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Scarlets in Danger of Sharks’ Bite Even Though Opponents Have Few Teeth 

By Graham Thomas

It doesn’t need a long, hard stare at the United Rugby Championship table to realise it has not been a vintage season for the Scarlets.

The most recent Welsh winners of the tournament seven years ago have won just three matches and stand 14th in the 16-team table.

On Friday night, the Scarlets are at home to the Sharks, who are also having a season to forget and have won the same meagre number as their hosts.

DragonBet make the Scarlets 15/8 outsiders to win, with the Sharks priced as 4/9 favourites even though the visitors have not won away from home in the competition this season.

The extent of the Scarlets’ weakness this season can be judged by the ease with which opposition teams seem to score points against Dwayne Peel’s men.

If the Scarlets concede 23 points on Friday they will have a points difference of more than -300 and their points conceded tally would be the first in the URC to go past the 500 mark.

That might not be so damaging if they were scoring freely – in their best traditions. But the Scarlets are also the lowest points scorers in the table with just 202 points scored in their 14 matches.

They lost 43-18 at Edinburgh last weekend and have won just once in their last 11 matches.

Peel has put a lot of faith in young players and admits the strategy is not one that will turn the tide any time soon.

The defeats could continue in the short-term and he says: “Like anything, you want it to happen tomorrow and it doesn’t. It needs a bit of patience. 

“We have a young group and it needs time and it needs understanding of where we want to get to and that is not an overnight process.

“Potentially, sometimes we need to take some hurt in achieving that and that is tough to manage because the expectation of this club is that we are competitive and we want to be right at the top. That will come.”

The Dragons have also only won three URC matches and are one point and one place beneath the Scarlets due to one fewer bonus point collected.

They are also on a poor run with just one victory in their last seven games, but will bid to turn that around at home to Connacht on Saturday evening.

DragonBet make the Dragons 3/1 outsiders to beat the Irish province with Connacht favourites at 1/4.

Connacht are currently ninth in the table – just outside the play-off places – so should not be short of motivation since a bonus-point win could lift them as high as fifth if other results go in their favour.

But the Dragons’ home form across all competitions has not been too bad and in their last six matches at Rodney Parade, they have actually won four of them – against the Ospreys, Oyannax, the Scarlets and Zebre.

Dragons head coach Dai Flanagan says: “We care a lot for the game when we are at Rodney Parade and we can’t wait to get back out there.

“It’s been tough on the road this year. We haven’t been great. But we have been good at home, we are four from six, and we want to go five from seven and give our fans something to cheer about.”

The Ospreys and Cardiff both play on Saturday afternoon, with different targets in mind.

The Ospreys remain in South Africa where they hope to strengthen their position in the top eight by backing up their superb victory in Cape Town against the Stormers last week, by beating the Bulls in Pretoria.

The Bulls, though, have been stronger than the Stormers this season and currently stand fourth in the URC table.

DragonBet make the Ospreys big outsiders to win at 11/1, with the Bulls firm favourites at 1/18.

For Cardiff – who are at home to Edinburgh – the task is to flick the switch and transform narrow defeats into narrow victories.

Their last three games have all ended in defeat – to Glasgow, Munster and Ulster. But their losing margins were all less than one score, as they came up four points short against Glasgow, five shy against Munster, and only two points adrift in last weekend’s controversial defeat in Belfast.

Cardiff’s points difference across 14 URC games is only -5, yet they have won just three times and therefore they sit 12th in the table, 14 points adrift of the top eight.

Cardiff have probably earned more pats on the back for their performances than any other Welsh region, but there are no bonus points for style.

Matt Sherratt’s men have not won in four matches, while Edinburgh are tucked just inside the top eight and have won two of their last three in all competitions.

DragonBet have Cardiff as outsiders at the Arms Park at 5/4, with Edinburgh favourites at 4/6.

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