Wales hooker Ken Owens is bracing himself for a stern test as he returns to club rugby with Scarlets for the first time since the end of the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations.
The Scarlets club captain started four of Wales’ five Championship games, coming on as a substitute against Italy, as his side ended up finishing second in the standings.
Scarlets face French outfit La Rochelle in the Champions Cup on Friday night as they look to become the first Welsh side to reach the semi-finals since Cardiff Blues in 2011.
Owens said: “It’s definitely up there with the biggest games I’ve played for the Scarlets.
“I was involved in our Heineken Cup run in 2006/07, but it’s been a long time getting back to this stage.”
Owens last took to the field in front of more than 74,000 fans at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, as Wales edged out France 14-13.
A Liam Williams try and three Leigh Halfpenny penalties were enough to give the Welsh victory.
This weekend, the Scarlets are expected to play in front of 15,000, a sell-out crowd at Parc y Scarlets.
Owens said: “We are looking forward to the challenge on Friday night. Hopefully we can make it a special night.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and it’s phenomenal for the region to have knockout rugby back in west Wales.
“I think that shows in the turnout here for the Toulon game and now this game – Parc y Scarlets is going to be bouncing.”
Scarlets players dominated the Wales starting XV throughout the NatWest 6 Nations and the bulk of that group will be in action against La Rochelle.
Owens said: “We have been a victim of our own success with the amount of boys we lose to international rugby.
“The boys have seen if they work hard they will get an opportunity and that has kept the competitiveness within the squad.”