Parc y Scarlets welcome back Rhys Priestland at big Welsh derby

Scarlets international outside half Rhys Priestland will make a welcome return to the match day squad in West Wales this weekend as a packed Parc y Scarlets hosts the big Welsh derby of the weekend – Scarlets v Cardiff Blues.

It’s a positive boost for the Scarlets to see their popular fly-half back on the field as the season reaches a critical stage for the side who are battling for a top four finish in the RaboDirect PRO12.

And the Welsh regional rugby showcase on Saturday evening at Parc y Scarlets (6.30pm kick-off) has captured the imagination of rugby supporters in West Wales with hopes of a five figure crowd filling the stadium to see a host of internationals do battle in the penultimate league game of the regular season.

Ticket sales earlier this week were well over 8,000 for the game with a carnival atmosphere being created by the Scarlets to add to the occasion including a rugby festival on their training field from 2pm plus choirs from both the Cardiff Blues and Scarlets to entertain crowds pre-match and all the usual entertainment in the Scarlets’ 2,000 capacity indoor Supporters Village.

To celebrate their thrilling run-in to the season, Scarlets season ticket holders can purchase tickets for friends and family at just £10 for the Blues fixture and their final home fixture against Treviso on 3rd May kick off 7.45pm.

Scarlets Head Coach Simon Easterby has selected an unchanged backs division from the team that beat Glasgow Warriors convincingly last weekend and with only one change in the forwards pack due to injury with Josh Turnbull replacing the injured Johnathan Edwards (shoulder) in the back row.

Scarlets Team v Cardiff Blues; Saturday 20th April 2013 kick off 6.30pm at Parc y Scarlets 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Aled Davies, 1 Phil John, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Samson Lee, 4 George Earle, 5 Johan Synman, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 Josh Turnbull, 8 Rob McCusker (capt).

Replacements: Matthew Rees, Rhodri Jones, Jacobie Adriannse, Jake Ball, Sione Timani, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Gareth Maule.

The Scarlets have only lost once in their last eight games and have put in a run of strong home form winning their last five encounters at Parc y Scarlets.

And the Scarlets will be eager not only for points for their RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final ambitions but also to retain their record as the strongest of the Welsh regions in derby contests having conceded just one Welsh derby since October 2010.

Cardiff Blues ended a four game losing streak with their 28-13 home victory over Zebre on Saturday afternoon. The Blues have won just three of their last 17 fixtures with fellow Welsh regions in all competitions, with all three coming against the Dragons.

Scarlets have won their last seven matches against the Blues in all tournaments, since the Blues’ 39-16 victory at Parc y Scarlets in the PRO12 on 17th April 2010.

Head Coach Simon Easterby said: “It’s another big night for our players with so much on this game as we keep up the pressure on those above us in the race for a play-off place. There can be no better showcase of the positives in Welsh regional rugby than this weekend’s game.

“To see the number of world-class players competing with pride on the field at Parc Y Scarlets in their regional colours just shows the valuable role that regional rugby plays in supporting and promoting the best of Welsh rugby.

“It’s so positive that as we near the end of the regular season, we have a fixture with this kind of profile and edge and that we’re playing for something really special for this region. We appreciate how much it means to everyone involved in the Scarlets to take us into the play-offs and we need all our supporters to share in that excitement and really push us on.

“We have built up some momentum in our last eight games and Saturday night’s challenge is going to be another big one for us. The Blues have some key internationals hitting form and with Lions selections imminent I am sure the players on both sides will come out of the blocks firing.

“We have worked really hard on making sure we cut out error and silly penalties in our game and in recent weeks what has been pleasing to see that we have kept in games even if we haven’t been playing at our very best.

“We still sit in fifth but if we can get the eight points on offer we have every chance – and while there will always be other results that impact; we have to concentrate on our own performance and results – not what is outside our control.

“But I’m sure there will be some twists in fortunes in the next few weeks and that’s why the semi-finals are great for the competition and keeping the season alive and exciting for supporters and players.”