By Graham Thomas
Dwayne Peel has warned his Scarlets they will have to withstand a Boks battering if they are to get anything out of their return to action on Saturday night.
While the region are unable to rely on their rested and the wounded after their Six Nations efforts, the Sharks will come armed to their sharpest teeth from South Africa in the shape of 10 Springbok internationals.
The Scarlets do give a welcome first start to Wales centre Johnny Williams after almost seven months, but head coach Peel has admitted the clash – which is live on S4C – represents a dive back in the deep end.
“They have got seven, eight Springboks – and probably more – who are world-renowned names,” said Peel.
“We know it’s going to be a very physical battle. Their Springboks have been in camp for a while and they have a home draw in the Heineken European Cup next week, which they are gearing up for as well.
“So, it’s going to be a very big challenge for us. Whenever you play South African sides, regardless of what names are on the team-sheet, you know you have to reach a level of physicality, be error-free and also be able to put pressure on them.
“We played the Bulls here not long ago, they also brought some big names and it was a great game of rugby.”
The Scarlets are without rested Wales captain Ken Owens, Wyn Jones, Rhys Patchell and Leigh Halfpenny, but scrum-half Kieran Hardy does figure after his Wales efforts and he is on the replacements bench.
Flanker Aaron Shingler, out since January, also returns and is named alongside Hardy on the bench.
The Sharks’ international strength runs from head to tail with an entire Springboks front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Thomas du Toit.
The mighty Eben Etzebeth starts in the second row, with Springboks captain Siya Kolisi packing down in the back row behind him.
Fellow internationals Jaden Hendrikse and Curwin Bosch are the half-backs, while Bok centre Lukhanyo Am partners Rohan Janse van Rensburg in midfield.
World Cup winner Makazole Mapimpi is also back at left wing to take the Springboks representation into double figures.
But they have not always been the sum of their valuable parts this season and currently stand seventh in the table after an inconsistent run of results.
“It’s a huge challenge, but we have talked about that this week and the way we need to approach this game and I can say we are looking forward to it,” adds Peel.
In their last match, at the start of the month, the Scarlets encapsulated much of their season.
They showed skills, thrills, scored tries and even managed to collect two bonus points, but they still lost the game – 49-42 against Munster in Cork.
They did come back from 35-7 down, rather like Tyson Fury getting off the canvass in his first fight against Deontay Wilder, but there was to be no knockout punch or even a win on points.
That was the Scarlets’ first defeat of 2023, breaking a six-game winning streak that had revived their season.
After the Sharks, Peel’s side have a European Challenge Cup date at home to Brive in the last 16 of the tournament, before resuming URC duties away at Glasgow and the Dragons to complete their season.
It means Saturday’s home game against the Sharks will be the last chance for Scarlets fans to see their team in league business before September.
Centre Williams made an appearance off the bench in that defeat to Munster and his problematic calf injury has withstood more intensive training, says Peel.
“Johnny Williams getting through that game in Munster was huge for us and huge for him because he has been a long time out and he performed really well.”
S4C: Saturday – 4.45pm: Clwb Rygbi – Scarlets v Sharks
Live coverage from Parc y Scarlets of the BKT United Rugby Championship match between the Scarlets and Cell C Sharks.
English commentary available.