Wayne Pivac has warned his Scarlets team the Ospreys are no longer the soft touch of previous seasons.
As the two rivals meet on Saturday in the first Guinness Pro14 Welsh derby of the season, the Scarlets coach is convinced the opponents he knows best are now on the up.
The Scarlets did the double over their neighbours last season and Pivac’s side have only lost one of their last five matches between the teams.
But the Ospreys have been defeated only once so far this season and Pivac insisted: “The Ospreys are much improved on last year. They haven’t conceded a lot of tries, they’ve had a marked improvement defensively.
“They’ve got a strong forward pack, a lot of the game I guess will be centred around the collision area. We respect them. We know that regardless of what team goes on the teamsheet we’ll get a performance.
“We totally respect them, I love these games. It brings the best out of the players. National selection is just around the corner and everybody wants to win these derby games. They know our game inside out, makes for an interesting encounter. But we think that if we get enough quality ball we’ll hopefully be able to test them.”
Scarlets club captain Ken Owens returns to action, but centre Jonathan Davies’s long-awaited return from injury last week has lasted just one game after a decision to rest him.
With over 10,000 tickets having already been sold for Saturday’s clash Owens insists his players are relishing the red-hot atmosphere of a derby. But the 31-year-old has warned his side to beware of the quality of an Ospreys squad looking to avenge last season’s derby day defeats.
“It’s going to be a great match as most derby games are,” said the Wales hooker.
“They are always enjoyable games due to the edge and the suspense they provide. Form tends to go out of the window in derbies and it’s about who turns up on the day and wins the physical confrontation.
“They’ve been going well and had a great start to the season. They are playing some good stuff and some key players are really excelling for them.
“We are a long way off where we used to be when derbies between ourselves and the Ospreys used to be one sided in their favour. There’s two competitive sides who want to have a go at each other and really kick on.
“We’ve had the upper hand over the Ospreys for the last couple of years which will probably frustrate them. They’ll be looking to come down and put the record books straight a little bit.”
The Ospreys have started the season strongly with three wins out of their first four Guinness PRO14 encounters.
But head coach Allen Clarke believes they will have to go up another level if they are to beat last season’s PRO14 finalists.
“Yes we will have to go up another level,” he said.
“The mental aspect of the game is going to be critically important. When you’ve got people within your ranks who have been successful and are world class like Alun Wyn Jones it gives you tremendous inner belief and confidence.
“When the fixture list comes out everybody looks for the first round of derbies. I live in an environment where there are a lot of Scarlets fans and a lot of Ospreys fans.
“That rivalry is daily and it will come to boiling point at three o’clock on Saturday.”
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Tom Prydie, Kieron Fonotia, Hadleigh Parkes, Johnny McNicholl; Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens (capt), Samson Lee, Jake Ball, David Bulbring, Ed Kennedy, Will Boyde, Blade Thomson
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Phil Price, Werner Kruger, Tom Price, Josh Macleod, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Angus O’Brien, Paul Asquith
Ospreys: James Hook; George North, Cory Allen, Owen Watkin, Luke Morgan; Sam Davies, Aled Davies; Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin, Ma’afu Fia, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Cross, Justin Tipuric (capt), James King
Replacements: Scott Otten, Rhodri Jones, Tom Botha, Adam Beard, Olly Cracknell, Matthew Aubrey, Joe Thomas, Hanno Dirksen
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones, Simon Rees (WRU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)