Champions Cup quarter-final Pivac's 'biggest game' as Scarlets head coach

Wayne Pivac
Wayne Pivac was Fiji head coach between 2004 and 2007
Champions Cup quarter-final: Scarlets v La Rochelle
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli Date: Friday, 30 March Kick-off: 17:30 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales AM, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app.

Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac says the European Champions Cup quarter-final against La Rochelle is his biggest yet with the region.

"It's a huge opportunity for the club, and it's clearly the biggest game since I've been here," he said.

It is the first time Scarlets have reached the last eight of the top European competition since 2006-07.

They have five more Wales players back after resting them against Munster, plus Scotland's John Barclay.

Leigh Halfpenny, Gareth Davies, Rob Evans and captain Ken Owens are all likely to start after missing the Pro14 defeat in Limerick, as is Hadleigh Parkes who has just signed a new contract,.

Hadleigh Parkes attempts to break a tackle
30-year-old Parkes joined Scarlets in December 2014 and has gone on to make 93 appearances and scored 12 tries

Former England wing Tom Varndell could make his European debut for the west Walians after being drafted in on a short-term contract to cover injuries.

New Zealander Pivac, who is a candidate for the Wales coaching job when Warren Gatland departs in 2019, has already steered the region to the Pro12 title in 2017.

"It was a building process, it takes time to end up with the squad and management you've hand-picked," Pivac told BBC Sport Wales.

"In the third year we went well and won the Pro12, now we've built the depth to be able to compete in both competitions.

"Looking at this game, we're 80 minutes away from the top four in Europe, which for this team with the budgets we run off would be an amazing achievement. Then you're 80 minutes away from the big show, so there's a lot to get excited about."

Pivac expecting a 'spectacle'

La Rochelle's New Zealand prop Uini Atonio runs with the ball
Uini Atonio will make his 97th appearance for La Rochelle against Scarlets

Opponents La Rochelle have a strong New Zealand influence with their squad including Tamara Kerr-Barlow, Victor Vito, Jason Eaton and Rene Ranger.

Their French internationals include centre Geoffrey Doumayrou, prop Danny Priso and flanker Kevin Gourdon from the 2018 Six Nations, plus the giant Uini Atonio who has been known to weigh in at over 24 stones.

They are expected to match the Scarlets' expansive style of rugby if conditions permit at Parc y Scarlets.

"They move a lot of ball," said Pivac. "In the stats for our competition they kick the ball the least around 14 times a game, so there's a lot of ball movement from anywhere on the park.

"It should make for a good spectacle, (although) the weather may play a part."

Battle of the packs

Rob Evans of Scarlets runs in to score try
Rob Evans made his first appearance for the Scarlets against Sale Sharks in the LV Cup in 2013

Prop Rob Evans packed down against Uini Atonio in the controversial 2017 France versus Wales game, where he was substituted officially because of a head injury in the closing moments of the 100-minute marathon.

"They're big old boys, there's some weight in that pack but I know what's coming and I'm looking forward to it," said Evans.

"(Atonio) is a heavy man and they're a big pack anyway. But we've played against big packs like Toulon and I don't think there's anything for us to worry about.

"They chuck the ball around like us and they'll play from anywhere, so we've been training for it."

'The momentum is building'

Ken Owens of Scarlets is challenged by Hugo Bonneval of Toulon
Owens returns to captain Scarlets after the Six Nations

Despite being regular visitors to the last eight either side of the millennium, it is the first time Scarlets have reached the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup since their move from Stradey Park.

"It's been here since 2008 and to have no knock-out rugby in Europe and not even a league play-off here, it's quite sad with the quality of players that have been here not to experience that," said experienced hooker and captain Ken Owens.

"But you can feel the momentum building and for me, being involved way back when, it's nice to be back up there, and for the boys who haven't experienced it yet, they'll thrive on this sort of occasion."

The capacity of Parc y Scarlets has been increased to around 15,400 for the match through temporary seating, with tickets selling out minutes after going on sale.

La Rochelle will arrive on the back of a 31-20 win over Bordeaux, but at one point lost four Top14 matches in a row during the Six Nations and have not won away in 2018.

During the group stages of Europe, they won away to Harlequins but lost away to Wasps and Ulster.

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