By Paul Jones
The Scarlets may be 12 international players down going into their crucial Heineken Champions Cup home clash with Toulon tonight, but head coach Glenn Delaney isn’t worried about tackling the French giants with a reduced squad.
Instead, he is looking forward to giving more youngsters their chance to shine by taking on players of the calibre of Ma’a Nonu, Eben Etzebeth and Sergio Parisse.
Jonathan Davies returns to the midfield to join acting skipper Steff Hughes to face Nonu, while wannabee Wales flanker Josh Macleod gets his first start after recovering from the hamstring strain that robbed him of the chance of winning a first cap in the Nations Cup.
Also back in the side is Wales wing Johnny McNicholl as one of 10 changes from the side that beat Bath at The Rec in round one last weekend.
Ruled out after HIAs in that game are Wales front five stalwarts Samson Lee and Jake Ball. With only a six day turnaround between rounds they were not considered.
Javan Sebastian starts at tight head prop, while Morgan Jones continues in place of Ball in the second row after replacing him at Bath and saving the game with his last ditch tackle and jackal on Ben Spencer on his try line.
Kieran Hardy starts at scrum half in a swap with his international colleague Gareth Davies, while Wales U20 cap Tom Rogers will make his European debut on the wing.
Delaney’s selection problems were heightened when one member of his squad tested positive for COVID and other players had to stand down as close contacts.
“The bench all played its part in the win at Bath and it was a huge effort to get the win there. Now we just want to perform really well again this week,” said Delaney.
“Toulon are a real handful. They are very big, have good athletes and they have the power game that makes them a really dangerous team.
“Ma’a Nonu has come in and made an intelligent difference to their structure and back play. With him playing outside Louis Carbonel, who is a wonderfully instinctive and intuitive No 10, it makes them a better team than the last time we played them.
“We got close the last time we played them out there before we lost at the death. There were 10 bits of ball in that game that had we passed we might have won.
“Physically we dealt with them over in Toulon and it’s probably going to be an attritional game given the conditions. But we will continue to drive our game and be ambitious because we feel if we can move teams around we can get results.”
Three times Champions Cup winners Toulon beat Sale Sharks at home last weekend and will be hoping to take another step closer to qualifying for the home and away quarter-finals.
Missing international Scarlets are: Liam Williams, Steff Evans, Johnny Williams, Rhys Patchell, Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Aaron Shingler, Blade Thompson, James Davies, Sione Kalamafoni
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Jonathan Davies, Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Tom Rogers; 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy; 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Javan Sebastian, Morgan Jones, Tevita Ratuva, Ed Kennedy, Josh Macleod, Uzair Cassiem
Reps: Marc Jones, Kemsley Mathias, Pieter Scholtz, Iestyn Rees, Dan Davis, Gareth Davies, Angus O’Brien, Tyler Morgan
Toulon: Duncan Paia’aua; Ramiro Moyano Joya, Isaiah Toeava, Ma’a Nonu, Gabin Villière; Louis Carbonel, Baptiste Serin, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Christopher Tolofua, Emerick Setiano, Brian Alainu’uese, Romain Taofifenua, Swan Rebbadj, Charles Ollivon (captain), Facundo Isa
Reps: Bastien Soury, Luka Tchelidze, Jérémy Boyadjis, Thomas Jolmes, Julien Ory, Theo Dachary, Anthony Meric, Masivesi Dakuwaqa,
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
- Scarlets and Toulon have met six times before in the Heineken Champions Cup, the TOP 14
side winning four of those clashes (L2), although Scarlets have won two of their three home
games against Toulon in the competition.
- Scarlets and Toulon met three times in the Challenge Cup last season, the TOP 14 side winning
all three clashes, home and away in the pool stage, then again at Stade Félix Mayol in the
- Toulon have won just two of six previous away games (L4) against Welsh opponents in the
Heineken Champions Cup (22-14 v Cardiff Blues, October 2012; 26-3 v Scarlets, January 2015).
- Toulon’s Isaia Toeava missed five tackles in the opening round of the Heineken Champions
Cup, the most of any player.
- Scarlets’ Sione Kalamafoni made the most tackles (22) of any player in the opening round of
the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup, as a team Scarlets made the most tackles of anyone (171).