In a repeat of last season’s Guinness PRO14 final, defending champions Leinster will reignite their rivalry with Scarlets when they travel to Wales for the Round 2 clash.
Leinster began the new campaign with a thrilling late victory against Cardiff Blues, while Scarlets slipped to defeat against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium in their opening game.
What’s at stake?
The hosts will be looking to kick start their season when they welcome Leinster to Parc y Scarlets, having only picked up a losing bonus point in their 15-13 defeat to Ulster.
Wayne Pivac’s side are currently sitting fourth in Conference B and will have revenge on their mind after losing last year’s Guinness PRO14 final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Meanwhile, the Irish province, who also knocked Scarlets out of Europe in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, went top of Conference B after their bonus-point win over the Blues.
And with a superior head-to-head record – 19 wins to Scarlets’ 11 from their last 32 encounters – Leo Cullen’s side will be feeling buoyant about their chances going into the early season showdown.
Team news (Scarlets)
Despite injury concerns earlier this week, Pivac has been able to name a strong line-up for the West Wales region’s first home game of the season, including five internationals.
Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Hadleigh Parkes, Samson Lee and Jake Ball have all been cleared fit for a return to action and will line up in the starting XV against Leinster.
Versatile back Paul Asquith, who hasn’t played since damaging a hamstring in the Champions Cup quarter-final against La Rochelle, could also make his return after being named on the bench.
Wales winger Steff Evans is a surprise omission, while South African Clayton Blommetjies misses out along with Jonathan Davies, who is resting a hamstring niggle.
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) September 7, 2018
Team news (Leinster)
Several players come back in to the squad from the team that beat Cardiff, with Jordan Larmour returning at full back alongside Fergus McFadden and James Lowe in the back three.
The centre pairing will see Robbie Henshaw and Rory O’Loughlin in the 12 and 13 jerseys, respectively, while Jamie Gibson-Park gets his first start of the season in the half backs.
Ross Byrne, man of the match against Cardiff, is once again at ten as Cian Healy, Seán Cronin and Tadhg Furlong ensure Leinster have a full complement of Irish internationals in the front row.
Devin Toner and Ian Nagle are in the second row, with Josh Murphy, captain Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan completing the side on the occasion of his 75th cap.
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said: “Against Leinster physicality is required across the board. We saw that from last season, there was a gap between ourselves and Leinster in terms of the physical stakes, the boys understand that and we’ve been working hard on that.
“It’s a game we’ve looked forward to because they are the benchmark, both in this competition and in Europe. They wiped us off the park in Dublin the first time, we played better the second time, but they were still deserved winners.”
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) September 7, 2018
Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty said: “There’s going to be an edge to that game. We played them four times last year, it’s going to be tough.
“That was a tough game to lose, for them, they did a lot of good things in the game, again, when we’re away from home discipline is going to be very important, that we’re not putting ourselves under pressure and if we are, can we react in the right way?”
Key battle – Gareth Davies v Jamison Gibson-Park
Leinster dominated possession in the final back in May as they piled relentless pressure on Scarlets, but Gareth Davies will be looking to make sure there is no repeat of that when he comes face to face with Jamison Gibson-Park, who scored a try in the win over Cardiff last time out.
Key fact: Leinster are searching for their first win in Llanelli since 2013 when the visitors ran in five tries to run out 42-19 winners at the Parc y Scarlets.
Did you know? Scarlets are defending a proud unbeaten Guinness PRO14 home record, a 21-match run that stretches back to the defeat against Munster at the start of the 2016-17 season.
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Kieron Fonotia, Hadleigh Parkes, Tom Prydie; Dan Jones, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens (c), Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Steve Cummins, Blade Thomson, James Davies, Josh Macleod
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Phil Price, Werner Kruger, Lewis Rawlins, Ed Kennedy, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Paul Asquith, Ioan Nicholas
Leinster: Jordan Larmour; Fergus McFadden, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Ian Nagle, Josh Murphy, Rhys Ruddock (c), Jack Conan
Replacements: James Tracy, Peter Dooley, Andrew Porter, Mick Kearney, Max Deegan, Luke McGrath, Noel Reid, Joe Tomane
TV: Premier Sports 1, eir sport 1
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)
Assistant referees: Dave Sutherland (SRU), Wayne Davies (WRU)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (SRU)
Scarlets exacted revenge over defending Guinness PRO14 champions Leinster for their defeat in last season’s final as they held on to claim a 23-21 win in Llanelli.
Man of the match Ken Owens opened the scoring for the hosts at the Parc y Scarlets before wingers Fergus McFadden and James Lowe gave Leinster the lead at half-time.
Leigh Halfpenny added two penalties for Scarlets after the break as they edged back in front before Hadleigh Parkes put scrum-half Gareth Davies through to score.
Leinster hit back through Rhys Ruddock to set up a dramatic finish and piled on the pressure with phase after phase, but Scarlets held on for a thrilling win.
The victory stretches Scarlets’ unbeaten home record in the Guinness PRO14 to 22 games and the hosts showed huge ambition from the off as they came close to scoring in the opening minutes.
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) September 8, 2018
James Davies, Kieron Fonotia and Parkes combined to send Johnny McNicholl away, but the Kiwi was halted five metres out before successive penalties saw Leinster flanker Josh Murphy sin-binned.
Scarlets continued threaten the visitors and the Leinster defensive wall was finally breached when Owens crashed over, with Halfpenny converting for a 7-0 lead.
McNicholl was then forced off for a head injury assessment, with Ioan Nicholas replacing him, before Leinster responded to going behind from a powerful driving maul.
The pack rumbled 20 metres from a line-out and with the Scarlets defence on its heels, Sean Cronin burst down the middle and Rory O’Loughlin found Fergus McFadden for the score.
Ross Byrne converted to level the scores, before a blindside passing move saw Jamison Gibson-Park find Byrne to put James Lowe over in at the corner.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) September 8, 2018
Byrne added the conversion from out wide as Leinster surged into a 14-10 lead at the break, but Scarlets edged back ahead with two penalties from the boot of Halfpenny.
A handling error from Leinster inside their own 22 then set up the hosts for their third try, after Parkes sliced through the defences and offloaded to Davies on the outside.
Halfpenny added the extras to give the home side a nine-point lead heading into the final ten minutes, but Leinster showed their never-say-die attitude to close the gap again.
A try from Ruddock, who burrowed over from close range, and another Byrne conversion made it a two-point game at 23-21 with just minutes remaining.
But Scarlets held on during a nail-biting finale, holding off multiple attacks from Leinster, to get their revenge over the side that knocked them out of Europe and beat them in the final last season.