The Scarlets saw their long unbeaten home record ended last weekend and now will be looking to start a new streak when they welcome the Dragons to Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
Ceri Jones’ side come into the match full of confidence after their derby success against the Ospreys a week ago and will be looking to build on that against their Conference B rivals.
What’s at stake? Defeat to Cardiff Blues last week left the Scarlets precariously positioned in fourth in Conference B, with a recent run of defeats putting their Guinness PRO14 Finals Series position in danger heading into the second half of the season.
They face a Dragons team who recorded their fourth win of the league campaign last weekend and will be keen to build on that result and close the gap in Conference B.
Team news (Scarlets): The Scarlets have had to deal with further injuries in the back row leaving Wayne Pivac short of options. As a result, Ken Owens will be packing down in the unfamiliar position of No.8 with Ryan Elias coming in to replace him at hooker to make his 100th appearance for the region. Elsewhere there is a change in the half-backs as Hadleigh Parkes shifts back into the centres with Kieran Hardy and Dan Jones combining at nine and ten.
Team news (Dragons): The Dragons have a few injuries of their own, but welcome back a pair of centres in the form of Tyler Morgan and Jack Dixon. That means a switch to the wing for Adam Warren, while Richard Hibbard comes into the pack at hooker.
Scarlets director of rugby Wayne Pivac said: “We haven’t been too far off. We had 68% possession and 65% territory against the Blues so we did some good things. It’s more about the things that we can do to make sure we convert that pressure and time in the opposition’s 22 into points. The focus for us this week has been on our pass accuracy and the separation between our ball carriers and runners. There were some positives out there and we’re focusing on that and tightening up in other areas.”
Dragons interim coach Ceri Jones: “You only have to look at the Scarlets record over the last few seasons, particularly at home, to know the size of the challenge we face. We will not underestimate how difficult a task it is.
“They had a poor performance by their own high standards against Cardiff Blues, but they will come out as a wounded dog and wounded dogs like to bite.”
Key battle: Jonathan Davies v Tyler Morgan
A pair of international centres will go up against one another in what looks to be a really intriguing match-up in Llanelli. Despite the Scarlets’ struggles, Jonathan Davies remains a class act at No.13, but he faces a challenge against the returning Tyler Morgan. The Dragons centre looked like being the next big thing in midfield for Wales, but has been hampered by injuries for the last couple of seasons. If he can string together a few games, it will certainly help the Dragons build on the win over the Ospreys.
Key stat: The Dragons will be looking to end a run of 38 games without a win away from home in the Guinness PRO14.
Did you know? The Scarlets have dominated meetings between the two sides having won the last nine times the sides have met.
Scarlets: Johnny McNicholl, Ioan Nicholas, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Paul Asquith, Dan Jones, Kieran Hardy, Rob Evans, Ryan Elias, Samson Lee, Josh Helps, David Bulbring, Ed Kennedy, Dan Davies, Ken Owens (c)
Replacements: Marc Jones, Wyn Jones, Werner Kruger, Tom Price, Tom Phillips, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Steff Hughes, Tom Prydie
Dragons: Jordan Williams; Adam Warren, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos; Josh Lewis, Tavis Knoyle; Aaron Jarvis, Richard Hibbard, Dan Suter, Brandon Nansen, Matthew Screech, Cory Hill (c), Aaron Wainwright, Harrison Keddie.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Gerard Ellis, Chris Coleman, Joe Davies, James Benjamin, Rhodri Williams, Jason Tovey, Zane Kirchner
TV: Parc y Scarlets, Saturday 5.15pm. Live on Premier Sports 1 & eir sport 2
Referee: Craig Evans (WRU)
AR1: Adam Jones (WRU), AR2: Mike English (WRU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)
A Sam Hidalgo-Clyne try ensured Scarlets secured their first win in five matches in all competitions as their stunning run of form against Welsh rivals Dragons continued.
After losing their 27-month undefeated home record at the Parc y Scarlets last time out against Cardiff Blues, the hosts showed their grit despite a raft of injuries as an Ioan Nicholas try helped to clinch the spoils.
Dragons hadn’t won on their 11 previous visits to Llanelli and Dan Jones ensured their sorry run of away form against last year’s finalists continued, with four first-half penalties turning the screw.
Hooker Ken Owens was handed an unusual starting position at No.8, but his teammate Jones brought Scarlets ahead inside four minutes with a comfortable kick directly in front of the posts.
When Dan Suter, on only his second Guinness PRO14 start in five years, errored at the scrum, Jones took full advantage for Wayne Pivac’s side to notch up a 6-0 lead.
And after a prolonged period of dogged Dragons defending, the visitors were finally handed a shot at goal themselves and Lewis obliged to reduce the deficit.
Scarlets’ Rob Evans almost presented the hosts the first try of the match, but a determined tackle from Zane Kirchner proved just enough to hold the forward up on the line. However, an offside call in the build-up enabled Scarlets to come away with a penalty and Jones subsequently tucked it away.
Then when Suter again collapsed the scrum on the stroke of half-time, the prop was sin-binned, enabling Jones to kick for his fourth successful penalty of the evening to go 12-3 up.
Despite the man disadvantage, fly-half Lewis managed to bring his side back within the distance of a converted try, but that didn’t stop Scarlets from entering their ascendancy.
A line-out ten metres out was swiftly switched from left to right by the hosts and Nicholas found himself in acres of space and he duly slid across the whitewash for the first try.
Both sides rang the changes as they looked to make an impact with Ryan Elias entering for his 100th Scarlets appearance alongside Hidalgo-Clyne from the replacements bench.
The Scottish international made his impact immediately with a quick piece of thinking to tap and run before reaching over the try line to condemn the Dragons to a 39th successive away defeat.
A late consolation try from James Benjamin added some consolidation for the men from Gwent as Jason Tovey successfully converted.