Sam Lousi of Scarlets claims the line-out against Cardiff Blues earlier this year. Pic: Getty Images.

Older, Wiser, Wearier . . . Cardiff And Scarlets Put SA Nightmare Behind Them And Prepare For Boxing Day Bash

By David Williams

Cardiff and Scarlets have both welcomed back a host of international players for their United Rugby Championship derby clash at the Arms Park on Boxing Day.

Both sides have endured a rough time over the past month having to isolate both in South Africa, and back in the United Kingdom. Cardiff won the hearts and minds of supporters across the globe with their heroic performances against Toulouse, and Harlequins, respectively in Europe over the past few weeks with a team made up of academy and semi-professional players.

But the Scarlets have not played a game since beating Benetton in October, and are raring to go. Lloyd Williams and Rhys Priestland will start at half-back for Cardiff, with Ben Thomas partnering Rey Lee-Lo in midfield.

James Botham, who impressed in the Champions Cup after returning from injury, retains his starting spot but moves to number eight, with Will Boyde starting at openside. Corey Domachowski, Kirby Myhill and Dmitri Arhip all return to the front row, while Owen Lane and Matthew Morgan rejoin Josh Adams in the back three.

Due to the Welsh Governments recent announcement the game will be played behind closed doors. “The guys over the past two weeks did the jersey proud,” said Cardiff director of rugby Dai Young.

“They went out there and I don’t think we could expect any more from the team. They were in both games for a big part of the contest.


“Nobody could have asked more from those two squads, they really did the club and themselves proud, and we’ve challenged the squad this week to back that up. They put a smile of everyone’s face in quarantine because we were all over the moon that they did so well.

“Obviously there were some difficult times for us while in quarantine, but having been back together at the Arms Park we’re now fully focused on Sunday and looking forward to getting back out there in a Welsh derby.

“We have to be honest as well with how disappointing playing in front of no crowd is, especially over the festive period. Playing a local derby at a full house at the Arms Park is something that doesn’t happen every week.

“So we’re very disappointed to lose that occasion and to lose what would’ve been a fantastic opportunity. That said, the boys are still really excited about a Welsh derby and are determined to give our fans something to celebrate, even if it is from home.”

Wales full-back Liam Williams will make his first Scarlets appearance of the season as he starts in the number 15 jersey, with Ryan Conbeer, and Johnny McNicholl making up the back three. Jonathan Davies captains the side, and is joined in midfield by Scott Williams while Dan Jones, and Gareth Davies are the half-backs.

Up-front Rob Evans, Ryan Elias, and new Scotland cap Javan Sebastian make up the front-row, with Sam Lousi, and Tom Price at second-row. Josh MacLeod will take the field for the first time in nine months after recovering from a ruptured achilles. The openside flanker is one part of a formidable loose-forward trio which also includes Blade Thomson, and Sione Kalamafoni.

Highly rated Wales under 20s tight-head prop Harri O’Connor looks set to make his regional debut from the replacements bench. “I’m looking forward to it,” said Scarlets flyer McNicholl.


We’ve had four matches cancelled so just to be playing in a derby will be nice. We had plenty of Zoom meetings in quarantine and a good week of training for the Bordeaux game [last Sunday], which didn’t happen. We were looking sharp there.

“In hindsight, for our long-term game, it’s been good to get all this extra training. Everyone’s on the same page and we’re ready to go for Cardiff now. I really enjoyed the autumn, I enjoyed myself a lot.

“My form was good and that came off the back of a tough pre-season here [at Scarlets] I think, just being fit and stuff. I try things and sometimes it might not work, I might throw an offload to the ground but I try to not let that affect me because I know that next time it could be a try-scoring opportunity.

“So I will still throw the offload again because they are the moments that can break games and they’re some of the biggest strengths that I bring. My biggest mindset is to go out and express myself, do those things and not worry if they don’t work. Next time it might work.”


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