Ex-Ospreys' big chance to make their mark
HAVING made the short hop across the Loughor Bridge over the summer, two former Ospreys will be aiming to make giant strides at the home of their former rivals in the coming weeks.
It has been a tough couple of years for both Gareth Owen and Kristian Phillips on the regional stage.
Owen's professional career was hanging in the balance after he suffered a serious knee injury before the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Major reconstructive surgery followed and it has taken the best part of 14 months — during which time he was released by the Ospreys and snapped up by the Scarlets — for Owens to make a return to the rugby field.
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The 23-year-old made his regional comeback as a second-half replacement in the win over Edinburgh last weekend, producing a late break to set up Rhys Priestland's match-winning penalty.
As for former Liberty team-mate Phillips, the absence of George North and Liam Williams with Wales this autumn is set to hand him his chance to impress with his new side.
Both are likely to be involved in Saturday's Pro12 clash with Italian strugglers Zebre at Parc y Scarlets.
And both will be keen to showcase the kind of talent that saw them earmarked for big things in the early part of their careers.
For Owen, in particular, there is a feeling he is starting his rugby journey all over again.
But at least in Scarlets backs coach Mark Jones he has someone who knows all too well the emotional rollercoaster involved in being a long-term visitor to the treatment room.
"It was great to see Gareth back last weekend and I know how hard he has worked," said Jones, who himself underwent two major knee operations during his playing career.
"He has been up and down emotionally with the injury, then leaving the Ospreys and coming to us and having to bed in here.
"He has had a tough time of it, but I have been impressed with his contribution on and off the field.
"I thought he looked good when he came on in Edinburgh and hopefully it will be the first of a number of games for him now."
The versatile Maesteg product can offer options at fly-half and full-back, but it is at inside centre where the Scarlets see his immediate future.
"If he can keep fit and healthy and is playing well there is no reason why he can't get into the mix with the other centres here," added Jones.
"We have got lots of centre options, but Scott Williams is probably our only out and out 12."
As for 22-year-old Phillips, he has made just one competitive appearance for the Scarlets — as a replacement in Treviso — since signing a two-year deal in the summer.
Blessed with searing pace and a eye for the whitewash, he has been a prolific try-scorer at semi-professional level and on the sevens circuit. But doubts over his defensive qualities have meant the former Wales Under-20s star hasn't yet made a regular regional berth his own.
"We didn't sign Kristian to be a semi-pro player, we wanted him to push for a regional spot, and these next few weeks will be his opportunity to try and impress the coaches and put some consistent performances in," added Jones.
"There is potential with the ball in hand, but there are areas, like all players, he needs to work on and we are working hard as a coaching group to highlight those areas and he has been working hard on them."
The Scarlets have lost virtually a full back division to Wales's training camp in Spala.
But with centre Adam Warren making a try-scoring return from injury for Llandovery last weekend and centre Gareth Maule and wing Andy Fenby expected to be fit after missing the trip to Scotland, head coach Simon Easterby does have plenty of options at his disposal.
"Yes, we have lost some numbers, but I am quite comfortable with the boys coming in," added Jones. "They see this period as their opportunity and are looking to make an impact and fight for a spot ahead of the next European round in December."