Resurgent Scarlets determined to leave Ospreys feeling red-faced

Magners League Preview

The last few years have not been kind to Scarlets – a fact that should dismay anyone blessed with a beating rugby heart, for there is no more romantic corner of the union landscape than Llanelli.

Leaving aside one gloriously unexpected run to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup in 2007, the club that gave Phil Bennett, Ray Gravell and an entire artillery corps of Quinnells to the world has run out of pretty much everything: money, results, luck, you name it.

But something is stirring down there in Carmarthenshire. More than 12,000 tickets have been sold for tonight's Magners League derby with Ospreys, and if the Welsh rain stops falling Scarlets may even fill their 15,000-capacity stadium on the edge of town. And if they win well – no easy matter against the reigning champions, who have almost as many international players as Scarlets have season-ticket holders – they might even end the weekend on top of the log. Not bad for a side working on a budget the size of a pea.

Yesterday, you could almost smell the passion down Llanelli way. "This is one of the games people want to watch, and rightly so," said Nigel Davies, the one-time Wales centre who coaches Scarlets. "The intensity it generates is huge, as is the rivalry and the respect between the two clubs. Our meetings always have an extra edge. Form doesn't count for much. It will be about who turns up hungrier on the day and who gets the key moments right and takes their chances. Both sides understand that."

Scarlets have strung together a three-match winning streak, including last week's victory at Newport Gwent Dragons, their first league success on the road since they made the same trip last Christmas. While they have lost a couple of decent players to injury, they have the main body of their side together for this evening's game. Stephen Jones, a diamond of an outside-half, will be there, as will the Lions hooker Matthew Rees and the Wallaby No 8 David Lyons.

For their part, Ospreys have so many big names available to them they can leave Huw Bennett and Ryan Jones on the bench, while absorbing injuries affecting the Test lock Ian Evans and the highly-rated flanker Ben Lewis, and still field an all-international pack.

Among the more fascinating individual contests is the one at scrum-half, where Mike Phillips – Wales regular, Test Lion, self-confident as the day is long – squares up to the Scarlets' latest world-beater-in-waiting, Tavis Knoyle. The latter may have kissed his teenage years goodbye only recently, yet he already knows what it is to play international rugby against the All Blacks. There again, at 6ft 1in and the best part of 16st, he is not in obvious need of mollycoddling.

Munster, last season's beaten semi-finalists, could also go top tonight, but as localised conflicts with Leinster are just a little testing, especially when played in Dublin, they will not be counting too much in the way of poultry. With Heineken Cup business next on the agenda, both provinces have decided to play at strength.

Munster travel with a back division drawn largely from the southern hemisphere – Paul Warwick, Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Sam Tuitupou – while Leinster recall Cian Healy and Nathan Hines to their tight five. There is a question mark over the fitness of the outside-half Jonny Sexton, but elsewhere in midfield Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll will be present.

Meanwhile, the former Saracens wing Rodd Penney will make his debut for the new Italian "super-club" Aironi when they face Edinburgh in Viadana tonight. The New Zealander signed a few days ago and has an immediate chance to impress in a back division currently scoring tries at the rate of one every two games.

"I'm pretty excited to be here," Penney remarked. "I already knew Fabio Ongaro and Matias Aguero from our time together at Saracens and they are helping me. I'm very happy to have the opportunity to play some rugby." Not that the new recruit is under any illusions as to the scale of the task faced by Aironi in their first Magners campaign. "Italian teams are known for being very physical and starting games fast, but it's a matter of maintaining the rhythm for a full 80 minutes," he acknowledged.

Edinburgh, in better humour after ending their run of defeats with a high-scoring victory over Leinster last weekend, have made five changes to their starting combination. Jim Thompson makes a first appearance of the season at full-back, while Greig Laidlaw and Kyle Traynor take over from Mike Blair and Allen Jacobsen at scrum-half and loose-head prop respectively. In the back row, Frazer McKenzie and Alan MacDonald replace Scott Newlands and Ross Rennie on the flanks.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness