The big guns are back as Scarlets host Edinburgh at Parc y Scarlets, looking to stay in touch with the Guinness PRO12 top four.
Between them, the sides welcome back 16 internationals fresh from the RBS 6 Nations in what looks set to be a Friday night feast in west Wales.
Scarlets may be pushing for the top four but Edinburgh recorded an impressive 20-9 victory over their Celtic rivals at BT Murrayfield back in round 2.
What’s at stake?
Scarlets’ 45-9 defeat to Leinster in Dublin in round 17 of the Guinness PRO12 ended a five-game winning run in the competition that had seen them climb to fifth in the standings.
The Welshmen are just four points behind fourth-placed Ulster, who travel to Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday night, so victory is crucial to stay on track for the semi-finals.
Edinburgh have slipped to five straight defeats in the Guinness PRO12 since beating Zebre in Parma on New Year’s Eve and currently lie ninth in the table, 15 points behind Cardiff Blues above them.
But the Scots have lost just one of their last five encounters with Scarlets, and that by just a single point, in this equivalent fixture at Llanelli in February last year.
Scarlets team news
With the RBS 6 Nations now concluded, Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has the lxury of naming seven of the returning players in his matchday 23.
Prop Samson Lee, centre Jonathan Davies and wingers Steff Evans and Liam Williams have all been named in the starting XV with Rob Evans, John Barclay and Gareth Davies named on the replacements bench.
Scarlets will also welcome the return of fly-half Rhys Patchell, who has made a full recovery from ankle surgery and is named in the starting line-up for his first appearance since New Year’s Day.
Edinburgh team news
Nine of the men who helped Scotland win three home games for the first time in the RBS 6 Nations era are back in club colours for Friday’s trip down to Llanelli.
An all-international front row sees Scotland’s most-capped forward – Ross Ford – captaining the side from hooker, with Allan Dell and Simon Berghan alongside him.
Ben Toolis remains at lock, while back row Cornell Du Preez returns to the black and red after making his international debut against England.
In the backs, 27-cap Duncan Weir starts at fly-half, while fellow international Damien Hoyland is named on the wing.
Hooker Stuart McInally and lock Grant Gilchrist are named on the bench following their spell in the Scotland camp.
Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac admits it is pivotal that his side bounce back from their frustrating loss to Leinster last time out and is also keen to put a poor recent record against Edinburgh to bed.
“We’re obviously hurting after the last performance against Leinster so we need to put in a good performance at home for our supporters and for us as a team to get back on the horse and get that confidence back,” said Pivac.
“We want to put in a performance we know we’re capable of. We want to be in that race right to the end.
“Edinburgh have been a thorn in our side over the last few seasons. We haven’t really had a convincing win against them; we’ve shared the spoils really.
“We had a close win and a close loss last year. This year they got one over on us. It’s not going to be an easy match for us.”
And acting Edinburgh head coach Duncan Hodge is prepared to front up to match the physicality displayed by the Welsh side.
Hodge said: “Edinburgh games against Scarlets are always hard-fought and we know they pride themselves on a strong home record, so there’s no doubt the encounter will be a big challenge.
“However, there’s a good feeling in our camp and we’re looking forward to taking them on in what will certainly be a physical battle.”
Key battle: Samson Lee v Allan Dell
The Edinburgh front row may be chock full of international experience but with Samson Lee at tighthead, Scarlets aren’t exactly short of a man who knows his way around the upper echelons of the game.
Despite being just 24 years old, Lee has already racked up 34 Wales caps since making his debut against Argentina back in 2013.
He featured in all five RBS 6 Nations games and actually came up against Allan Dell during Wales’ 29-13 loss to Scotland.
Dell also featured in each of his country’s matches in this year’s Championship and the Edinburgh loosehead, who turned 25 last week, now has eight caps after making his debut against Australia in the autumn.
The scrum could well decide Friday’s clash at Parc y Scarlets and this fascinating battle between two of the Guinness PRO12’s best young props will be at the heart of it.
Scarlets have won their last seven home games in the PRO12 since they were defeated by Munster at Parc y Scarlets in round 1.
Did you know?
Edinburgh have not been victorious in Wales since a visit to Newport Gwent Dragons on 27 March 2016.
Scarlets top points scorer: Rhys Patchell 88pts. Top try scorer: Steff Evans 6
Edinburgh top points scorer: Duncan Weir 83pts. Top try scorer: Magnus Bradbury 5
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Scarlets won 12, Edinburgh won 14, with 1 game drawn.
At Parc y Scarlets, 7.05pm Live on BBC Wales and BBC Scotland
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 61st competition game)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (IRFU), Wayne Davies (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Aurwel Morgan (WRU)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU)
A dream return for Rhys Patchell saw the fly-half help Scarlets to a bonus point win over Edinburgh and saw the Welsh side earn a 13th Guinness PRO12 win in their last 15 matches.
A try double from Patchell, as well as efforts from Wyn Jones and James Davies, meant Phil Burleigh’s effort for the visitors was in vain as all the points were scored in the first half.
Patchell made his presence felt in just the third minute of the game when, after three months on the sidelines, the fly-half ran in a fine solo effort from inside his own half – but missed the conversion from wide on the left touchline.
A Duncan Weir penalty reduced Edinburgh’s arrears in the eighth minute, but ten minutes later Jones made it two Scarlets tries as he bundled over from the rolling maul after Patchell turned down three points to kick for the corner – the fly-half converting.
And two tries became three before 25 minutes as a delayed pass sent Davies over for his second try of the season, with Patchell making it two kicks from three.
But Edinburgh kept within touching distance almost immediately as a charged down Aled Davies kick led to Allan Dell feeding Burleigh to go over for a simple try, with Weir knocking over the conversion.
Scarlets were back on the board just after the half hour mark, though, as Jonathan Davies’ stripped the ball from the Edinburgh defence after Aled Davies’ chip kick, leading to a pass out wide for Patchell’s second try of the night – and his third conversion as the bonus point was secured.
Already 16 points down, Edinburgh’s evening got even harder in the final five minutes of the first half as Viliame Mata was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on and sent to the bin.
Edinburgh fought to get back into the match early in the second half and looked to have done so as Burleigh’s break fed Blair Kinghorn, but the full-back was felled just five metres short of the line.
It was a rare highlight in the second period, though, as the removal of Patchell – to be replaced by Dan Jones – meant the free-scoring first half was transformed into a scrappy second.
And after a pointless 20 minutes Scarlets attacking threat was curtailed further, with Liam Williams forced off and being replaced by DTH van der Merwe.
Try scorer Jones was then replaced by returning Wales international Rob Evans with eight minutes to go, but the change made little difference and Wayne Pivac was forced into another change in the closing minutes as Davies picked up a knock and was replaced by Lewis Rawlins.
And with neither side finding either the spark or composure to muster another score, the second half ended as a stalemate, meaning a comfortable win for high-flying Scarlets.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final