Jonathan Davies returns to lead Scarlets into European quest

Rob Lloyd News

Wales and British & Irish Lions centre Jonathan Davies returns to lead the Scarlets in the opening round of their EPCR Challenge Cup campaign in Castres on Saturday (15:15; epcrugby.tv).

Davies comes into midfield as one of eight personnel changes to the starting XV following the bonus-point win over Cardiff last weekend.

There is a reshuffle in the back three with Ryan Conbeer coming onto the left wing, Steff Evans switching to the right flank and Tom Rogers moving to full-back on his 50th Scarlets appearance.

Davies partners Johnny Williams at centre. Eddie James is ruled out after picking up a knock to his head at the Arms Park.

The only other change behind the scrum sees Kieran Hardy handed the No. 9 jersey in place of fellow Wales international Gareth Davies.

In the front row, Steff Thomas and Joe Jones (who makes his first start) replace Wyn Jones and Harri O’Connor. Ryan Elias continues at hooker.

Alex Craig is ruled out because of injury so Morgan Jones comes in to join his former Wales U20s partner Jac Price in the second row.

There is a rejig in the back row. Dan Davis picked up an ankle injury early on against Cardiff which is set to keep him out for at least a couple of months so Teddy Leatherbarrow – the Scarlets player of the month for November – starts at openside. Ben Williams replaces Vaea Fifita, who has an ankle issue, at blindside. Carwyn Tuipulotu is again named at No. 8

Replacements Iwan Shenton, Archie Hughes, Sam O’Connor and Ed Scragg, who is set for his Scarlets debut, come into the match-day 23.

Head coach Dwayne Peel said: “Scarlets have always been a team who appreciates the European competition and want to make the most of it. For me as a coach and as a player it’s always been a special time. It’s a tough start going out to Castres, who are going well in the Top14.  It’s going to be physical and the challenge for us is to put them under pressure and maybe change the way that they’re used to playing.

“Castres is a small town and the rugby team is a focal point for the town, similarly to Llanelli; we’re looking forward to it.”

Scarlets team to play Castres at the Stade Pierre-Fabre on Saturday, December 9 (15:15)

15 Tom Rogers; 14 Steff Evans, 13 Jonathan Davies (capt), 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Ryan Conbeer; 10 Ioan Lloyd, 9 Kieran Hardy; 1 Steff Thomas, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Joe Jones, 4 Morgan Jones, 5 Jac Price, 6 Ben Williams, 7 Teddy Leatherbarrow, 8 Carwyn Tuipulotu.

Reps: 16 Shaun Evans, 17 Sam O’Connor, 18 Harri O’Connor, 19 Ed Scragg, 20 Iwan Shenton, 21 Archie Hughes, 22 Charlie Titcombe, 23 Ioan Nicholas.

Players unavailable because of injury

Alex Craig, Wyn Jones, Dan Davis, Johnny McNIcholl, Vaea Fifita, Eddie James, Joe Roberts, Kemsley Mathias, Taine Plumtree, Josh Macleod, Sam Lousi, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Dan Jones, Sam Costelow, Isaac Young.