With Owens set to play an integral part in Wales’ World Cup campaign outside centre Steffan Hughes and former Springboks prop Werner Kruger have been named as vice captains along with Wales squad members James Davies and his brother Jonathan.
The six consecutive seasons at the helm is a record for the Scarlets in the regional era and brings Owens alongside the great Phil Bennett, the Scarlets president, who captained Llanelli RFC between 1973 and 1979. “Ken is an outstanding leader,” said new Scarlets head coach Brad Mooar.
“I heard the other night Alun Wyn Jones refer to him as the heart of any team he is in, such high praise from a legend of the game and something that has been really clear to me from the time I have been involved in this Scarets journey. Ken’s heart beats Scarlets.
“I first met Ken about a year ago. He is held in such high regard, is such a genuine Scarlets person and an outstanding rugby player. Without exception, everybody I have spoken to – players, management, staff, the board – everyone speaks highly of Ken and his leadership abilities.
“He has played for and captained the British and Irish Lions, has been part of the leadership group for Wales. It is an absolute no-brainer that he is the right man to lead this team, club and its people.
“It is a World Cup year so we have got four vice-captains who are superb leaders in their own right, players who lead in different ways and contribute greatly to the group. That allows us to have a leadership group that is seamless throughout the year.
“With Cubby, Werner, Steff and Fox it is an awesome group to help Ken lead us. We had a launch here at Parc y Scarlets and their involvement and engagement has been outstanding.
“It is not just about the boys who are physically here now; Ken, Fox and Cubby’s connection and involvement with me, with the group and with the players, player to player, you can see that is there, as it has been with all the guys who have been involved with Wales.
“They are Scarlets at heart, they live and breathe it, and there is a huge amount of IP that will lead us throughout the season.”
Owens, who won his 67th cap for his country against Ireland last weekend, said: “It is a huge honour to be again named captain of my home region and, as I said when I was first appointed captain, a privilege to follow in the footsteps of some legends of the game who have led the Scarlets in the past.
“It is an exciting season ahead for the Scarlets and we have a strong leadership group to take us forward.”
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Ulster ring the changes for Munster
There are nine changes to the side that travelled to Leicester last Friday. In the back three, Jacob Stockdale and Ethan McIlroy are retained at full-back and left-wing respectively, with Rob Lyttle coming in to start on the right. Will Addison will make his first start this season at outside centre, partnering up with Stuart McCloskey. Michael Lowry and Alby Mathewson will form the starting half-back partnership.
It’s all-change in the front row, with Andrew Warwick and Tom O’Toole getting the nod at loosehead and tighthead prop, and John Andrew named at hooker. Last week’s second row pairing of Alan O’Connor and Iain Henderson has been retained, and Henderson will lead the side. In the back row, Marcus Rea is named to start at openside flanker with Jordi Murphy making the switch to blindside, and David McCann is selected at Number Eight.
Angus Curtis makes a long-awaited return to the Ulster match-day squad for the first time since he sustained a serious knee injury in December 2019, and is named among the replacements. He is joined by David Shanahan and James Hume in providing back line cover. Wallaby lock Sam Carter is also set for his return to action, and he joins Rob Herring, Callum Reid, Marty Moore and Nick Timoney as the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Munster Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 2, Friday 7 May at Thomond Park (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Rob Lyttle, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Michael Lowry, Alby Mathewson;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Jordi Murphy, Marcus Rea, David McCann.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Reid, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, James Hume.
Huge boost for Ulster as Henderson & Addison return
Iain Henderson makes his return to lead the side and will be partnered by Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Andrew Warwick comes in to start at loosehead prop, with Tom O’Toole at tighthead and Rob Herring selected to start at hooker. In the back row, Matty Rea comes in at blindside flanker, with Sean Reidy at openside, and Nick Timoney completing the pack at Number Eight.
Jacob Stockdale makes a positional switch to full-back, and will be joined by Ethan McIlroy and Robert Baloucoune in the back three. Stewart Moore will form the midfield partnership with James Hume, and John Cooney and Billy Burns are named as the starting half-backs.
Will Addison is set to make his return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines as he is named among the Ulster back line replacements alongside David Shanahan and Michael Lowry. John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Greg Jones are the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Connacht Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 1, Friday 23 April at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Will Addison.
Munster confirm Zebo signing
This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.
In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.
Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.
“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”
Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”