Stephen Jones Stirs Scarlets Spirits . . . And Plots Bath Downfall Repeat

Stephen Jones has been firing the Scarlets’ imaginations this week as they bid to follow the trail he blazed 16 years ago.

Back in 2002, Llanelli knocked Bath out the Heineken Cup at the English club’s own home thanks to a commanding display and a deadly points surge inspired by their former No.10.

A few things have changed since then. Llanelli are now the Scarlets, the Heineken Cup has lost sponsorship and is merely the European Champions Cup, and Jones is these days assistant coach at the region rather than the fulcrum who kicked eight penalties and a drop goal in a 27-10 victory on a rain-swept day at the Rec.

But the Scarlets’ quest to finally conquer Europe remain unfulfilled, as it was in 2002, and there have been very few near misses since Jones was in his playing pomp.

If the Guinness Pro 14 Champions can win on Friday night, they will stay in contention for a place in the knockout stages – something they have not achieved since 2007.

Rhys Patchell was only eight years old when Jones gave his masterclass but he says the backs coach has been stirring their ambitions ahead of one of their biggest games of the season so far.

“Stephen Jones has been animated in meetings and on the training field,” says Patchell. “He was a big-game player and he has huge experience in Europe.

“This is another opportunity to show what we are about and you can see the enthusiasm of the coaches.”

Rhys Pathchell. Pic: Getty Images.

The Scarlets would be in a far better position to make the last eight of the tournament had they not lost at home to Bath back in October, when their destroyer was the region’s own former creative star, Rhys Priestland.

“The disappointing thing about that night was that we hardly fired any shots,” adds Patchell. “They put a squeeze on us territorially and we could not get out of our half. Rhys played very well and we were unable to get a foothold.

“We will have a crack at them on Friday night and what happens, happens. We have to make sure we do not come off the field with any bullets left in our pockets.”

Leigh Halfpenny has been ruled out after failing a late fitness test on Thursday because of a chest muscle injury. Johnny McNicholl also misses out with a shoulder injury, meaning Patchell will take Halfpenny’s role, Paul Asquith will play on the wing, Hadleigh Parkes will start in the centre and Dan Jones will feature at fly-half.

Bath will include three former Wales internationals – Priestland, Luke Charteris and Aled Brew – as well as former Ospreys flanker Sam Underhill who has not played since suffering a second concussion of the season playing for England against Australia in November.

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac recognises his side must deliver a much improved performance on their home tie against Bath if they are to stay in the tournament.

Former Ospreys flanker Sam Underhill. Pic: Getty Images.

“We are really looking forward to the occasion,” he said. “It’s a must-win game for both sides. We both know that.

“It’s like a knockout game in itself. Competitive people like these sorts of situations, so we are looking forward to it.

“This week has been about trying to get our attacking game going again. We just have to look back to when we played them last time. They were more disciplined and more clinical than we were, and played the conditions better than we did.”

In the most competitive pool in the competition, Bath currently top Pool Five in the race for a quarter-final place, but three-time European champions Toulon are level with them and the Scarlets lie third, just one point behind.

“It is a real challenge,” said Bath rugby director Todd Blackadder. “We did a lot of homework and analysis on them before the first game, and I can clearly see why they are a quality side.

“They are a team that will come firing. They are still in this competition with a lot to play for, so it’s a big game for both teams.

“They are a quality team, and in no way would we underestimate just what damage they can do with the ball in hand.”

Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Matt Garvey (c), 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 James Phillips, 20 Paul Grant, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 James Wilson

Scarlets: 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Paul Asquith, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Steff Hughes, 23 Will Boyde

Date: Friday, January 12
Venue: Recreation Ground
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)


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