SCOTLAND Under-20 centre Mark Bennett has been rewarded for his try against Munster with a starting place when RaboDirect Pro12 leaders Glasgow face Scarlets in Llanelli tonight.
The 20-year-old came off the bench to score his second try in three appearances this season in the 51-24 win and replaces Sean Lamont, who drops to the bench. It is only Bennett’s third start since he returned to Scotland from France in November.
Head coach Gregor Townsend said: “Mark played really well for Scotland Under-20s and has also impressed for Stirling County. He has been one of the stand-out players in training this week and did well when he came on against Munster, so he’s earned the opportunity to start in such an important game.”
Other changes see Henry Pyrgos replace Niko Matawalu at scrum-half with Tom Ryder coming into the second row alongside Al Kellock in place of Tim Swinson and props Moray Low and Gordon Reid also recalled in place of Jon Welsh and Ryan Grant. Five of the players involved with the Scotland squad during the Six Nations are included on the bench. Dougie Hall, Rob Harley, Duncan Weir, Grant and Lamont are joined by Ed Kalman, Matawalu and Swinson in reserve. Welsh is not included in the 23-man squad.
Townsend added: “Our bench made a big impact against Munster and I’m delighted to have such an experienced bench for this game, which includes five of the players involved in Scotland’s Six Nations squad. Once again there are a number of players unlucky to miss out this week but we have three huge games coming up over the next few weeks and we’ll need everyone to be ready to play.”
The Warriors have won eight of their last nine encounters with the Welsh regions but have not won at Parc y Scarlets since May 2010.
Townsend added: “Training has been really good this week and we had a very competitive day on Monday. Everyone has come back fresh from a week off, so we’re looking for that to benefit us during the run-in. The skill level and commitment of the players has been excellent all season and we’ll need another big performance tonight.
“We played well in the second half against Munster and it was a fantastic result for the club, but our focus is now very much on Scarlets and we’re expecting an extremely tough game.”
Townsend has selected a familiar looking back row with John Barclay, Josh Strauss and Ryan Wilson once again combining. Ruaridh Jackson keeps his place at fly-half, after his man-of-the-match performance against Munster last week. Peter Horne and Bennett start at centre, with Stuart Hogg continuing at full-back. There is a potent threat on the wings with DTH Van der Merwe and Sean Maitland lining up on either flank.
With only three rounds left – and all three of their fixtures at home – the Scarlets are also still firmly in the race for a top four finish and play-off semi-final as they sit on equal points with fourth-placed rivals the Ospreys.
Head Coach Simon Easterby said his side were very conscious of the threat brought by a confident Glasgow side that had put so many points on Munster. He said: “Both teams are going to be determined to come away with points from Friday night’s game. This is going to be a very big test for us and it’s a high pressure game for us all but one we look forward to.
“They showed against Munster in particular how effective they can be; it’s been positive that we’ve had some added time to study them, with the break for European games, and really look at areas we want to attack in their game. They are obviously on form and are playing a decent brand of rugby and scoring plenty of points.”
The Scarlets have won six of their last seven fixtures in all competitions and have won their last four encounters at Parc y Scarlets and are going for a clean sweep over Scottish opponents this season.
Easterby accepted that the Scarlets needed to be at the top of their game tonight, particularly without the ball and ensure they don’t let a buoyant Glasgow side get into their stride. He said: “We’ll have to be effective without the ball and much more secure than we’ve been in the last two matches otherwise Glasgow will punish us. We are very mindful of some key areas of their game when they have the ball.”
Wing Andy Fenby returns to the starting line-up while scrum-half Gareth Davies comes onto the bench. Liam Williams moves from wing to full-back for Gareth Owen (illness) and Ken Owens starts at hooker with Matthew Rees on the bench.
Scarlets: 15 L Williams, 14 G North, 13 J Davies, 12 S Williams, 11 A Fenby, 10 O Williams, 9 A Davies. 1 P John, 2 K Owens, 3 S Lee, 4 G Earle, 5 J Synman, 6 A Shingler, 7 J Edwards, 8 R McCusker (c). Subs: 16 M Rees, 17 R Jones, 18 D Manu, 19 S Timani, 20 J Turnbull, 21 G Davies, 22 A Thomas, 23 G Maule.
Glasgow: 15 S Hogg, 14 S Maitland, 13 M Bennett, 12 P Horne, 11 D van der Merwe, 10 R Jackson, 9 H Pyrgos. 1 G Reid, 2 P MacArthur, 3 M Low, 4 T Ryder, 5 A Kellock (c), 6 J Strauss, 7 J Barclay, 8 R Wilson. Subs: 16 D Hall, 17 R Grant, 18 E Kalman, 19 T Swinson, 20 R Harley, 21 N Matawalu, 22 D Weir, 23 S Lamont