'I want to go out on a high'
MATTHEW Rees will look to end his nine-year association with the Scarlets by helping guide them into the RaboDirect Pro12 play-offs for the first time.
The Wales and British Lions hooker yesterday confirmed that he will be moving to Cardiff Blues in the summer after agreeing a two-year deal with Phil Davies's side.
While the Scarlets boast a wealth of quality hooking options to cope with Rees's departure — notably, current Wales squad member Ken Owens — the loss of another experienced Test international will be felt following the departures of Stephen Jones and Sean Lamont at the end of last season.
Rees, though, believes the region have the talent in their squad to prosper. And that includes challenging for league honours come May. "There's plenty in our squad and all to play for this season in the league," said the 32-year-old, who joined the Scarlets in 2004 following the demise of the Celtic Warriors.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Wednesday, May 22 2013
"I'll give my all to the Scarlets campaign as we target a play-off place in the Pro12 after such a strong start this season.
"There is a strong team spirit, work ethic and energy at Parc y Scarlets and while there's been some disappointment in recent weeks, it's an experience that will only make the group learn more about itself and make it much stronger as a result.
"There's a number of talented young forwards coming up through our Scarlets ranks now who will take their opportunities and are already progressing well."
Part of Rees's decision to return east is to be closer to his business interests. He owns pubs in the Vale of Glamorgan and Pontyclun.
He added: "Joining the Blues at this stage in my career will, I hope, freshen things up for me as I've still got ambitions to play for Wales.
"Being closer to home will save on travelling time and enables me to be closer to my businesses.
"That's something I'm looking to develop after I retire from playing, but I'd also like to give something back and do some coaching at some point."
Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby paid tribute to Rees's contribution to the Scarlets, saying: "Matthew has contributed a great deal to the region during his years with us.
"He moves on having set a standard which others now aspire to and helped nurture many of up and coming talent forwards in the squad today."
Meanwhile, Llanelli RFC back-rowers Lewis Rawlins and Duane Eager will make their regional debuts in this afternoon's LV= Cup clash against Sale Sharks at the Salford City Stadium (3).
With injuries and international calls hitting hard, Easterby has made 12 changes from last weekend's Heineken Cup defeat to Clermont.
Gareth Maule is handed the captain's armband, Gareth Owen returns from suspension and wears the No. 15 jersey, while prop Rhodri Jones comes in for his first start since early September.
Former Stradey Park favourite Dwayne Peel is at scrum-half in a strong Sale line-up that boasts England international Danny Cipriani and All Black Daniel Braid, whose high-profile signing for the Scarlets four years ago fell through because of injury.
The Scarlets have also announced the retirement of centre Rhodri Gomer-Davies because of a knee injury.
The 30-year-old former Dragon is looking to pursue a career in the media.
SALE: C. Shepherd; R. Miller, J. Leota, S. Tuitupou, C. Amesbury; D. Cipriani, D. Peel; A. Dickinson, M. Jones, T. Buckley, K. Myall, T. Holmes, D. Braid, R. Vernon, D. Seymour (capt). Reps: T. Taylor, R. Harrison, H. Thomas, F. McKenzie, J. Doyle, W. Cliff, J. Davies, C. Ingall.
SCARLETS: G. Owen; K. Phillips, G. Maule (capt), A. Warren, A. Fenby; O. Williams, G. Davies; R. Jones, E. Phillips, D. Manu, J. Ball, J. Snyman, L. Rawlins, K. Murphy, D. Eager. Reps: K. Myhill, R. Evans, P. Edwards, R. Kelly, T. Vallejos, A. Davies, N. Reynolds, D. Ford.