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Scarlets boss Wayne Pivac expects 'massive challenge' against Leinster

Leinster coach Leo Cullen during the media day ahead of the 2018 Champions Cup Final at University College Dublin.
Andrew Baldock

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen knows that his team will have to be at the top of their game again if they are to deny Scarlets in today's Guinness PRO14 final battle and complete an unprecedented PRO14 and Champions Cup double.

The Welsh side, PRO12 champions last season, head to Dublin for a quick return appointment with the European champions Leinster.

Scarlets were defeated 38-16 by Leinster in a European Champions Cup semi-final five weeks ago, before the Irish heavyweights went on to lift the trophy by beating Racing 92 earlier this month.

Fly-half Johnny Sexton has recovered from a groin injury to spearhead Leinster's title assault, but a knee injury sidelines centre Robbie Henshaw, with captain Isa Nacewa lining up in midfield for his final appearance before retirement.

Leinster may be flying high but coach Cullen is urging caution.

“You can see all the qualities Scarlets have – they're very dangerous in terms of when opportunities come along and they're very clinical at taking them,'' Cullen told the Guinness PRO14 website yesterday.

“Their skillset is good and they execute opportunities. They go hard at the breakdown in particular, so they look very strong once again.

“The first 10 to 15 minutes is huge in these finals, or semi-finals for that matter.

“You have to make sure you can manage the start of the games well so you're not trying to play catch-up – Scarlets are very good at that.

“They were incredibly clinical in last year's final against Munster and they like to come out of the blocks very quickly.”

Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac meanwhile has acknowledged the degree of difficulty his team face in today's Guinness PRO14 final.

The Welsh side, PRO12 champions last season, head to Dublin for a quick return appointment with European champions Leinster.

Scarlets were defeated 38-16 by Leinster in a European Champions Cup semi-final five weeks ago, before the Irish heavyweights went on to lift the trophy by beating Racing 92 earlier this month.

"They are a very good side," Pivac said. "We only have to look back to our semi-final where we were completely outplayed.

"They have gone on to win the big prize and be crowned European champions, and deservedly so.

"To back that up against a good Munster team (in last Saturday's PRO14 semi-final) is not an easy task a week later after celebrations and euphoria of winning it, and was to me a testament to how strong that squad is.

"They will be better this weekend with some guys freshened up.

"We are expecting a massive game. It's a massive challenge for us, but I think it's a great game - last year's PRO12 champions up against this year's European champions.

"If you want to win it, you want to do so against the best."

Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes makes his 100th Scarlets appearance, with full-back Leigh Halfpenny returning to action after missing last week's semi-final victory over Glasgow due to a hamstring injury.

Elsewhere, Johnny McNicholl moves to the wing and Tadhg Beirne lines up at number eight instead of an injured John Barclay, with Lewis Rawlins handed a second-row start alongside Steve Cummins.

Beirne, who will tour Australia with Ireland this summer, makes his final Scarlets appearance before joining Munster next season.

And Pivac added: "He has played second-row, six and eight - he would even play on the wing if you wanted him to. He is a great team man, and is great off the field and works very hard at his game.

"He has been superb, I can't say enough about him."

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