Scarlets 'won't rest on laurels' against Zebre
THE Scarlets fly out to Italy tomorrow determined to translate their sparkling Heineken Cup form onto the Pro12 stage.
The Llanelli-based region have defied all pre-tournament predictions to top their pool after the opening two rounds thanks to a stunning victory in Harlequins and last weekend's thrilling 26-26 draw with French giants Racing Metro.
On Friday, they meet Italian side Zebre in Parma (6.30pm UK time) and while the Scarlets will be viewed as strong favourites to emerge with the spoils, backs coach Mark Jones insists the players are determined not to let standards drop.
"We certainly won't be taking Zebre lightly," said Jones.
"We have a lot of work to do in the Rabo and the players have highlighted themselves that they need to bring the same level of intensity and execution in the Rabo that they have been bringing to the Heineken.
"We haven't had the best of starts in the league — we have seen the best and worst of us in the opening five rounds — but our execution and accuracy in the last two weeks has been really good, hopefully it will be same against Zebre on Friday night."
The Scarlets will again be without injured joint captain Rob McCusker and hooker Ken Owens, while wing Jordan Williams is also ruled out with a shoulder sprain.
On the plus side, wing Kristian Phillips and full-back Gareth Owen are fit to return to the side, while head coach Simon Easterby will also have the majority of his international contingent available before they join up with Warren Gatland's Wales camp prior to the November Test series.
Seven Scarlets were named in Gatland's 35-man squad yesterday — British Lion Jonathan Davies, full-back Liam Williams, centre Scott Williams, fly-half Rhys Priestland, hookers Owens and Emyr Phillips and uncapped scrum-half Rhodri Williams, who has been rewarded for his impressive form in Europe.
"I am really pleased for Rhods, he had a good stint with us a couple of seasons ago and did really well," added Jones.
"We have got numerous good scrum-halves here and had good scrum-halves here who were keeping him out of the squad and I think it was the right decision last year to let him go and play semi-pro level to honour his under-20 commitments.
"I think you are seeing that maturity now in his performances at our level.
"He understands how to run a game better having had lots of games for Llandovery and we were always keen for Rhodri to come in and start competing for that number nine jersey this season.
"It just shows if you have a run of games and play well national selectors are not afraid to pick you."
There is no place, though, for prop Samson Lee or back-rower Aaron Shingler, who was outstanding in the win at The Stoop.
As for Phillips, capped for the first time on this summer's tour of Japan, he has been given a chance to push Scarlets hooking rival Owens and Lion Richard Hibbard for a place in the match-day squad.
"I am no different to anyone else, once you have a taste it is dangerous because you want to be involved all the time," said the 26-year-old.