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Scarlets looking to force their way into top four

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor 7 Apr 2017
Ken Owens

Scarlets will be looking to break into the top four of the Guinness PRO12 on Saturday evening when they welcome Benetton Treviso to the Parc y Scarlets on Saturday evening.

The Scarlets are unbeaten at home in the league since September, making Treviso’s task of claiming their second Welsh scalp in two games a tough one.

What’s at stake?

Six wins from their last seven Guinness PRO12 matches have lifted the Scarlets to within three points of a play-off position with four rounds left in the regular season.

With top-four rivals Ospreys and Leinster facing each other earlier in the day, Wayne Pivac’s side now have the chance to really put themselves in the play-off mix.

Treviso stunned Ospreys 13-5 in their last fixture to pick up just their third win of the season, but they are without a victory on their travels.

Their place in next season’s European Rugby Champions Cup is very much in the balance after Zebre’s 25-22 win against Connacht last week reduced the gap between the two Italian teams to two points.

Scarlets team news: Scarlets have named a strong line-up, with captain Ken Owens forming part of a front row that is completed by fellow Wales internationals Rob Evans and Samson Lee.

Jake Ball is welcomed back into the second row, as he replaces Tom Price, while Scotland international John Barclay comes in at number 8 in place of Will Boyde.

Wayne Pivac is able to call upon centre Scott Williams and winger DTH van der Merwe in the backs with Hadleigh Parkes and Liam Williams making way.

The other change to the side that defeated Edinburgh two weeks ago sees Dan Jones step in at fly-half for Rhys Patchell.

Treviso team news: Treviso head coach Kieran Crowley has made two changes to the line-up that beat Ospreys.

Tommaso Benvenuti plays at outside centre in place of Tommaso Iannone with the alteration seeing Tiziano Pasquali come in for Simone Ferrari at tighthead prop.

The visitors will have some international experience to call upon off the bench with Italy’s Edoardo Gori and Samoa’s Filo Paulo among the replacements.

Talking points: Scarlets head coach Pivac is targeting a try bonus-point as they look to put the pressure on the teams above them in the Guinness PRO12 table.

“We’d dearly love to score some tries on the weekend and collect the maximum points available,” Pivac said.

“We’ve made improvements but we now have to take advantage of the situation we find ourselves in.

“After a slow start to the season we’ve won 13 out of the last 15 games, which is pretty good going for any side.

“We’ve set ourselves up nicely, we now have to take full advantage of that and we’ve talked about that as a team.”

Lions watch: Hooker Ken Owens is arguably the best placed Scarlet for a spot on the Lions tour after his excellent recent performances for Wales, while fellow front rowers Rob Evans and Samson Lee could yet make the cut.

Jake Ball and John Barclay, who captained Scotland in their last three matches, both play in positions where competition is fierce and Scott Williams and Liam Williams are both in the running.

Key battle: Gareth Davies v Tito Tebaldi

The two scrum-halves are likely to have a big influence on the outcome, with Davies expected to have more of the ball to play with.

He’s had to play second fiddle to Rhys Webb for his country this season and Davies has endured a quieter year after a superb campaign last time around.

After struggling for game time in England with Harlequins, Tebaldi has enjoyed his first season back in Italy, with no-one in Treviso’s squad providing more try assists than his four.

The 29-year-old can’t afford to be wasteful with the ball provided by his forwards if the visitors are to have any chance of upsetting the form book.

Key stat: Benetton Treviso have not won back-to-back matches in the Guinness PRO12 since February 2016.

Did you know? Scarlets have won their last seven matches against Treviso since their 17-41 defeat at home to the Italians in round 22 of the 2012/13 season.

Scarlets top points scorer: Rhys Patchell 107pts. Top try scorer: Steffan Evans 6

Treviso top points scorer: Tommaso Allan 66pts. Top try scorer: Dean Budd 4

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 13, Scarlets won 9, Treviso won 4.

At Parc y Scarlets, 7.35pm Live on S4C
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 21st competition game)
Assistant Referees: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU), Jonathan Hardy (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Paul Thomas (WRU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)

Owens scores in 200th game as Scarlets climb into top four

Luke Baker 8 Apr 2017

Ken Owens marked his 200th Scarlets appearance with a try as he helped his side climb into the Guinness PRO12 top four with an impressive 51-5, eight-try victory over Treviso at Parc y Scarlets.

Steffan Evans and DTH van der Merwe, twice, had already crossed the whitewash when Owens benefitted from an inexorable driving maul in the 24th minute to secure the Welsh region a four-try bonus point.

They didn’t let up from there as Evans grabbed a second, Tom Price went over, van der Merwe completed his hat-trick and Aled Davies touched down – with Ornel Gega getting Treviso’s lone points.

The victory means the Scarlets leapfrog Ulster into a play-off place with just three games remaining in the season, as they maintained an unbeaten home record in the Guinness PRO12 that stretches back to September.

Wayne Pivac’s troops now have seven wins from their last eight PRO12 games and are hitting top form at just the right time, with the business end of the campaign beckoning.

It took just two minutes for Scarlets to earn the lead as Dan Jones converted from the tee after Treviso had been penalised at the breakdown.

And shortly after, 3-0 became 8-0 as a beautiful show-and-go from James Davies flummoxed the Italian defence and he then released van der Merwe to go over in the corner.

Evans got the second try on nine minutes as he collected Davies’ precise kick through to dot down before van der Merwe opportunistically darted off the base of a ruck and turned on the afterburners to blitz through the Treviso defence and dive over.

Jones added his first conversion and Scarlets soon had the bonus point as Owens’ 200th appearance became even more of a fairytale when the pack drove over the line and he touched down.

Owens and fellow front-rower Samson Lee then engineered a 34th-minute turnover in their own 22 and fed Evans who scorched 70 metres to make it 30-0, as it stayed until half-time.

Scarlets had won their last seven matches against Treviso heading into the match and scored try number six just two minutes after the break as Price was the beneficiary of some strong running and a spectacular offload from Hadleigh Parkes.

To their credit, Treviso did get on the board when Gega dotted down shortly after but the Welsh province were soon back to their try-scoring ways as van der Merwe completed his hat-trick with a tidy finish from close-range.

Treviso were down to 12 men by that point, as Federico Zani, Francesco Minto and Edoardo Gori were all sent to the sin-bin, and Aled Davies piled on the misery as he finished off a sweeping team move – Aled Thomas’ conversion making it 51-5.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie.

Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final