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Opponents in Focus - Llanelli Scarlets

29th December 2006

Scarlets Director of Rugby Phil Davies is hoping the hothouse receptions his side have received in some of the game's toughest venues this season will hold his side in good stead when they tackle arch rivals Cardiff Blues.

The Scarlets are expecting a torrid 80 minutes as they seek to build on their early season form which saw them rise to second place in the Magners League table. The Scarlets began their season with friendlies against Guinness Premiership outfits Northampton Saints and Gloucester while they successfully negotiated the Stade Ernest Wallon furnace to send Toulouse crashing in the Heineken Cup.

“We’ve got some good experiences behind us this season,” said Davies who is in his first season in charge of the side he so successfully played for during an illustrious playing career. “We’ve been to Kingsholm, Ravenhill and Toulouse so the boys are used to playing in front of hostile crowds. This weekend should be a good experience for both sides and hopefully a good advert for Welsh rugby.”

As soon as he arrived from Leeds Tykes, the former Llanelli star insisted the forthcoming campaign was all about ‘momentum’. It would be fair to say that over the past couple of months, the Scarlets have built up a fair ol’ head of steam. Not content with being the leading Welsh side in the Magners League, the Scarlets demolished French aristocrats Toulouse home and away in the Heineken Cup to take control of Pool 5.

Davies has followed in the best traditions of Gareth Jenkins and encouraged his team to play a freeflowing game. His players have responded in kind. Just take the amazing thriller in Stade Earnest Wallon as an example. Toulouse may have scored four tries, but that meant the Scarlets had to score five to claim the points. They could even have settled for a 34-34 draw but that isn’t in this Scarlets’ side make-up. Attack at all costs is their motto and it won them the game at Toulouse. Despite taking command of their pool in the Heineken Cup Davies is refusing to get carried away.

"It's great to be top of the pool and seven points clear, but we have to go back to the Magners League now, we have a position there to chase and we have two games in hand on people around us,” he said.

The Scarlets re-entered the Magners League after their thrilling displays in Europe in second place, with only Ulster ahead of them. Experience and youthful enthusiasm have combined to make the Scarlets one of the most feared sides in Europe and they will be determined to continue their remarkable run in this year’s league competition. Seasoned performers like Dwayne Peel, Stephen Jones and Dafydd James have been outstanding this season while the centre partnership of Gavin Evans and Regan King has been nothing short of sublime. King may have only played once for the All Blacks but he’s brought the best out of the young Evans who has forced his way into Wales reckoning for the Six Nations with a string of impressive performances.

There is an abundance of riches in the back row where Alix Popham, Gavin Thomas and Simon Easterby have been kept on their toes by new recruits James Bater and Nathan Thomas and Dafydd Jones who is now thankfully back to full fitness after a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury.

Hooker Matthew Rees has finally begun to fulfil his promise and is now considered one of the best No2 in Wales while beside him Iestyn Thomas has been getting through an immense workload in the loose as well as in the tight where he thrives. In the heart of the engine room Scottish lock Scott MacLeod has been a revelation while Inoke Afeaki, Adam Jones and Vernon Cooper ensure there is plenty of strength in depth.