Simon Easterby: Scarlets will be wary of Leinster despite missing Lions
SIMON Easterby has warned his Scarlets side that Leinster will pose a formidable challenge in tonight's RaboDirect Pro12 opener (7.05pm), despite the absence of the Irish province's Lions stars.
Reigning champions Leinster will be without five players who were a part of the British & Irish Lions' victorious tour of Australia this summer, while the Scarlets will be missing Jonathan Davies.
It was a similar scenario on the first weekend of last season, when Simon Easterby's men crushed a depleted Leinster side 45-20 in Llanelli.
But Leinster have still been able to name a strong team for this evening's clash at Parc y Scarlets, replete with a host of internationals such as Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald and Devin Toner.
The Scarlets have also been able to call upon a number of Test players, most notably Rhys Priestland (left).
The Wales fly-half is making his first start for the Llanelli region since injuring his Achilles last December, having played 40 minutes of last weekend's friendly defeat to Gloucester. Priestland's return will be a boost for the Scarlets and, although Easterby admits there could be worse occasions to face Leinster, he refuses to underestimate the former Heineken Cup winners.
"It's not a bad time to play Leinster," he said.
"They're a pretty good side. We played them during the Six Nations last year and came away with our tails between our legs (losing 32-5).
"We're really positive at this stage. Hopefully we can have a decent showing and get a good crowd."
Other notable starters for the Scarlets include Steven Shingler, who rejoined the region from London Irish this summer and will play at inside centre.
Welsh internationals Liam Williams and Scott Williams start on the wing and at inside centre, while Ken Owens, Aaron Shingler, Josh Turnbull and captain Rob McCusker are the capped players in the pack.
"Everyone's in positive mood before the season starts — no-one's lost a game yet," Easterby added.
"Everyone feels good and optimistic about their potential this season. I'm no different.
"The key for us is to back up and better what we did last year."