SCARLETS v DRAGONS (Tonight, KO 7.05)
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons head coach Darren Edwards acknowledges his men could be facing a Scarlets backlash but tonight’s derby mission is far from an impossible one.
Sport, like life, is a fickle business and the two sides go into this evening’s clash with the momentum in the visitors’ favour.
While the Dragons recorded a resounding 32-12 home victory over a useful Edinburgh side at Rodney Parade last weekend, the Scarlets went down to a numbing 22-20 away defeat to Treviso.
Last week’s triumph came as a huge relief for the Gwent region who were feeling the heat after slipping to three disappointing defeats in a row.
Last Saturday’s loss in Italy for the Scarlets, despite leading 20-5 early in the second half, was their second successive setback after the Ospreys upset the odds against them the week before.
Their closest rivals won 23-16 at Parc y Scarlets after bullying the home side’s eight in the set piece.
With a seriously malfunctioning scrum, the Scarlets’ early season high hopes – after three wins on the bounce – are in serious danger of going up in smoke tonight and the pressure is heaped on them.
Not many will give the Dragons much of a chance but they will secretly fancy their opportunity to plant doubt in vulnerable Scarlets’ minds early on and go on to secure their first away league win over them since a 30-23 victory in September 2007.
A certain Aled Thomas had a fine night in a Dragons shirt on that occasion five years ago, scoring 13 points, but this evening he will be wearing Scarlets colours.
He starts at outside half after the hosts dropped first choice option Rhys Priestland to the bench, the Wales No 10 having brought his shocking form from the summer tour of Australia with him into the new season.
While the Scarlets have two former Dragons in their 23-man match day squad, Gareth Maule coming in at centre for rested Wales star Jonathan Davies, the Gwent side have five players in theirs who once were part of the West Walians’ set-up.
Full back Dan Evans is itching to show his former side what might have been after they let him go this summer.
Nic Cudd gets his first taste of Pro 12 action when he makes his Dragons debut at openside flanker while Adam Jones, who won his two Wales caps in 2006 while at the Scarlets, is at lock.
Hooker Hugh Gustafson is on the bench alongside replacement scrum half Liam Davies, who had spells with the Scarlets, Ospreys and Dax, who is currently plying his trade in the Premiership with Bedwas.
Despite all their injury worries with 12 men absent, the Dragons make just one change from the side which started in the win against Edinburgh.
Wales star Dan Lydiate broke a bone above his left ankle in last week’s victory and the blindside flanker is probably out of action until late February at best.
Forced to reshuffle their back row, captain Lewis Evans switches from seven to six to accommodate Cudd with Toby Faletau at No 8.
Steffan Jones will be looking to win the battle of the tens and will be buoyed by his record three drop goals for the region last week.
He starts again at outside half, Lewis Robling unavailable for selection until next week after cutting his knee in training on Monday.
Dragons coach Edwards knows it’s not going to be easy this evening and expects the Scarlets to come at them with all guns blazing: “We’re expecting a backlash – they lost their last home game and had a narrow defeat again last weekend “They are in the same situation as we were in last week – if you lose at home, you need to make sure you win your next one there, so we’ve got a seriously difficult challenge.”
For the Scarlets, new signing, the 6ft 7in and 18st 12lb South African lock Joe Snyman, makes his debut, tighthead Deacon Manu is dropped for Samson Lee and full back Morgan Stoddart is on the bench set for his first game in 14 months after his terrible double leg break injury playing for Wales.
Scarlets team: L Williams, G North, G Maule, S Williams, A Fenby, A Thomas, T Knoyle, P John, M Rees, S Lee, S T, J Snyman, A Shingler, J Turnbull, R McCusker (capt). Replacements: K Owens, S Hopkins, D Manu, R Kelly, K Murphy, G Davies, R Priestland, M Stoddart.
Dragons team: D Evans, A Hughes, P Leach, A Tuilagi, T Prydie, Steffan Jones, J Evans, P Price, Steve Jones, D Way, I Nimmo, A Jones, L Evans (capt), N Cudd, T Faletau. Replacements: H Gustafson, A Coundley, N Buck, J Groves, T Brown, L Davies, A Smith, Will Harries.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)