Scarlets’ seven game winning run in the Guinness PRO12 came to an end in Swansea just after Christmas as the Ospreys proved too strong.
However at Parc y Scarlets their only defeat this season came at the hands of Munster in the opening round of the Guinness PRO12.
On New Year’s Day they welcome the Cardiff Blues – who beat Newport Gwent Dragons on Boxing Day – as both sides look to create momentum for the second half of the campaign.
What’s at stake?
Cardiff Blues have won just twice in the last seven rounds of the Guinness PRO12: at Treviso in round 8 and at home to the Dragons on Boxing Day.
The Blues slipped to a 26-15 defeat in the corresponding fixture at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park in October, but won at Parc y Scarlets last season and go into the Big Weekend encounter on the back of a Welsh derby victory over the Dragons.
Scarlets’ seven-game winning run is over but victory against the Blues would keep them firmly in the hunt for the top four.
Team news (Scarlets)
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has rung the changes ahead of the New Year’s Day clash with his side looking to bounce back to winning ways.
Scott Williams will lead the Scarlets and will be joined in the centres by fellow international Jonathan Davies as he makes a return to fitness from a hamstring injury.
A new-look back-three sees Aled Thomas at full-back with Johnny McNicholl and Steff Evans on the wings.
Wyn Jones and Ryan Elias come in to the front row whilst Lewis Rawlins joins Jake Ball in the second row. Tadhg Beirne moves to the blindside flank in Aaron Shingler’s absence.
Team news (Cardiff Blues)
Danny Wilson has made two changes to his Cardiff Blues team.
With Tom James and Blaine Scully both unavailable for selection, Rhun Williams has made a timely return to fitness to start on the left wing. In the pack, Taufa’ao Filise steps up from the replacements bench at tight-head prop.
Blues head coach Danny Wilson believes his side can go into the clash with confidence but he knows the in-form Scarlets will present a tough assignment.
He said: “We won both Christmas derbies last season and it would be great to do it two years on the bounce.
“Parc y Scarlets is a very tough venue and they are a very tough side to play but we have come off the back of a win and a first-half performance which will give us a bit of confidence.
“Last season we had a good away win there but historically it is a tough place to go – the Scarlets have a passionate crowd and are a proud region.”
Wayne Pivac said: “Up until [Tuesday] we were reasonably happy to be honest. The slow start seems a long, long, time ago now. We’d won seven on the trot, we’re going ok in Europe and we we’re pretty pleased.
“[Tuesday] was one of those days where under pressure we made some mistakes. I think it’s a good learning for us, we’re by no means the finished article. Players need to have a good look at that game and make sure learn from it and don’t make the same errors again.”
“It’s a big game for both teams; we can put some space on them or we can close it right up and the race for top six, let along top four. It’s an important game.”
Scarlets won 26-15 when the two sides met in Cardiff in round 7 and have not achieved a season’s double over the Blues since 2012/13.
Did you know?
The Blues won in Llanelli last season, something that they had not done since 2010.
There are Lions contenders all over the park on Sunday for Warren Gatland to keep his eye on. In the front row Samson Lee starts at tighthead for the Scarlets and is joined in the pack by fellow Welsh international Jake Ball in the second row and Scotland flanker John Barclay.
In the Scarlets’ back line Davies – who started all three Lions Tests in 2013, is back firing and partners his international cohort Williams.
Meanwhile the Blues are again skippered by Sam Warburton – the Lions captain four years ago – while Alex Cuthbert out wide is another man to keep an eye on.
Top points scorer –
Scarlets – Rhys Patchell – 86
Cardiff Blues – Steve Shingler 74
Top try scorer
Scarlets – Jonathan Evans – 5
Cardiff Blues – Tom James – 6
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Scarlets won 17 Blues won 10.
At Parc y Scarlets, 3pm Live on Sky sports and S4C
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 144th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Craig Evans, Jon Hardy (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Denis Jones (WRU)
TMO: Paul Adams (WRU)
Steffan Evans’ exemplary display ensured Scarlets took Guinness PRO12 bragging rights over Cardiff Blues in the Welsh derby at Parc y Scarlets.
The winger scored once and had a major part in the hosts’ other effort, their two tries narrowly enough to take the spoils as conditions ensured a difficult game for both sides.
Willis Halahalo scored in the second half to set up a nervy finish, the latest try in a game of brilliant finishing, as both sides made the most of minimal chances.
But it was Scarlets who held their own, enough to go fifth in the Guinness PRO12, while the gap between Blues and the top six now sits at five points.
Both sides struggled to find their feet as the swirling wind proved havoc, encouraging ball-in-hand rugby at Parc y Scarlets, much to the delight of the home faithful.
But while phases were lengthy, chances were at a premium despite numerous breaks, but that all changed as some delightful Patchell skill opened the scoring.
Taking a high ball deep in his half, the fly-half crossed halfway before support came in the form of Johnny McNicholl, temporarily strengthening the left wing as Scarlets suddenly boasted numerical advantage.
He in turn found Evans, and after orchestrating a clever dummy of his own, the fellow winger was through to dot down in the corner for the game’s first points.
With conditions as they were, it seemed mistakes could become crucial as the game wore on, though Patchell made up for his missed conversion to put Scarlets more than a score ahead with a penalty, 8-0 after Blues came in from the side.
They responded immediately with a penalty of their own though as Steve Shingler took advantage of a rare Jonathan Davies error, knocking on from the restart as the visitors were able to build up a head of steam heading to the interval.
But it took just six minutes of the second half for the stuffing to be knocked out, with Evans following up his own score to set up Williams for a second try.
A brisk turn of place saw Evans marauding through with no trouble before finding Davies on the left, firing back inside to set centre partner Williams away, the Scarlets once again dotting down from deep, with Patchell adding the extras.
But Blues showed they were not out of the game, Shingler this time making the most of a kick to manoeuvre his way forward with the help of Lloyd Williams.
There was still plenty to do when the baton was handed to Halahalo, but some quick-thinking saw the centre sidestep the last man to close the gap to five points.
It seemed Blues would come again moments later, but some excellent intuition from McNicholl led to an interception, shifting back the momentum with 20 minutes remaining.
Yet despite both teams pushing hard, 15-10 was how the score was to remain, with Aled Thomas’ late penalty falling wide to give Scarlets spoils and bragging rights on home soil.
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