Scarlets host Munster in a re-run of the 2017 Guinness PRO14 Final, this time at Parc y Scarlets.
With five matches remaining in the regular Guinness PRO14 season, the Scarlets sit fifth in the Conference B standings while in-form Munster top Conference A.
What’s at stake? Last year’s runners-up find themselves in a perilous position in the race for a Final Series sport, sitting fifth in Conference B.
They are however only five points off Benetton in second, so that could all change in a single weekend.
The Scarlets boast a fine home record, with just one defeat at Parc y Scarlets since 2016 in the Championship, and they got back to winning ways against the Cheetahs last time out. Munster, however, were victorious on their last trip to the Scarlets, winning in September 2016.
The province have won seven games in a row and lead Guinness PRO14 Conference A by a single point.
Team news (Scarlets) Kieron Fonotia will lead the Scarlets for the first time in a side showing just one change from the side that saw off Toyota Cheetahs 43-21 in Llanelli last Sunday.
Five of Wales’ Six Nations squad members – Leigh Halfpenny, Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Rhys Patchell and Steff Evans – are included in Wayne Pivac’s match-day 23. With Jake Ball retained by Wales, Lewis Rawlins comes into the second row to partner Josh Helps.
Team news (Munster) Billy Holland captains Munster with seven changes to the side that defeated Ospreys last Friday night.
Centre Rory Scannell returns to the starting XV for his 100th Munster appearance and will become the youngest ever player to reach that landmark having turned 25 in December.
It’s all change in the half-backs with Alby Mathewson and Bill Johnston coming into the side. The final addition to the backline sees Ronan O’Mahony named on the right wing.
John Ryan returns from international duty to start at tighthead prop, Jean Kleyn has recovered from illness to start in the second row and Conor Oliver is named in the back row.
Talking points Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac: “We were pleased to get the five points against the Cheetahs last weekend. The start was everything we had hoped for and to score four tries inside 20 minutes was perfect for us.
“We probably got a bit ahead of ourselves after that, but the bonus-point win keeps us right in the play-off race.
“We all know that Munster are going to be a very different proposition this evening. They will bring a lot aggression in defence, a lot more line-speed as a lot of northern hemisphere teams are doing. That poses a different challenge, we need to be on our game and are expecting more of an arm wrestle.
“You look at the table with five games to go and it looks like being a real dogfight, potentially I can see it going down to the last weekend.”
Key battle Leigh Halfpenny v Mike Haley
Leigh Halfpenny’s injury return against the Toyota Cheetahs last time out went according to plan with 11 points from the kicking tee.
And the full-back will be hoping for more of the same this weekend against Munster as he battles to prove his fitness for Wales and a place in the final two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations.
This weekend he is up against the impressive Mike Haley who has taken to life as Munsterman very smoothly following his move from Sale Sharks in the summer.
A first Ireland call-up cannot be far away for the full-back and both will be key to their sides’ hopes on Saturday in west Wales.
Key stat Munster’s only defeat in the last ten rounds of the PRO14 was 12-19 at Ulster on 21 December. Munster have won their last four away games in all competitions since then.
Did you know? The Munstermen won on their most recent visit to Parc y Scarlets in September 2016 to end a five-game winless streak at the venue.
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Ioan Nicholas, Kieron Fonotia © , Paul Asquith, Johnny McNicholl; Dan Jones, Kieran Hardy; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Werner Kruger, Josh Helps, Lewis Rawlins, Josh Macleod, Dan Davis, Uzair Cassiem.
Replacements: Marc Jones, Phil Price, Javan Sebastian, Tom Price, Tom Phillips, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Rhys Patchell, Steff Evans.
Munster: Mike Haley; Ronan O’Mahony, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam; Bill Johnston, Alby Mathewson; Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshall, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland (C); Fineen Wycherley, Conor Oliver, Arno Botha.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Liam O’Connor, Stephen Archer, Darren O’Shea, Jack O’Donoghue, Neil Cronin, Tyler Bleyendaal, Jaco Taute.
TV: At Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli, 5pm, Live on Premier Sports, eir Sport, S4C & TG4
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 31st competition game) Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse (WRU), Dave Sutherland (SRU) TMO: Ian Davies (WRU) Citing Commissioner: Jeff Mark (WRU)
Ioan Nicholas’ first-half try and some resolute defence reignited Scarlets’ Guinness PRO14 campaign as they saw off in-form Munster at Parc y Scarlets.
The wing cruised over inside 11 minutes but Munster dominated both possession and territory from there on – however, they could not unlock Scarlets’ incredible defence.
Every time they went wide, Scarlets had numbers and through the middle they held their own in a result which lifts them up to third in an increasingly tight Conference B.
Munster arrived in south Wales boasting a strong record of just one defeat in their last ten Guinness PRO14 games and they made a strong start thanks to Bill Johnston’s penalty following a Scarlets scrum collapse.
But the hosts, who have won four of their last five home games against the men from Limerick, hit back spectacularly.
Leigh Halfpenny made a scything break on the counter-attack and produced a superb one-handed offload to Johnny McNicholl, who in-turn set up Nicholas to run for the line.
Munster spent much of the rest of the half camped inside Scarlets territory but the hosts’ defence was resolute and frustrated the visitors – with only a second Johnston penalty to show for their efforts.
Munster, usually so disciplined, made a few costly errors throughout the contest including a penalty against Jean Kleyn for not rolling away.
Scarlets booted the ball inside Munster’s 22 for a line-out and set to work, moving to within five metres of the Munster try line.
Instead of five points, they had to settle for a penalty and Halfpenny calmly slotted the ball through.
But Munster quickly regained their composure and almost hit back with a try. From a line-out, they got the maul rolling and Kleyn dotted down but they try was eventually ruled for obstruction.
However, the pressure did not end there and Arno Botha almost buried over from just a metre, but the ball was held up and eventually turned over.
Munster emptied the bench and fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal made a positive impact, kicking delightfully to the corner where Ronan O’Mahony was charging for the ball – only for Halfpenny to just get there and smother it down just in time.
With the clock winding down, Munster kept on coming but Scarlets secured one more turnover to confirm the win.