And having been billed as one of the key games of their season, the Scarlets travel to Ulster with a strong 23 boosted with all bar one of their Wales internationals – knowing that only a win will keep them in the top four play-off race.
The game comes at the end of a positive week for the Scarlets, with the region announcing that it has signed new contracts with 21 players – a huge commitment to the ongoing development of Welsh talent in the region. The news sees the Scarlets secure the services of a core group of some of Wales’ most promising players that have progressed so well within their region this season.
With a number of key internationals all having given their resounding commitment to the future ambitions of the Scarlets, the group travel in positive and focused mood with an impressive backline ready to fire – having fine-tuned their performance after the home win against Treviso on Sunday.
The Scarlets narrowly lost out to Ulster in the final minutes of a hotly contested game at Parc y Scarlets in February, and the frustration of that loss (18-16) in the dying seconds is something the Scarlets will be looking to put this right. Ulster have never managed to achieve a season’s double over Scarlets.
Scarlets starting XV v Ulster 1/04/2011, Ravenhill kick-off 1905: Rhys Priestland, Gareth Maule, Regan King, Jon Davies, Morgan Stoddart, Stephen Jones, Tavis Knoyle, Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees (capt), Rhys Thomas, Lou Reed, Rob McCusker, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Emyr Phillips, Rhodri Jones, Peter Edwards, Aaron Shingler, David Lyons, Martin Roberts, Daniel Evans, Scott Williams.
Wing Sean Lamont (hamstring strain), scrum-half Gareth Davies (dead leg) and wing George North (minor concussion) do not make late fitness tests but back and on the bench comes Wallaby no8 star David Lyons after injury.
Wales and Scarlets captain, British Lions hooker Matthew Rees back at the helm again as captain said: “We put ourselves in a great position at the beginning of the season, we have played well in our home games – we made a statement and put ourselves in a very good position.
“A couple of games recently haven’t gone our way but now we have to concentrate on the remainder of the season. It’s a tough ask to get a result out there, but we have our best team out and we know Ulster will also be looking forward to a Heineken Cup quarter final.
“It’s in our hands – we have to win our four remaining games starting with Friday night. We’re in a dog-fight now with the other teams around us. We got the victory against Treviso last weekend, it wasn’t the best of games but we have put things right this week.
“The conditions out there are going to be tricky, it will be an arm wrestle early on and we have to take the game to them. It all starts up front and delivering a set-piece for our backline to play off – and we know we’ve got some great players in our backline.”
Head Coach Nigel Davies who has told his players it’s ‘Cup Final’ fixture for the Scarlets said: “It’s a big challenge, Ulster are a good side and they have had rowed their luck recently, but all we can do is focus on ourselves. To be honest Sunday wasn’t a bad thing for us, there was so much inaccuracy in our game and it’s given everyone a kick.
“We came away with the win know we didn’t do ourselves justice against Treviso and we’ve been very hard on ourselves this week, we’ll have to pick up our levels by at least three notches.
“We need to secure our own possession and then we have a game we can build. The contact area is always important against the Irish sides and our turnover rate has to be low because of our intent to play. It’s great to play an open and expansive style of rugby but we’re expecting our backs to be equally efficient in the contact areas as our forwards in order to get anything out of Friday’s game.”
Ulster along with Munster are the form teams in the League, both having gained 22 league points from their last six matches. The Ulstermen have won their last five Magners League matches. The Scarlets are on 50 points and sit in sixth with Ulster on 55 points in third position. The Scarlets have won 10 games, drawn one and lost seven in the Magners League this season. They have four games left to play against Ulster away, Munster at home on 16th April, Glasgow away and then Cardiff Blues at home on 6th May.