Simon Easterby praises Scarlets tyros Owen Williams and Aled Davies
SIMON Easterby has backed young half-backs Owen Williams and Aled Davies to hold on to their places in the Scarlets' side as the race for the RaboDirect Pro12 play-offs intensifies.
Fly-half Williams and scrum-half Davies both excelled during last Friday's 25-15 win over Connacht, with Williams kicking 20 points to claim the man-of-the-match award.
The 20-year-old also impressed with his passing and adventurous running, while his half-back partner of the same age, Davies, sparked a number of Scarlets attacks with his sniping breaks around the ruck.
The challenge for the two players is now to keep their starting roles for Saturday's home encounter against Munster.
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That could be a pivotal clash in the battle for a play-off spot, with only one point separating the fifth-placed Scarlets and Munster in sixth.
Williams will be under pressure from Aled Thomas for a berth at 10, while Davies will have the likes of Gareth Davies and Tavis Knoyle breathing down his neck to play at scrum-half.
But after the pair's assured display against Connacht, Scarlets head coach Easterby has praised the impact Williams and Davies have made.
"They've both taken their opportunities and are playing with confidence. They showed a fair bit of maturity," he said.
"Owen's been around in the system for a couple of years but has had limited opportunities.
"He's played well for Llanelli and he's taken that form into the LV= Cup. You couldn't have asked any more of him and his young half-back partner Aled Davies against Connacht.
"They were both good and they've taken their opportunities to create some competition for places at 9 and 10.
"That pushes people to perform and hopefully that will push us to keep getting results."
The starting spots for Williams and Davies against Connacht were indicative of Easterby's faith in the Scarlets' younger players following their LV= Cup fixtures.
Having named a relatively experimental side to beat Leicester 40-19 in the Anglo-Welsh competition the previous weekend, Easterby wanted to ensure a degree of continuity in the Pro12.
That decision paid off with a straightforward victory over Connacht (see report on page 63), and the former Ireland back-rower was pleased with the way in which his players took their chances.
"We made some calls in selection, to give the guys who'd played in the LV= Cup another opportunity. On the whole, they took those," said Easterby.
"We also brought in a few others who'd been given a bit of downtime, so it was good for them to get some game-time.
"There will be a healthy bit of competition in terms of selection this week, and that's exactly what we want.
"We've been lucky with injuries — we've not got any new serious concerns. Kristian Phillips took a bump to the shoulder but it doesn't look too bad.
"We're building a bit of momentum now, and we have to keep that going against Munster."