Ospreys vs Scarlets: Allen Clarke hails side's mental strength ahead of PRO14 Champions Cup play-off
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 17/05/19 4:41pm
Allen Clarke hopes Ospreys' mental strength will come to the fore again as they bid to secure a place in the 2019/20 Champions Cup when they face the Scarlets in Saturday's European play-off.
Off-the-field issues have overshadowed the Swansea-based side's season at times, including surviving as an individual entity after a proposed merger with play-off opponents the Scarlets was scrapped in March.
Both sides now stand just 80 minutes from securing a place in next season's flagship European tournament and Ospreys head coach Clarke is impressed with the fortitude his side have shown in the face of adversity to get to this point.
"It says a great deal about this group, about their character, mental strength and their ability, that we have put ourselves in this position when nobody outside of our environment would have backed us back in March," said Clarke.
"They deserve immense credit, but there is a realisation within the squad and management that we have another game to go with the outcome resting on the 80 minutes on Saturday.
"It's a one-off game and the prize is huge. Our games with the Scarlets in recent seasons have been tight, one score contests, and you would expect this to be similar."
The match at the Liberty Stadium could be Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones' final appearance for the Ospreys as he has yet to decide on his future beyond this season.
The hosts have suffered the late withdrawal of James King due to a calf problem, which sees Dan Lydiate start at No 8.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets have made four changes to the side which suffered a 34-32 defeat to the Dragons in the final round of the Guinness PRO14 regular season.
Injuries to props Rob Evans and Wyn Jones sees Phil Price start, although Jones does feature on the bench. Samson Lee is ruled out because of concussion so Werner Kruger steps into the front row as well.
However, there is a welcome return for Wales international second row Jake Ball after recovering from an injured foot. In the back row, Blade Thomson makes his first start since November and Josh Macleod switches to blindside flanker, with Will Boyde starting at openside.
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has stressed the importance of this match on his players and is well-aware of how big it is for both clubs.
"We have a proud history in the top echelon of European rugby and clearly that is where the club would like to be again," said Pivac.
"We have prepared well and we have all talked about the importance of the game.
"Ordinarily, the Ospreys is one of the big fixtures of the season so to have this added game, there is a lot of motivation for both sides."
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 George North, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Aled Davies; 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Scott Baldwin, 3 Tom Botha, 4 Adam Beard, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 6 Olly Cracknell, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Dan Lydiate
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Luke Price, 23 Hanno Dirksen
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Phil Price, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Werner Kruger, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Steve Cummins, 6 Josh Macleod, 7 Will Boyde, 8 Blade Thomson
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Paul Asquith