Wayne Pivac is confident his Scarlets side can earn their third Guinness PRO12 victory on the bounce at home to Newport Gwent Dragons this weekend, but insists the team are only too aware of the challenge that lies ahead in the second Welsh derby of the round.
The Scarlets welcome the Dragons to Parc y Scarlets on Saturday night on the back of two consecutive victories over Connacht and Benetton Treviso, with the Dragons languishing three points behind them in the Guinness PRO12 table.
Pivac has made two changes to the side who secured a comfortable 22-6 win in Italy last weekend, bringing in Aled Davies and Morgan Allen in the places of Gareth Davies and John Barclay respectively, with James Davies set to make his 50th appearance in Scarlets colours.
And while he expects the Dragons to arrive in Llanelli with all guns blazing, Pivac is confident his Scarlets side can get the job done in the first Big Weekend of the season.
“In terms of the Dragons they’re a very strong team at home,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for them.
“There are a few players from the region playing here and they’ve talked about how proud they are as a group. They’ll be coming here with one result in mind and that’s to get a win.
“If we can get a result this weekend it’ll be a good comeback from a slow start. Hopefully if we can do our part of the equation in the first of the Big Weekend we’ll be that much closer to where we need to be.
“We take each game week by week, it’s a big derby, we don’t know how these things will pan out.
“Hopefully it’ll be a game where both teams come with a positive attitude. We could be in for an entertaining night of rugby.”
Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones has made six changes to his side as they go in search of their first win since early September.
The Dragons have suffered three successive Guinness PRO12 defeats, most recently last Friday’s 26-17 loss to Glasgow Warriors at Rodney Parade.
Welsh international Tom Prydie will make his first start for the Dragons, with ex-Scarlet Adam Warren and Nick Macleod also getting the nod.
Elsewhere, hooker Rhys Buckley will join props Sam Hobbs and Brok Harris in the front row, Cory Hill will partner Nick Crosswell in the second row and Ed Jackson is set to return at number eight.
And while Hobbs admits his team enter the clash as underdogs, he insists the Dragons are ready for the battle.
“It’s going to be a fierce derby and you have to turn up with pride and passion and get stuck in,” he said.
“If you can’t get up for these games then you are in the wrong job, there are a lot of personal battles and a lot of pride at stake.
“We will be going in as underdogs but have to go there with nothing to lose, force our game on them to put them under pressure and see how they react.”
Scarlets: Liam Williams, DTH van der Merwe, Hadleigh Parkes, Scott Williams, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Aled Davies, Wyn Jones, Ken Owens (capt), Samson Lee, Lewis Rawlins, David Bulbring, Aaron Shingler, James Davies, Morgan Allen
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Luke Garrett, Werner Kruger, Rynier Bernardo, John Barclay, Jonathan Evans, Dan Jones, Steff Hughes
Newport Gwent Dragons: Tom Prydie, Pat Howard, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos, Nick Macleod, Charlie Davies, Sam Hobbs, Rhys Buckley, Brok Harris, Nick Crosswell, Cory Hill, Lewis Evans (capt), Nic Cudd, Ed Jackson
Replacements; Darran Harris, Thomas Davies, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Ollie Griffiths, Sarel Pretorius, Angus O’Brien, Sam Beard
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 26, Scarlets won 21, Dragons won 5.
At Parc y Scarlets, 7.35pm. Live on S4C
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 30th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies, Chris Williams (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Aurwell Morgan (WRU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)
Steff Evans notched a try-double as the Scarlets survived a scare at the hands of Newport Gwent Dragons to bring up a bonus-point victory and their third win on the bounce.
The Dragons were looking to snap a three-game Guinness PRO12 losing streak and despite Evans’ early try, roared into the lead through Hallam Amos and Adam Warren’s try-double.
Ominously for the Dragons, Liam Williams responded for Scarlets before the break, and Jonathan Evans and Steff Evans then put the hosts firmly back in control heading into the final quarter.
To their credit the Dragons did not wave the white flag and a converted try for Sarel Pretorius meant there were just four points in it, but it was not to be for the visitors.
In the last of the ‘Big Weekend’ match-ups, Evans brought Parc y Scarlets to its feet four minutes in as he scythed through the Dragons defence to complete a superb try, converted by Rhys Patchell.
The Dragons showed their intent when they opted for the corner after winning a penalty, which ultimately came to nothing.
But their positive attitude paid off in the 13th minute as Wales flyer Amos squeezed over in the corner, and Nick Macleod levelled the scores with a fine touchline conversion.
Dragons then leaned on Macleod again ten minutes later as the former Sale Sharks fly-half struck another excellent kick to put the visitors up by three points.
The momentum was well and truly with the Dragons on the half-hour mark as Amos turned provider with a sumptuous kick over Scarlets heads into the path of Warren for the try. The conversion was wide to leave the score at 15-7.
But Warren heaped more woe on the Scarlets soon after as he crossed again upon verification from the TMO. Angus O’Brien, on as a replacement for Macleod, could not convert.
Crucially for the Scarlets they responded almost immediately through Wales full-back Williams and were back to within a score when Patchell made the extras.
O’Brien missed the chance to extend the Dragons’ lead back out to nine points as they went in at half-time 20-14 to the good.
Scarlets first began to claw back the deficit when Dragons were pinged for offside and Patchell pushed a penalty through the posts.
And with an hour gone, the turnaround was complete as Scarlets made good use of line-out ball and Jonathan Evans slipped his way through and over the whitewash.
The Dragons’ resistance was then broken for good moments later, Steff Evans grabbing both his try-double and the try-bonus point for the home side. With Patchell’s conversion, suddenly Scarlets were boasting an 11-point lead.
As befitting this see-saw match back came the Dragons with ten minutes to go, Pretorius conjuring a break before racing under the sticks. O’Brien’s conversion cut the lead down to four.
But to the relief of the home crowd Scarlets made it across the line to ensure they head into the European break on a high note.