Scarlets welcome George North back for Exeter return
THE Scarlets will look to open their Heineken Cup account at Exeter today (3.40pm) boosted by the return from injury of Wales wing George North.
The 20-year-old powerhouse sat out last weekend's 22-16 defeat to the Chiefs at Parc y Scarlets with the hip injury he picked up against Samoa in Wales's autumn Test campaign.
North's penetrative running will be a welcome addition to a Scarlets side desperately searching for their first win of what has been a bitterly disappointing European campaign.
The North Walian has been in prime try-scoring form this season, crossing for seven tries in eight matches for the region, including a brace in his last outing for the Scarlets in Edinburgh.
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His return also allows Liam Williams to revert to his favoured full-back spot — one of eight changes to the Scarlets starting line-up.
As expected Aled Thomas replaces Rhys Priestland, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last weekend, at fly-half, while Gareth Maule comes in on the wing in place of Andy Fenby.
Head coach Simon Easterby has also rung the changes up front, some enforced and some with an eye on a demanding schedule of away fixtures in the Pro12 over the festive season.
With props Phil John and Jacobie Adriaanse nursing minor shoulder injuries, Llanelli RFC prop Shaun Hopkins is handed his first Heineken Cup start alongside Ken Owens, who comes in for fellow Wales international Matthew Rees at hooker.
Tongan Sione Timani is preferred at lock, with South African George Earle moving to blindside flanker to compensate for the loss of Aaron Shingler (groin), who joins fellow Wales internationals Rob McCusker (ankle) and Josh Turnbull (knee) on the casualty list.
Looking forward to their first competitive tie at Sandy Park, Easterby said: "We're obviously frustrated and disappointed with our three results in the Heineken Cup — we've certainly haven't been outplayed in any of our games, we just haven't maintained the intensity and execution needed throughout 80 minutes.
"The opportunity now rests with us to turn that around and with a big result this weekend we go back into the league with confidence."
Exeter coach Rob Baxter has, like Easterby, also reshuffled his side, with former Dragons back Phil Dollman and Wallaby forward Dean Mumm among those coming in for the Sandy Park tie.
"We've made a few changes again this weekend because we're just about halfway through a Premiership season that we want to keep playing well in," said Baxter.
"There are quite a few games down the line that we want to go into fresh, but we also want to keep improving. I don't think you necessarily do that by just wheeling out the same guys every week. Sometimes that's the right thing to do but it's important to keep the squad involved and keep energy levels high on the pitch."
Exeter: P. Dollman; J. Nowell, S. Naqelevuki, I. Whitten, G. Camacho; G. Steenson, H. Thomas; B. Sturgess, S. Alcott, H. Tui, A. Muldowney, J. Hanks, D. Mumm, T. Johnson, J. Scaysbrook (capt). Reps: N. Clark, B. Moon, C. Rimmer, D. Welch, B. White, K. Barrett, I. Mieres, L. Arscott
Scarlets: Liam Williams; G. North, J. Davies (capt), S. Williams, G. Maule; A. Thomas, A. Davies, S. Hopkins, K. Owens, S. Lee, S. Timani, R. Kelly, G. Earle, K. Murphy, J. Edwards. Reps: M. Rees, R. Jones, D. Manu, J. Synman, T. Vallejos, T. Knoyle, D. Newton, K. Phillips.