Blackadder wary of the Scarlets’ threat in crunch Champions Cup clash

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Todd Blackadder has underlined the “real challenge” that awaits his team in Friday’s European Champions Cup clash against the Scarlets.

Bath currently top Pool Five in the race for a quarter-final place, but three-time European champions Toulon are level with them and Scarlets lie third, just one point behind.

It is the tightest of this season’s five Champions Cup groups, and Bath know that defeat against a side they beat in west Wales three months ago could destroy their last-eight ambitions.

Bath rugby director Todd Blackadder expects a strong challenge from the Scarlets on Friday  (Joe Giddens/PA)
Bath rugby director Todd Blackadder expects a strong challenge from the Scarlets on Friday (Joe Giddens/PA)

“They are a team that will come firing. They are still in this competition with a lot to play for, so it’s a big game for both teams. They are a quality team, and in no way would we underestimate just what damage they can do with the ball in hand.”

Bath are boosted by the return of international flanker Sam Underhill, who has not played due to concussion symptoms since England’s victory over Australia in November, while wing Matt Banahan also features after recovering from a foot injury.

Leigh Halfpenny and Johnny McNicholl are back for the Scarlets, and centre Paul Asquith has recovered from illness to partner Scott Williams in midfield.

Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said: “We are really looking forward to the occasion. It’s a must-win game for both sides. We both know that. It’s like a knockout game in itself. Competitive people like these sorts of situations, so we are looking forward to it.

“This week has been about trying to get our attacking game going again. We just have to look back to when we played them (Bath) last time. They were more disciplined and more clinical than we were, and played the conditions better than we did.”

Wales international back-row forward Ross Moriarty, meanwhile, makes only his second start of the season when Gloucester continue their European Challenge Cup campaign by tackling Agen in France on Friday.

Moriarty, who has been troubled by a back problem, lines up in a side showing 10 changes from the one beaten by Aviva Premiership opponents Northampton last weekend. And his comeback is also a timely one for Wales, given that back-row trio Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau will miss all, or part, of this season’s NatWest 6 Nations Championship.

Lock Ed Slater captains Gloucester, with only the skipper, Jason Woodward, Henry Trinder, Owen Williams and Jake Polledri retained as Gloucester target a win that would take them above current Pool Three leaders Pau.

“The mindset, as always, will be to go out there and have a really strong start and push on from there,” Gloucester assistant coach Tim Taylor told the club’s official website.

“It’s important we are accurate in what we do, get our processes right and everyone knows their roles and understands what we need to do to get a quick start.”

Edinburgh are also in Challenge Cup action on Friday, when a win or draw against Murrayfield visitors Stade Francais would secure a quarter-final spot one game inside the distance.

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