Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies hailed 'massive' for Wales
SCARLETS centre Jonathan Davies has been hailed as a "massive" player for Wales as he makes a welcome return from injury for Saturday's Millennium Stadium showdown against the All Blacks.
Davies has missed Wales's opening two autumn defeats against Argentina and Samoa because of the groin problem he picked up in the Scarlets' Heineken Cup defeat in Clermont at the start of October.
However, after coming through a fitness test this week the 24-year-old comes straight back into a side desperate to atone for two woeful displays that have led to the Grand Slam winners dropping to eighth place in the IRB world rankings.
Wales have missed Davies's dynamic midfield presence during the autumn series, managing just one line break in two morale-sapping losses.
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And with the dark shadow of the world's leading rugby nation looming large over Warren Gatland's side, Davies's return has been heralded as a much-needed shot in the arm.
"Jonathan is key to our defensive system and he is a massive player for us," said defence coach Shaun Edwards.
"You always want your most experienced players available when you are playing against the All Blacks."
As well as Davies, hooker Matthew Rees has overcome his calf problem to start at hooker with regional rival Ken Owens, one of the few to make an impression against the Samoans last weekend, again named on the bench.
Rhys Priestland and George North make up the rest of the Scarlets contingent in the starting XV with Tavis Knoyle, Aaron Shingler and Scott Williams among the replacements.
Rob McCusker misses out with a foot injury that could see him miss the Heineken Cup games with Exeter.
While all eyes will be on Cardiff this weekend, the Scarlets return to RaboDirect Pro12 action on Sunday (5.15pm) when they take on Munster at Cork's Musgrave Park.
The West Walians will be aware they haven't beaten the Irish province since the 2007 Heineken Cup quarter-final at Stradey Park.
And head coach Simon Easterby has demanded improvements in the wake of a mixed opening two rounds of the LV= Cup.
"These last two weeks have served a purpose for us," admitted Easterby, in the wake of his side's hard-earned 22-16 victory over the Blues on Saturday.
"The first 50 minutes against Worcester was excellent and the second half against the Blues was good, but it was nowhere near where we want it to be and we are going to have to be a lot, lot better against Munster.
"The pleasing thing is that we came out of it with the right result." The Scarlets could again have full-back Liam Williams available.
Williams was released from the national squad last week and turned in a man-of-the-match display against the Blues.
"Obviously, I would love to be involved against the All Blacks and wear that Welsh jersey with pride," he said. "But if not selected I will hopefully come back and look forward to a trip to Cork with the Scarlets."
The Scarlets will continue to assess injuries to wing Kristian Phillips (groin), centre Gareth Owen (knee) and No. 8 Kieran Murphy — who all came off against the Blues.
Wing Morgan Stoddart is expected to return after being rested for the last two matches.