ON-LOAN Scarlets tighthead Nicky Thomas will start for the Dragons against his employers in tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 derby in Llanelli.

The 23-year-old has joined the Rodney Parade region on a short-term deal after injuries to Wales tighthead Leon Brown (concussion) and South African prop Brok Harris (shoulder).

Thomas, who played just eight times for the Scarlets after joining from Gloucester in 2016, gets the chance to shine in the 3 jersey ahead of Lloyd Fairbrother as the injury-hit Dragons attempt to upset the odds against the champions (kick-off 7.35pm).

Head coach Bernard Jackman hands a debut to 18-year-old openside Taine Basham while there are four other changes to the pack that started in the 22-9 to the Ospreys on New Year’s Eve with starts for Thomas, loosehead Luke Garrett, who was on loan at the Scarlets last season, hooker Liam Belcher and lock Joe Davies.

There is just one change to the three-quarters with Pat Howard coming in for injured wing Ashton Hewitt (neck strain). Young half-backs Dan Babos, 17, and Arwel Robson, 20, pull the strings once again.

Captain Cory Hill has overcome a back problem to be the only member of the Dragons’ five-strong Wales contingent from the autumn internationals to feature with hooker Elliot Dee (concussion), tighthead Brown, full-back Hallam Amos and centre Tyler Morgan (both ankle) all sidelined.

“The thing with the Scarlets is that they are very well organised defensively,” said Jackman.

“I think back to last year when they went to Dublin for the semi-final, had a red card and still defended incredibly well.

“They defend for each other and have got quite aggressive line speed so that they shut you down from the outside.

“In attack, I don’t think people realise how good their kicking game is. In the last minute against the Ospreys to have the confidence to go for that cross-field kick and then against Treviso they needed a bonus point and kicked the ball twice in that phase and regathered.

“They always keep your back-field honest, which creates space in the front line and gives opportunities for mismatches and one-on-ones. They are really dangerous.

“Our defence was decent against the Ospreys but conditions made it close combat and this week we will have to man-up physically but also deal with different threats. It’s going to be a big challenge.”

The Scarlets are also hit by injuries but field a formidable pack with Wales tighthead Samson Lee (Achilles) making his first appearance since October.

He joins Test teammates Rob Evans and Ken Owens in the front row while internationals Aaron Shingler and John Barclay join James Davies in the back row.

Three former Dragons feature for the hosts with Tom Prydie starting on the win and full-back/fly-half Geraint Rhys Jones and scrum-half Jonathan Evans among the replacements. Former Cross Keys lock Lewis Rawlins is also on the bench.

Scarlets: R Patchell; T Prydie, S Hughes, H Parkes, I Nicholas; D Jones, A Davies; R Evans, K Owens, S Lee, S Cummins, D Bulbring, A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay. Replacements: R Elias, W Jones, S Gardiner, L Rawlins, W Boyde, J Evans, GR Jones, M Williams.

Dragons: C Meyer; P Howard, S Beard, J Dixon, J Rosser; A Robson, D Babos; L Garrett, L Belcher, N Thomas, J Davies, C Hill (captain), A Wainwright, T Basham, J Benjamin. Replacements: E Shipp, T Davies, L Fairbrother, R Landman, R Blake, S Pretorius, A O’Brien, J Sage.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)