Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac knows his side face an acid test first up in their Guinness PRO12 opener against Munster on Saturday.
Pivac’s side have lost their last two matches at the venue, to Cardiff Blues and Glasgow Warriors but have never lost three in a row at home in the Guuinness PRO12 since moving to their new stadium in 2008.
But Pivac has named a strong side packed full of 11 internationals as they bid to kick off the new campaign in style.
“It’s been nice to have an edge in training. Munster bring a lot of physicality, we played them in the last game of the season last year, it’s fresh in our minds and they will attack us around the fringes,” he said.
“We know a lot about them, they’re a strong and proud side with a lot of history like we are. It’s going to be a tough game, as the home games against them have been in the last few seasons.”
Captain Ken Owens will lead the side to the field at Parc y Scarlets in what promises to be a thrilling opening encounter; Dylan Evans and South African international Werner Kruger join him in the front row.
The second row pairing sees Lewis Rawlins link up with Wales international Jake Ball who makes his first appearance of the season whilst Aaron Shingler and John Barclay are joined in the back row by 19-year-old Josh MacLeod.
The stellar backline sees the return of Liam Williams and Scott Williams, who were both absent for the majority of the 2015-16 campaign, and they’re joined by Rugby World Cup star DTH van der Merwe also making a return from injury as well as newcomer Rhys Patchell.
Munster’s only defeat in round 1 since 2009 was by a single point to Edinburgh in Limerick in 2014 but they have not won in Wales since visiting Ospreys in round 2 last season.
New director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has named his first Guinness PRO12 matchday squad making just one change from the starting XV that defeated Worcester Warriors last Friday with Dave Foley coming into the second row.
Academy centre Dan Goggin retains the number 13 jersey and will make his first competitive start tomorrow.
Returning internationals Dave Kilcoyne and Donnacha Ryan could see some game time this weekend after being named on a bench that sees academy prop Brian Scott and second row Jean Kleyn included in a Guinness PRO12 matchday squad for the first time.
James Cronin, Niall Scannell and John Ryan make up the front row with Foley coming in to partner captain Billy Holland in the second row.
It’s as you were in the back row with Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell and Jack O’Donoghue all remaining in situ.
Duncan Williams starts at scrum-half and joins Tyler Bleyendaal in the half-backs. The New Zealander will make his first Guinness PRO12 appearance since December.
Goggin will be well-acquainted with his midfield partner Rory Scannell, while Ronan O’Mahony, Darren Sweetnam and full-back Simon Zebo again make up the back three.
At Parc y Scarlets, 3.00pm. Live on Sky Sports
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU, 11th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sam Grove-White (SRU), Wayne Davies (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Ray Wilton (WRU)
TMO: Jim Yuille (SRU)
Rassie Erasmus enjoyed a dream start to life with Munster as the Irish side claimed a 23-13 win away to the Scarlets to kick off their Guinness PRO12 campaign in style.
The South African arrived in Limerick this summer and got his first taste of competitive action in West Wales but early on his team found themselves under huge pressure.
However the Scarlets struggled to convert their chances, whereas first-half tries from James Cronin and Ronan O’Mahony put Munster comfortably clear.
Gareth Davies’ fine score brought the Scarlets back into it, but 13 points from the boot of Tyler Bleyendaal ended up being crucial.
The early running was all Scarlets as they regularly found space down the left, and it almost led to a first try after just four minutes.
Steff Evans collected the ball, charged forward and then kicked through, but Simon Zebo got back just in time to dot down for the 22.
The left-hand side was proving particularly threatening for the Scarlets, but while they dominated possession, they were struggling to turn it into points, with new signing Rhys Patchell missing the first kick of the afternoon.
Munster, meanwhile, were much more clinical, and grabbed the game’s first try midway through the half, shortly after Zebo had been forced off through injury.
It came on their first incursion into the Scarlets 22, and prop Cronin was the man to emerge from a pile of bodies after a maul rolled inexorably towards the line. Bleyendaal converted from in front to make it 7-0.
The Scarlets responded with Patchell’s first points for his new region but on the half-hour Munster were in again.
It was a disappointing score for the home side, who left a huge gap at a ruck and O’Mahony spotted it and raced 25 metres to score. Bleyendaal’s conversion made it 17-3.
The home side needed a response, and got one when Davies scored a fine individual try thanks to some quick thinking.
With Munster penalised at a breakdown, everyone switched off, and Davies took full advantage, tapping and going before sprinting down the right.
He then kicked ahead and was first onto the ball, with the TMO confirming the score. Patchell’s conversion made it 17-10 at the break.
The Scarlets ten added another three points early in the second half, and the comeback looked to be on with Jonathan Davies coming off the bench for his first game back in Scarlets colours.
Just before the hour Munster stretched the lead back to seven points through the boot of Bleyendaal, and when Lewis Rawlins was penalised at a ruck he added three more to make it a ten-point lead heading into the final quarter-hour.
Scarlets had the chance to at least come away with a losing bonus point, but Patchell’s late penalty effort fell short in the rain.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
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