Scarlets and Munster clash in the Guinness Pro 12 at Parc Y Scarlets this afternoon on the back of good wins last week over Connacht and Cardiff.
But the rival coaches, Wayne Pivac and Anthony Foley, have reacted in starkly contrasting fashion to those results.
Whereas Pivac settles for the exact same starting line-up that accounted for Connacht by 32-14, Foley has made eight changes with last week’s man of the match JJ Hanrahan relegated to the bench along with last week’s try scorer Jack O’Donoghue. And Ronan O’Mahony, who also touched down against Cardiff, is omitted altogether.
The positive Munster news is that CJ Stander has recovered from an ankle injury to take his place at number eight while Tommy O’Donnell, Ian Keatley and Felix Jones have all been released by Ireland to take their place in the starting line-up.
Whereas Munster go into the game without Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo because of international requirements, the Welsh are without only forwards Jake Ball and Samson Lee and have consigned out-half Rhys Priestland to the substitutes panel.
Both camps have been coming up with the usual platitudes about the opposition but on this occasion there can be no question that Scarlets are becoming a serious proposition on home territory.
They haven’t lost at Parc y Scarlets since December 26th, 2013, and now that they are up to seventh in the Pro 12, within touching distance of an automatic place in next season’s European Cup.
The experienced New Zealander, Regan King, in the centre and Steven Shingler, preferred to Priestland at number ten, are key men behind the scrum while skipper and hooker Ken Owens, veteran front-row colleague Phil John and Scotland’s John Barclay form the core of a powerful forward pack.
“We need to back up the performance against Connacht and make sure it’s not a one-off,” said Pivac. “We are focusing on little areas we can improve on, tweaking things off the field as well as on and it’s important we get maximum points at home.”
Second-placed Munster have played themselves into the ideal position from which to challenge for a home semi-final but with leaders Glasgow due at Musgrave Park in a week’s time, the importance of the current block of games isn’t lost on skills coach Ian Costello.
“Scarlets play like Cardiff, they play that expansive type of game with a huge amount of continuity but, in my opinion, are a far better side”, he commented.
“They are unbeaten at home in the league and have scored more points and tries at home than anyone else in the competition. The looser the game, the more they like it — quick taps, counter attacks, quick throws.”
Given that in the past Munster have invariably been in contention for European glory at this stage of the season, maintaining interest at the same level for the Pro 12 cannot be too easy.
Veteran second-row Donncha O’Callaghan understands that kind of perspective but warns: “We still have a lot to play for and we will be judged on where we finish at the end of the season”.
Today’s game will go a long way towards determining where exactly that will be.
J Williams; H Robinson, R King, H Parkes, M Tagicakibau; S Shingler, A Davies; P John, K Owens capt, P Edwards, L Rawlins, J Snyman, A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay.
Replacements: R Elias, R Evans, J Adriaanse, G Earle, R McCusker; G Davies, R Priestland, A Warren.
F Jones; A Conway, K Earls, D Hurley (capt), L O’Dea; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, K O’Byrne, S Archer, D O’Callaghan, B Holland, D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: E Guinazu, J Ryan, BJ Botha, P Butler; N Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, I Dineen.
D Phillips (IRFU).