Grounds for optimism for Scarlets
October 8, 2010
Stephen Jones starts at fly-half for the Scarlets © Getty Images
The Scarlets stagnated badly after storming into the Heineken Cup semi-finals three years ago on the back of a string of scintillating displays but the region's supporters are cautiously optimistic ahead of Saturday's clash with Perpignan that they are again moving forward.
After a disastrous 2008-09 campaign in which they registered just one win in the Pool stages, the Scarlets went desperately close to last year emerging from a group which also contained Leinster and London Irish. They have also made an encouraging start to this season's Magners League campaign and will be delighted that their opening European assignment is a home tie against Perpignan, who, while lavishly talented, never look entirely comfortable away from the Stade Aime Giral.
Scarlets - Player to Watch: Wales fly-half Stephen Jones remains the Scarlets' key man and how he performs will be crucial to the region's hopes of kicking off their campaign with a win.
Scarlets - Team News: Rhys Priestland starts at fullback with Morgan Stoddart called onto the wing after recovering from a hamstring injury. Josh Turnbull, Rob McCusker and David Lyons make up the back-row and Vernon Cooper is called in at lock.
Perpignan - Player to Watch: Jerome Porical is arguably Perpignan's greatest attacking weapon. The fullback virtually took Stade Francais down on his own three weeks back, scoring a try and nailing six kicks on goal as he accounted for all of his side's points.
Perpignan - Team News: Maxime Mermoz misses out due to injury while Gavin Hume provides the latest stop-gap answer to Perpignan's fly-half problem. Jean-Philippe Grandclaude and Davi Marty start in the centres.
Key Battle: Jones can call on the silky skills of Regan King outside him this weekend and with Perpignan boasting a makeshift playmaking axis there could be some joy for the home side in the backs if their pack stands up to the task.
Trivia: Perpignan beat the Scarlets at Stradey Park in 2003 to reach to the last four. However, they ultimately went down to Toulouse in the final.
Stats: The Scarlets are the joint-top try-scorers in this season's Magners League with the Ospreys. Both have notched 16 tries in five games to date.
"It's going to be a classic French test - they come with a big pack and will be strong on set piece. They have quality in the backs and we have to make sure we're not giving them any easy ball." - Scarlets wing Sean Lamont
Prediction: The Scarlets are not the force they were a few seasons back but they should have just about enough to see off a Perpignan side that is again probably more concerned with matters domestique.
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