Conference B leaders Scarlets welcome Benetton Rugby to west Wales on Friday night looking to keep up their fast-paced start to the Guinness PRO14 season. The Italians are enjoying a fine 2017/18 campaign and have caused a few upsets already this year – they’ll be in the mood to produce one more this weekend.
What’s at stake? After Round Eight the Scarlets go on tour to the southern hemisphere to take on both the Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs – Wayne Pivac’s side will be desperate to travel in the best shape possible, meaning a win on Friday is essential. Meanwhile, Benetton have slipped to narrow defeats in both the Champions Cup and last time out in the Guinness PRO14, losing 24-13 to Edinburgh, and will be focused on returning to winning ways.
Team news (Scarlets): Head coach Wayne Pivac has received a big boost ahead of the game against Benetton with Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes and back-rower John Barclay all released from their international camps in time for the game. Williams skippers Scarlets on Friday alongside Parkes in the centres, with Barclay at No.8.
Team news (Benetton Rugby): Head coach Kieran Crowley has named a strong side to take on the Scarlets and has made ten changes compared to the XV that faced Edinburgh last week. Jayden Hayward is at full-back with Angelo Esposito and Andrea Bronzini completing the back three, with Giorgio Bronzini and Ian McKinley partnering at halfback.
Talking points: Looking ahead to the challenge head coach Wayne Pivac said: “We want to put on a good display as a team so everybody can hopefully enjoy the success and enjoy what has been a proud run at home in this competition.
“Having said that we’re expecting a big challenge. It’s a home game, we see all home games as a must win for us and if they come over fully loaded we’ll be very happy to come out of it with a win. It’s definitely a target of ours to get four points.”
Key Battle: With Rhys Patchell away on national duty the battle of the fly-halves will have everyone’s attention on Friday at Parc y Scarlets. Dan Jones deputises for Patchell and will be keen to take his opportunity, but comes up against Benetton’s Ian McKinley, who, having just been named in an Italy squad for the first time will be doing everything he can to impress under the spotlight.
Key Stat: Benetton have won three and lost four in the Guinness PRO14 this season with their only away win in that sequence being on a trip to Edinburgh in Round Three.
Did you know? Scarlets have lost only one of their last fourteen fixtures in the Guinness PRO14: 20-27 at Ulster on 15 September
Scarlets: Johnny McNicholl, Tom Prydie, Hadleigh Parkes, Scott Williams (c), Paul Asquith, Dan Jones, Jonathan Evans; Dylan Evans, Ryan Elias, Werner Kruger, Lewis Rawlins, David Bulbring, Tadhg Beirne, Will Boyde, John Barclay
Replacements: Taylor Davies, Rhys Fawcett, Simon Gardiner, Tom Price, Josh Macleod, Declan Smith, Rhys Jones, Steff Hughes
Benetton Rugby: Jayden Hayward; Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Benvenuti, Ignacio Brex, Andrea Bronzini; Ian McKinley, Giorgio Bronzini; Cherif Traore, Tomas Baravalle, Tiziano Pasquali, Alessandro Zanni, Federico Ruzza, Whetu Douglas, Nasi Manu, Robert Barbieri (c)
Replacements: Federico Zani, Alberto De Marchi, Filippo Filippetto, Marco Lazzaroni, Sebastian Negri, Edoardo Gori, Alberto Sgarbi, Luca Sperandio
TV: BBC Wales (KO 7.35pm)
Match officials – Referee: George Clancy (IRFU), AR1: Joy Neville (IRFU), AR2: Justin Williams (IRFU), Citing Commissioner: Chris Morgan (WRU), TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Dan Jones emerged the victor in the battle of the fly-halves at Parc y Scarlets, scoring 15 points to Ian McKinley’s eight to claim a win for the hosts.
Stepping in for Rhys Patchell while Scarlets’ first-choice fly-half is away on national duty, Jones’ quick-thinking saw him score the first try of the match.
All Scarlets’ points belonged to the No.10 in the first half, but McKinley gave hope to the visitors with a try of his own after the break.
Jones showed his vision once more, sending a kick through for skipper Scott Williams to claim an unrecoverable lead.
The fly-half got Scarlets on the scoreboard with a penalty early on and his accuracy from the tee was unwavering as the night continued.
Then Wayne Pivac’s men spread the Treviso defence, creating width out of the scrum and Jones was the man to go over – giving a dummy pass before stepping through a gap in the wall of green.
But McKinley, named in the Italy squad for the first time last month, kept the visitors in it with a first-half penalty.
As the half-time whistle approached, Scarlets hovered on the 5m line, but in the end they settled for just a penalty – with Jones on target once more.
Benetton never really threatened to take the win, with the men in red buoyed by the return of Williams, Hadleigh Parkes and John Barclay – who were released from their respective national sides for the match.
But McKinley found a moment of magic and seemed to repel Scarlets tackles as he dashed through their defensive line to steal the first points after the break.
Williams’ try in the 66th minute proved decisive, though, and Scarlets continued their unbeaten Guinness PRO14 run which dates back to September’s defeat at the hands of Ulster.
And the ten changes made to Kieran Crowley’s side after last week’s loss to Edinburgh made little difference as the Italian team failed to secure a second away win of the season.
The victory keeps Scarlets at the top of Conference B and the Welsh team now heads south to take on Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie