Scarlets set for Stradey farewell
October 23, 2008
Stephen Jones describes the Llanelli ground as a "special place" © Getty Images
The Scarlets will bid farewell to Stradey Park tomorrow night, with Wales star Stephen Jones admitting: "It is a special place.''
Llanelli's revered rugby arena was the venue for famous Scarlets victories over New Zealand in 1972 and Australia in 1984 and 1992. But the EDF Energy Cup clash against Bristol is the final game before Jones and company move to a new stadium, Parc y Scarlets. The Scarlets fly-half said: "The ground is not like any other as far as I am concerned. It has such a spirit when it's packed, with supporters singing at the tops of their voices. It is a special place.
"Some of the games that stick in my mind are the big European nights. Playing teams like Leicester at home - an English side dominating the rugby scene and one of the best in the world - and then beating them, with the crowd in great voice and us playing our best rugby.
"Those games at home are the ones when I am absolutely in my element, and it does inspire you. The game against Bristol is going to be huge. It is an important match but equally a very special occasion, and it will be a fantastic evening for everyone to be involved in.''
A Scarlets win would edge them closer towards a semi-final appearance, while Bristol will be eliminated if they lose.
Bristol boss Richard Hill hands a first start of the season to fit-again prop Darren Crompton and Australian recruit Mat Turner also features following a two-try display against Northampton three weeks ago. Hill also appreciates the significance of tomorrow's encounter, adding: "It is always a shame to see a real, old-fashioned ground go.
"There is huge tradition and a lot of history there. You can't get a ticket for love nor money. There will be people on the roofs and on the floodlight pylons. It will be some occasion and we are looking forward to being involved.''
Wasps' semi-final hopes will end tomorrow if they fail to avoid a seventh defeat from nine starts in all competitions this season. The Londoners head to Newcastle, still hurting from a 41-11 Heineken Cup mauling against Leinster in Dublin last Saturday.
Wasps rugby director Ian McGeechan has handed Mark Van Gisbergen the number 15 shirt, hoping he can solve what has become a problem position for the Guinness Premiership champions, especially under the high ball. That weakness was horribly exposed by Leinster, whose ruthless second-half display saw them score 26 unanswered points.
Newcastle though, expect a fired up Wasps side to appear at Kingston Park. Falcons assistant coach Alan Tait said: "I know Ian McGeechan and Shaun Edwards very well from both playing and coaching days. I know their characters and they will be putting massive responsibility on their players this Friday after the start they have had to the season.
"They will want to build momentum, get the club back on the rails after a poor start to the season and to come into this game with a strong team. Both sets of players will be fired up. Our attitude in training this week has been absolutely spot on with a lot of good clinical work, so it will be fire meeting fire I would expect.''
England flanker Tom Rees captains Wasps in the absence of a rested Raphael Ibanez, while scrum-half Eoin Reddan and lock Simon Shaw also take a breather, with centre Riki Flutey sidelined due to illness.
Sale Sharks and Bath, who both suffered opening weekend EDF defeats, meet at Edgeley Park tomorrow, with the losers facing an early exit. Bath field rugby league signing Shontayne Hape in midfield, while Sale restore fly-half Charlie Hodgson to starting duties after he was on the bench for last Sunday's Heineken Cup defeat against Munster.
© PA Sport