Scarlets make five changes as they go in search of quarter-final spot

Rob Lloyd News

Scarlets show five changes to their starting XV as they take on London Irish for a European Challenge Cup quarter-final place at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday (8pm S4C).

The Scarlets need to beat the Exiles, probably with a try bonus point, and hope other results this weekend go their way, to make the knockout stages.

Head coach Brad Mooar has named a strong match-day 23 containing eight players who were this week named in Wales’ squad for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.

One of those, Leigh Halfpenny, again starts at full-back, but Johnny McNicholl is sidelined with an ankle issue so Corey Baldwin, a try-scorer in the round one win over Irish at Parc y Scarlets, comes into the side. Steff Evans starts on the left wing.

Steff Hughes continues his record of starting every match this season and partners Hadleigh Parkes in midfield.

There is a different half-back pairing with Dan Jones – who reached a century of Scarlets appearances during last weekend’s defeat to Toulon – linking up with Kieran Hardy, who comes in for the injured Gareth Davies.

In the front row, hooker Ryan Elias replaces club captain Ken Owens, who is named among the replacements. Hughes takes over the captaincy.

Fijian international Tevita Ratuva gets the nod in the second row alongside Jake Ball, while the back row of Aaron Shingler, Josh Macleod and Uzair Cassiem is unchanged.

On the bench, the all-international trio of Owens, Rob Evans and Werner Kruger provide front-row cover, while Sam Lousi and Lewis Rawlins are the other forward replacements.

Dane Blacker comes in as the reserve scrum-half with the rest of the bench made up by Angus O’Brien and Paul Asquith.

With Toulon having wrapped up top spot in Pool 2, Scarlets can still progress as one of the three best runners-up from the five pools if they can overcome Irish.

A final tally of 19 points may be enough, but the West Walians need other results to go their way. The matches to keep an eye on this week are Worcester’s clash with Castres at Sixways on Friday evening, Dragons against Enisei-STM in the same pool, Edinburgh’s date with Agen in Murrayfield on Saturday and Leicester’s visit to France to take on Pau.

Scarlets v London Irish (Madejski Stadium, Saturday, Jan 18th, 8pm ko)
15 Leigh Halfpenny 14 Corey Baldwin 13 Steff Hughes (capt), 12 Hadleigh Parkes 11 Steff Evans 10 Dan Jones 9 Kieran Hardy 1 Wyn Jones 2 Ryan Elias 3 Samson Lee 4 Jake Ball 5 Tevita Ratuva 6 Aaron Shingler 7 Josh Macleod 8 Uzair Cassiem

Reps: 16 Ken Owens 17 Rob Evans 18 Werner Kruger 19 Sam Lousi 20 Lewis Rawlins 21 Dane Blacker 22 Angus O’Brien 23 Paul Asquith

Unavailable because of injury
Jonathan Davies (knee), Rhys Patchell (shoulder), James Davies (back), Blade Thomson (concussion), Johnny McNicholl (ankle), Gareth Davies (hip), Daf Hughes (knee), Dan Davis (foot), Kieron Fonotia (calf), Joe Roberts (knee)