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Scarlets look to consolidate play-off place against Zebre

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor 16 Feb 2017
Hadleigh Parkes

Scarlets welcome Italian side Zebre to the Parc y Scarlets on Friday at 7.35pm as the fourth placed Welsh outfit look to close the gap on the top three with a win against bottom side Zebre.

The hosts have never lost in the nine Guinness PRO12 meetings between the two sides, with Scarlets winning 31-24 when they last met in the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in December.

What’s at stake?

An 11th win of the season for Scarlets would consolidate their position in fourth place but, if the home side were to get a winning bonus point and Leinster lose to Edinburgh, the gap to third would be down to one point. As for Zebre, they have two games in hand on 11th placed Benetton Treviso and are on equal points so they will be looking to get out of last place.

Scarlet Team News: Scotland flanker John Barclay will not feature against Zebre after he faces a shoulder scan and head injury protocols following a clash in the RBS 6 Nations against France.

But Scarlets welcome back Welsh squad members Steff Evans and Aled Davies from international duty who go onto the replacements bench.

Three changes have been made to the side that beat Glasgow Warriors last week, Steff Hughes coming in to join captain Hadleigh Parkes in the centre, Emyr Phillips is in at hooker, and the injured Lewis Rawlins is to be replaced by Tadhg Beirne in the second row.

Zebre Team News: Italy head coach Conor O’Shea has freed eight Azzurri ahead of the Guinness PRO12 match, with Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, Pietro Ceccarelli, Tommaso D’Apice, Joshua Furno, Federico Ruzza and Marcello Violi coming into Zebre’s starting XV.

Tighthead prop Dario Chistolini, who was also released, will not travel to Wales after suffering an injury in Rome last Saturday.

There is a first-ever selection for 21-year-old flanker Davide Zanetti, a permit player from Italian league club Rugby Calvisano, who makes the bench.

Talking points: The Welshmen have won their last six home games in the Championship since Munster defeated them at Parc y Scarlets in round one this season.

Zebre have lost their last six Guinness PRO12 matches since beating Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield on 28 October.

Key battle: Will Boyde v Federico Ruzza

Zebre will be relieved to welcome back their No.8 and leading try scorer Ruzza from international duty. One of the big hopes for Zebre this season, Friday’s encounter will see the young Italian match up in the No.8 position against another young international hopeful in Boyde who has not yet been capped for the Welsh senior side. More commonly used on the flank, he shifts across to No.8 in Barclay’s absence.

Key stat: Scarlets have never lost in nine previous encounters with Zebre although the two teams did draw 16-all in Parma in October 2013.

Did you know? The Italians’ only previous success in Wales came when they beat Cardiff Blues at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park in September 2013.

Scarlets Rugby: J McNicholl; T Williams, S Hughes, H Parkes, DTH van der Merwe; D Jones, J Evans; W Jones, E Phillips, W Kruger, T Price, T Beirne, A Shingler, J Davies, W Boyde.
Replacements: R Elias, L Garrett, N Thomas, T Phillips, J Macleod, A Davies, G Owen, S Evans.

Top points scorer: Rhys Patchell 147pts Top try scorer: DTH van der Merwe 6

Zebre Rugby: K Baker; M Bellini, G Bisegni, T Boni, L Greeff; S Bordoli, M Violi; A De Marchi, T D’Apice, Ceccarelli, J Furno, G Koegelenberg, D Minnie, O Fabiani, F Ruzza
Replacements: B Postiglioni, G Roan, B Le Roux, V Bernabò, D Zanetti, G Palazzani, M Pratichetti, D Berryman.

Top points scorer: Carlo Canna 24pts Top try scorer: Federico Ruzza 4

TV: Live in Italy on Eurosport 2 and BBC Wales (KO 7.35pm)

Match Officials – Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU). Assistant referee 1: Sean Gallagher (IRFU). Assistant referee 2: Simon Mills (WRU). TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU)

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 9, Scarlets won 8, with 1 game drawn.

At Parc y Scarlets 7.35pm. Live on BBC Wales and Eurosport
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 19th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU), Simon Mills (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Chris Morgan (WRU)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU)

At Parc y Scarlets 7.35pm. Live on BBC Wales and Eurosport
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 19th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU), Simon Mills (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Chris Morgan (WRU)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU)

Evans shines as Scarlets consolidate fourth with Zebre triumph

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor 17 Feb 2017

Steff Evans turned in a dazzling try-scoring performance for Scarlets as they claimed a vital bonus-point 42-7 home win against Zebre to remain fourth in the Guinness PRO12.

Wayne Pivac’s side claimed a pivotal league win over Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun last Friday and they clearly sensed the chance to compound their top-four spot with a bonus-point win at home to bottom-place Zebre, kicking to the corner repeatedly early on.

After two near misses, Evans scored the opener with just under 15 minutes gone and though Mattia Bellini’s converted try levelled the scores ten minutes later, Aaron Shingler, and Tom Williams both crossed to put the hosts 21-7 up at the break.

Lock Tom Price got the critical bonus-point score on 50 minutes before the hosts’ pack earned them an even healthier buffer with a penalty try following huge scrum pressure before Will Boyd bamboozled the Zebre defence to cross from a lineout at Parc y Scarlets .

And with Glasgow Warriors set to play Ulster at Kingspan stadium tomorrow, Pivac’s side could see the gap to fifth stay at eight points heading into Round 16.

James Davies, man of the match against Gregor Townsend’s side, showed his breakdown expertise after just 90 seconds with a textbook turnover as Scarlets applied the pressure early doors.

A drop from Jones handed Zebre a reprieve before Tom Williams looked to have crossed, only to be pulled back for a Johnny McNicholl knock-on.

The breakthrough came on 13 minutes when Scarlets refused another shot at goal and kicked to the corner, with the sustained pressure eventually telling with Evans diving over in the corner and Jones converting from the touchline.

Giulio Bisegni almost mustered a reply for Zebre, capitalising on a failed Scarlets attack to kick ahead with no cover defence in place for Pivac’s side, but the ball rolled in to touch.

Bellini then made good on that promise, racing over from a strong Zebre scrum that came from aScarlets’ mix-up in the back field, with Marcello Violi knocking the conversion over.

That sparked Scarlets into life, turning down another close-range penalty and opting instead to scrum, Shingler picking a plum line from a short pass to cross for their second converted try.

Tadhg Beirne then picked up on a loose Zebre pass, kicking ahead and watching the ball bobble kindly for Williams, sitting up perfectly for the wing to race over before Jones’ conversion took them 21-7 ahead at the break.

A thrilling break from Will Boyd threatened to cut Zebre open early in the second period only for the attack to stall following a handling error.

Shingler had a hand in Scarlets’ all-important bonus-point score, powering towards the line before second-row Price snaffled a pass to barrel over on 50 minutes.

The hosts then well and truly put the game to bed with a penalty try on 63 minutes. following huge scrum pressure, that the ever-reliable Jones converted for a 35-7 lead.

Boyd had been threatening all half and eventually earned a reward for his industrious attacking work, sneaking over after a lineout move for Scarlets’ sixth of the evening that Aled Thomas converted.

The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on May 27, 2017. Tickets for the Guinness PRO12 Final are available via ticketmaster.ie with a limited number of great value €35 tickets still remaining. Or get in at the top level with Premium, starting at only €70. www.pro12rugby.com/final