulated at home.

The Scarlets four game winning run in the PRO12 came to a halt last time out with their 12-19 defeat to table-topping Ulster at Parc y Scarlets. The West Wales region are the second best away team in the tournament behind Ulster, and have lost just one of their last eleven fixtures against fellow Welsh regions. Scarlets have won their last six encounters with the Blues in all competitions, whilst they have not visited the Arms Park since May 2008.

There’s a return to action for back row forward Josh Turnbull after he picked up a knee injury during his campaign with Wales in the autumn along with fellow Welsh international back row Aaron Shingler.

Scarlets Team v Cardiff Blues Friday 21st December kick off 7.05pm Cardiff Arms Park; 15 Liam Williams 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies (capt), 12 Scott Williams, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 1 Phil John, 2 Emyr Phillips, 3 Samson Lee, 4 George Earle, 5 Johan Snyman, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Aaron Shingler, 8 Kieran Murphy.

Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Johnathan Edwards, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Owen, 23 Gareth Maule.

Players not available for selection through injury: Rob McCusker (ankle), Jordan Williams (shoulder), Rhys Priestland (Achilles), Ken Owens (ribs).