Easterby looking forward to return of region's cavalry
SCARLETS head coach Simon Easterby is hopeful of having a near full-strength squad available for the RaboDirect Pro12 opener against Leinster in two weeks' time.
Easterby has delivered a positive injury bulletin, with Wales internationals Scott Williams and Josh Turnbull making their comeback from surgery in the Scarlets' pre-season friendly at London Welsh tomorrow (2) and with Rhys Priestland poised to return next week.
All three have spent the summer recovering from injury, with centre Williams and back-rower Turnbull having gone under the knife to remedy shoulder problems, while Wales No. 10 Priestland has continued to work his way back to full fitness following the Achilles setback he suffered before the play-off semi-final against Ulster in May.
Turnbull will skipper a youthful Scarlets side at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, making his 100th appearance for the region in the process.
Williams is named among the replacements but is expected to feature in the second half.
With Priestland set to have a run-out against Gloucester at Kingsholm on Friday evening and new signing John Barclay pencilled in for a return in the opening weeks of the league campaign, Easterby is encouraged by the health of his squad ahead of the Parc y Scarlets opener against the defending champions.
"I would expect everyone to be available for the Gloucester game except for John Barclay," said Easterby.
"A lot of boys have had an extended break because of their injuries, but I think that will do them good having missed the tours this summer. They will be refreshed."
The Scarlets have played just one match so far in pre-season, a 23-15 defeat to Exeter Chiefs in Llanelli last weekend.
Their preparations have also included a short training camp at RAF St Athan, and a training session this week alongside Bath that saw both packs go head to head in line-out and scrummaging sessions.
Tomorrow's match sees a number of players who featured for Wales Under-20s last season given a run-out, with the likes of full-back Dion Jones, wing Aaron Warren, flankers Sion Bennett and Dan Thomas, prop Gareth Thomas and scrum-half Rhodri Williams named in the squad.
Most of the Scarlets' senior players are rested, although experience is provided by prop Deacon Manu, fly-half Aled Thomas and Turnbull.
"The game against London Welsh is another big opportunity for a number of our players to show their ambition and hunger to progress," added Easterby.
"We took a lot out of our game against a near full-strength Exeter side last week, and with only a fortnight left until we host Leinster the next two weeks are crucial in our preparation.
"These are key games for both the players and coaches to test and fine-tune the hard work done in pre-season."
Among the new faces on display tomorrow are hooker Darran Harris, a summer signing from Pontypridd, and Wales sevens speedster Chris Knight.
Scarlets: D. Jones; K. Evans, N. Reynolds, Adam Warren, Aaron Warren; A. Thomas, A. Davies; S. Hopkins, K. Myhill, D. Manu, J. Ball, R. Kelly, J. Turnbull (capt), C. Price, D. Thomas. Reps: G. Thomas, D. Harris, R. Jones, C. Jones, S. Bennett, L. Rawlins, S. Timani, R. Williams, J. Lewis, S. Williams, D. Morgans, C. Knight.
This season's Pro12 will be RaboDirect's last as title sponsor after the bank opted not to renew its three-year contract beyond May 2014.
RaboDirect succeeded Magners as the main sponsors of the Celtic competition in 2011.
A replacement sponsor for the 2014-15 has not yet been announced.
Meanwhile, former Wales and Scarlets full-back Morgan Stoddart has been appointed backs coach with Principality Premiership side Cross Keys.
Stoddart was forced to retire last season after failing to fully recover from a serious leg injury.