For the first time since opening in 2008, Parc y Scarlets will host a European quarter-final match.
After defeats in their first two pool games, Scarlets won their remaining four to clinch a home quarter-final against a La Rochelle side who’s rise to fame has taken many by surprise.
On a damp and miserable night in Llanelli back in October, the Scarlets were undone by an accurate and well-drilled Bath side. Former Scarlet Rhys Priestland came back to haunt his old side, kicking all of Bath’s 18 points to seemingly put an end to the Scarlets’ hopes of qualifying from the group.
Scarlets had narrowly lost out to Toulon in round one, and the defeat to Todd Blackadder’s men left them staring down the barrel. They knew that winning was the only option if they were going to make the great escape.
In true Scarlet style, with their backs against the wall, they went on to win all of their remaining games in a very entertaining fashion.
Back-to-back bonus point wins against Benetton gave them hope, and this was followed up by a remarkable performance against Bath at the Rec.
They came out on top in a tight tussle against Toulon a week later to complete a memorable turnaround.
Now the West Walians are two games away from a European Cup final, somewhere they’ve never been before. However, it would be dangerous to look past Les Corsaires, a team who, only four years ago, we’re playing in the second division of French rugby (Pro D2).
After finishing ninth in their first two seasons in the Top 14, they unleashed a brand of rugby which took the league by storm, as they finished seven points clear at the top of the table.
Les Maritimes are unlike any other team in French rugby’s top tier: they play an attacking style of rugby which involves passing and running the ball. In recent years, the Top 14 has been won by sides who look to overpower the opposition with a conservative and unattractive way of playing.
Patrice Collazo’s side are like the Scarlets in many ways. Both teams will look to attack from anywhere on the field and have a risk-free mindset to go out and play.
Scarlets lie second in Conference B of the Pro 14, whilst La Rochelle are fifth, 10 points behind current leaders Montpellier.
This is La Rochelle’s first venture into the knock-out rounds of European rugby’s premier competition, whilst the Scarlets last reached this stage in 2007 when they saw off Munster 24-15 at Stradey Park.
The home side will be near to full strength, with the only absentees being the long-term ones in Jonathan Davies, Jake Ball, Johnny McNicholl and Tom Prydie.
La Rochelle will be travelling over with a strong squad, having rested numerous players in their win against Bordeaux-Begles on the weekend. Victor Vito, Levani Botia and Geoffrey Doumayrou are struggling for fitness and could be late calls for coach Collazo.
Tickets for the game sold out soon after going on sale, and with temporary seating being installed to ensure the capacity exceeds 15,000 (EPCR requirement for knock-out games), Llanelli could be in for one of it’s greatest rugby nights.
The winner faces Saracens or Leinster in the semi-final on the weekend of 20/21/22 April.
Date: Friday, 30 March 2018 (17:30)
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)
Scarlets: Halfpenny; Asquith, S Williams, Parkes, S Evans; Patchell, G Davies; R Evans, Owens (capt), Lee, Beirne, Bulbring, Shingler, J Davies, Barclay.
Replacements; Elias, D Evans, Kruger, Rawlins, Boyde, J Macleod, A Davies, D Jones.
La Rochelle: Bouldoire; Rattez, Retiere, Aguillon, Barry; Sinzelle, Bales; Priso, Bourgarit, Atonio, Sazy, Tanguy, Botia, Kieft, Afa Amosa
Replacements: Forbes, Tufele, Boughanmi, Lamboley, Gourdon, Kerr-Barlow, Noble, Boudehent
(Featured Video: Guiness Pro 14)