The Llanelli Scarlets are a Welsh professional rugby union team based in south-west Wales. They play in the Magners League, as well as competing in the EDF Energy Cup and the Heineken Cup.
The Llanelli Scarlets were founded in 2003, as one of the five (now four) teams of the regional rugby era that was introduced by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). The Scarlets are represented by the Llanelli RFC, Carmarthen RFC, Llandovery RFC and Narberth RFC. They play most of their games in Llanelli, at Stradey Park.
In 2003, the WRU controversially elected to reduce the current top tier of Welsh professional rugby from nine clubs into five regions, attempting to mirror the successful formats in Ireland and the Southern Hemisphere countries of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Initially it was planned to have a region playing at Stradey Park, with players coming from Llanelli, Swansea and Neath. This was then modified to have Llanelli and Swansea merging whilst Neath joined with Bridgend. Llanelli were opposed to both plans and requested stand-alone status. Eventually Llanelli (along with Cardiff) were allowed to stand alone as a region. On July 7 2003 the Llanelli Scarlets region were officially launched.
Llanelli Scarlets officially represent the whole of West and North Wales, based mostly around Llanelli although attempts have been made at taking the club to other outposts such as Wrexham. Ownership of the region is held by the owners of Llanelli Rugby Football Club.
Largely drawn from the very successful Llanelli RFC side of the preceding year, the Scarlets carried that success forth into their inaugural season. They reached the last eight of the 2003-04 Heineken Cup and finished the Celtic League season as champions by four points over Ulster. In the Heineken Cup the Scarlets were in pool four along with Northampton Saints, Agen and Border Reivers. The Scarlets won five of their six matches, losing only to French club SU Agen, and finished at the top of their pool. Nonetheless, they were defeated by French club Biarritz Olympique 27-10 in the quarter final.
The following season, however, was less successful. Plagued by injuries and retirements, as well as the transfer of influential fly-half Stephen Jones to Clermont Auvergne, the Scarlets finished a disappointing fifth in the league and were even less successful in the Heineken Cup. The Scarlets won just two of their six pool games, leaving them third in the pool behind Northampton Saints and Toulouse. The salvation of their season came in reaching the final of the Celtic Cup, where they lost 26-17 to Munster.
In the 2005/06 season, the Scarlets again failed to qualify from their Heineken Cup group and finished 6th in the Celtic League. They did however find more success in the newly-restructured Powergen Cup. After finishing at the top of their pool, they defeated Bath by one point in the semi-finals, setting up a dream final for the organisers, who were determined that cross-border competition was the way forward. The Twickenham final was a tragic let-down for the Scarlets, with several international players missing, and they eventually went down 26 points to 10 to London Wasps. In the Heineken Cup, it was a similar story to the previous season, with the Scarlets winning two of their six fixtures, and they finished third in the pool again with Toulouse and London Wasps finishing ahead of them. However their sixth place finish in the Celtic League secured a place in the Heineken Cup tournament for the 2006/07 season as the second best Welsh team in the league. They also re-signed Stephen Jones and full back Barry Davies extended his contract to stay with the Scarlets. The Scarlets' Director of Rugby, Gareth Jenkins, had been appointed as Wales' national team coach, having been with the region since it's inception. Phil Davies, then coach of Leeds Tykes, replaced Jenkins at the Scarlets.
At the first home game of the 2006/07 season, an information sheet was handed out to supporters with details of the clubs financial situation. Currently there is opposition by local residents of plans by the Scarlets to move to a new stadium and sell their current ground for housing development. The information sheet stated that due to delays caused by the opposition and benefactors pulling out of the club it is "extremely unlikely that (Llanelli Scarlets) could survive to the end of the present season unless other financial assistance is found" which would result in "the loss, probably for all time, of professional rugby in West Wales." Local residents believe however that the infrastructure, such as roads and schools, will not cope with 450 new houses being built on the site. On November 28 2006, the regions secured investment from Tim Griffiths, a London-based businessman.
In the 2006/07 Heineken Cup, the Scarlets recorded one of the most famous victories in their brief history as a region, defeating Toulouse 34-41 away despite twice trailing by 21 points. This was an unexpected victory despite the Scarlets having won their first three games on the 2006/07 competition. They later secured their place in the Heineken Cup Quarter Final with a convincing 11-35 win over Irish province Ulster at Ravenhill. The Scarlets went on to become only the fifth team in the history of the competition to win all their pool matches (they would be joined two hours later by Biarritz). The Scarlets beat current holders Munster 24-15 at Stradey Park in the quarter-finals, but were beaten 33-17 in the semis by a strong Leicester side, putting an end to their hopes of making it "third-time-lucky" in Heineken Cup semi-finals.
The Scarlets play most of their home matches at Llanelli's Stradey Park (which is also the home of the Llanelli RFC). However, they have played several games in North Wales, at Wrexham's Racecourse Ground.
The 2006/07 season is planned to be the last season played at Stradey Park, which will subsequently be demolished for the building of apartments. The Scarlets will play every home game of the 2006/07 season at Stradey Park to commemorate the historic ground. The new home of the Llanelli Scarlets and Llanelli RFC is due to be built in Trostre. The new stadium will cost �45million to be constructed and will be a 13,500 venue. It is thought that the new stadium will improve the teams finances.
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