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Scarlets Must Grab One Last Lifeline Against Dragons

Avatar Guinness PRO14 Rugby Editor 26 Apr 2019

After a break for European rugby, Guinness PRO14 returns for the final round of the regular season with Dragons and Scarlets set for an intense clash at ‘Judgement Day’.

And with Scarlets desperately scrapping for a possible Final Series spot – or, failing that, a chance at top-tier European rugby – it’s all to play for at Principality Stadium.

What’s at stake?

While Dragons are just playing for pride after a disappointing season, Scarlets will kick off Saturday’s earliest fixture with everything at stake – and any of three scenarios remain.

After a flurry of late tries against Zebre carried them to a 42-0 win, Wayne Pivac’s men will hope their offensive form continues against Conference B’s bottom side.

Sitting faith, with 50 points to their name – two behind third-placed Benetton – they’ll need a bonus-point win to maximise their chances ahead of the later kick-offs.

With the opportunity to pile pressure on their Guinness PRO14 Final Series qualification rivals, they’ll be desperate to do all they can – especially as fourth place means a shot at European qualification.

A bonus-point win takes them to 55 points – meaning a slip-up from one of Benetton or Edinburgh would secure a Champions Cup qualification game against the fourth-placed side from Conference A.

Team news (Dragons)

Ceri Jones has made two changes to his XV – Lloyd Fairbrother will come into the front row alongside the skipper Elliot Dee, while lock Joe Davies has been called up.

Meanwhile, Richard Hibbard has a spot on the bench after recovering from injury and Jared Rosser makes the 23 after signing a long-term contract extension at Dragons.

Team news (Scarlets)

Wayne Pivac has made a single change for the game as Josh Helps slots into the second row due to Lewis Rawlins’ shoulder injury.

Back-row talent Blade Thomson returns to the 23 after months out with concussion issues, while Wyn Jones continues at loosehead as Rob Evans remains sidelined.

Talking points

Dragons head coach Ceri Jones said: “We’re all looking forward to Judgement Day and a big final day of the Guinness PRO14 season. It’s a special day in the Welsh rugby calendar and a fantastic spectacle at the Principality Stadium.

“It’s vitally important we finish on the right note. If we can put on a performance that we know we are capable of, and have shown in a lot of Welsh derbies this year, then I think anything can happen.

“It’s about us going toe-to-toe with the Scarlets and seeing who comes out of top.

“We were depleted in the front row last time against the Scarlets and that’s not going to be the case in this game.

“We’ve got a bit of making up to do from that game and I truly believe that if we can put on our best performance we can be competitive with anyone in the league.”

Scarlets’ head coach Wayne Pivac said: “There is still a lot to play for. It’s an opportunity to get four or five points if we play well enough. Mathematically that could still keep our season alive.

“We’ve had a very disrupted season so we want to finish on a high note. We still have an opportunity to finish third and possibly fourth which would give us a play-off for the Champions Cup.

“Principality Stadium is one of the best stadiums in world rugby to play in and we have a handful of international players who have great memories of playing on that pitch.

“Facing the Dragons is obviously a derby match and it gives our squad the chance to play against other Welsh players – some of whom are fighting for positions in what is a World Cup year.

“We expect the same from the Dragons as what we’ve encountered in the last few years at Judgement Day. They’re a team that make it really hard for us.”

Key battle – Ollie Griffiths vs Uzair Cassiem

Following a virtuoso performance from Cassiem, which secured a crucial bonus-points victory over Zebre in the last round, Dragons know they’ll need to stop the No.8 crashing through again.

And tasked with keeping it clean will be Ollie Griffiths – the back-row talent has been a mainstay in Dragons’ side this year, notching a couple of tries and filling in at flanker or No.8 when needed.

Scarlets’ have numerous threats but Cassiem is in the mood.

Key fact: Scarlets have almost doubled Dragons’ try tally in this season’s Guinness PRO14 – Wayne Pivac’s men have 83, compared to 43 for the hosts.

Did you know? Of the 31 meetings between these two sides, Scarlets have won 26 of them.

Dragons: Jordan Williams, Zane Kirchner, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos, Josh Lewis, Rhodri Williams; Ryan Bevington, Elliot Dee (c), Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Lewis Evans, Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Brok Harris, Leon Brown, Max Williams, Taine Basham, Tavis Knoyle, Jason Tovey, Jared Rosser

Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Ioan Nicholas; Dan Jones, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens (c), Samson Lee, Josh Helps, Steve Cummins, Will Boyde, Josh Macleod, Uzair Cassiem

Replacements: Marc Jones, Phil Price, Werner Kruger, Blade Thomson, Ed Kennedy, Kieran Hardy, Rhys Patchell, Kieron Fonotia

 

TV: At Principality Stadium, Cardiff, 3pm. Live on Premier Sports 1, DAZN and eir sport 2.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
AR1: Adam Jones (WRU), AR2: Rhys Jones (WRU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)

The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

Historical Lineup Pre Opta (sfms data) - Preview - v2

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Dragons edge Judgement Day thriller

Avatar Rich Dore 27 Apr 2019

Dragons celebrated the end of their season in glorious style as Matthew Screech’s double was enough to pip Scarlets to the post in an exhilarating Judgement Day clash.

Scarlets, with a place in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series their target before kick-off, started like a house on fire and scored tries through Ioan Nicholas, Johnny McNicholl and Gareth Davies.

Dragons had only two Josh Lewis penalties to show for their first half efforts but touched down through Screech, Jack Dixon and Lewis before Jonathan Davies and McNicholl replied.

In a see-saw game Screech then scrambled over at the death, Jason Tovey held his nerve to nail the conversion and Rhys Patchell missed with a late drop goal attempt that would’ve stolen back the points.

With the opportunity to get off the bottom of the Conference B table Dragons started solidly at Principality Stadium, striking two penalties through fly-half Lewis.

Their momentum was stymied as wing Hallam Amos saw yellow for a knock-down but it was on the other flank where Scarlets struck as Nicholas barged over from eight metres out.

Full-back Leigh Halfpenny sailed the tricky conversion over and Scarlets led 7-6, and they soon had their second as McNicholl darted into the corner with a clever finish.

This time Halfpenny hit the post but more points would come on the half-hour as a show-and-go from Gareth Davies produced a third try, also in the corner.

Scarlets led 17-6 and that’s the way it stayed at the break, with Dragons No.8 Ross Moriarty unable to ground a chance immediately after the interval.

The Dragons were able to get their first try on 47 minutes, however, as lock Screech managed to get over – Lewis nailing the conversion.

Next came the try of the game as Amos darted away down the left and played a one-two with Aaron Wainwright before feeding Dixon to score.

There were more Dragons celebrations on 56 minutes as Lewis spotted a loose pass coming a mile away and picked it off to go in under the posts.

Their opponents were in no mood to lie down though and fought their way back down the other end, with Ken Owens somehow managing to pop the ball off to Jonathan Davies in the corner for a fourth try.

McNicholl produced another searing finish in the corner which on another day may have killed Dragons’ resolve, but back came Screech and after a TMO decision the lock was awarded a close-range try, Tovey’s cold-blooded conversion winning the day.

Match Page 2017-18 - Summary WP:137

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Performance WP:138