Scarlets take on Conference B rivals Edinburgh in Llanelli this evening as the race for the Guinness PRO14 play-offs hots up.
Wayne Pivac’s men know that only a win will do if they are to keep their hopes of a top-three finish alive, while the visitors must also claim the spoils to stay in the hunt.
Kick-off: Saturday, April 6, 6.45pm, Parc y Scarlets
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans; Dan Jones, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens (capt), Samson Lee, Lewis Rawlins, Steve Cummins, Will Boyde, James Davies, Uzair Cassiem.
Reps: Marc Jones, Wyn Jones, Werner Kruger, Josh Helps, Josh Macleod, Kieran Hardy, Kieron Fonotia, Ioan Nicholas.
Edinburgh: Darcy Graham; Damien Hoyland , Mark Bennett, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally (capt), WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata.
Reps: Ross Ford, Rory Sutherland, Simon Berghan, Callum Hunter-Hill, Magnus Bradbury, Charlie Shiel, Simon Hickey, Matt Scott.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
Assistants: Joy Neville, Eddie Hogan O’Connell (IRFU)
TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)
Who is top of the stats charts?
Johnny McNicholl, who recently signed a new contract to remain at Parc y Scarlets, has had an impressive season, and sits second in the overall table for defenders beaten (58) in the PRO14. Only Edinburgh’s Duhan van der Merwe trumps that figure with 61.
McNicholl and van der Merwe have also made 1005 and 925 metres respectively, placing them third and fifth overall.
Richard Cockerill’s side recorded an impressive win against Conference B leaders Leinster in the previous round. A key cog in their machine is No. 8 Villiame (Bill) Mata, who topped the Round 18 carrying charts with 23, as well as beating seven defenders in a dominant display.
Edinburgh fly-half Jaco van der Walt currently leads the race for the PRO14's Gilbert Golden Boot, having been successful with 29 of his 32 kicks at goal (90.63%). Scarlets’ Leigh Halfpenny is in eighth place with 80%, having split the uprights with 24 of his 30 kicks.
The form guide
Scarlets come into this fixture having won two and lost three of their last five games in the league. They have only lost one game at home in the PRO14 since the opening game of the 2016-17 title-winning season.
Not including last weekend’s defeat to Munster in the quarter-final of the Heineken Champions Cup, Edinburgh hold an identical record, having gone on a seven-game winning run previously.
The form guide suggests that there is nothing to separate the two teams, in a game which could go a long way towards deciding who clinches the two remaining play-off positions in Conference B.
How does the head-to-head record look?
Tonight’s encounter will be the 41st time that the two sides have met since facing off for the first time in November 1999; a game which Scarlets won 37-9 at Stradey Park.
The capital side edge the head-to-head stakes, having recorded 21 victories to Scarlets’ 18 – with a solitary draw coming back in September 2014.
The last meeting between the sides came in at the beginning of November, when Scarlets slipped to a 31-21 defeat at BT Murrayfield.
The return of a fans favourite
After making 108 appearances in the Scarlet jersey, flanker John Barclay will return to Llanelli for the first time since departing to join tonight’s opponents in the summer of 2018.
The Scottish international won 62 games during his time in west Wales, touching down for 10 tries along the way.
After picking up a serious Achilles injury in what would prove to be his final game for the Scarlets in last season’s PRO14 semi-final against Glasgow, Barclay made a return to competitive action in the previous round – picking up the man of the match award in Edinburgh’s win against reigning champions Leinster.
What’s been said
“For whatever reason we were not at the races in our last game and were put to the sword by a very good Blues outfit Since then we have done a lot of soul searching and it is cup final rugby now, every game is a cup game.
“We know how good Edinburgh are, they had a good result against Leinster in their last game in the competition and were unlucky to miss out against Munster in Europe last weekend, so it’s going to be a tough game.”
Scarlets skipper Ken Owens
“Scarlets will have a lot of that Welsh team coming back in – especially in that backline and in the front row. So, we expect a very tough game and whoever wins it will either stay above or jump above the other. It’s going to be a very tough contest.”
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockeril