Preview: Pro14, Round Six
DERBY WEEKEND: A cracking round of rugby await, with derby games taking place in Ireland and Wales - while Italy, Scotland and South Africa all host intriguing matches.
The unpredictable nature of the Championship is clear to see with Zebre's win over Ulster highlighting the improved efforts from the Italian clubs while the Cheetahs continue to look like an imposing force on their home turf in Bloemfontein after their win over Ospreys.
Bonus points are up across the board with 32 scored after five rounds compared to 20 at this point last season, while the average number of tries has risen from 4.9 per game to 5.5 ensuring that fans all across the Pro14 are getting plenty of entertainment.
One of the most exciting fixtures in Round 6 appears to be Glasgow Warriors trip to Bloemfontein where they will put their unbeaten record to the test against the South Africans, who have claimed three successive bonus-point wins. The Cheetahs have not won four in a row since 2013 while the Warriors are the only unbeaten team in the tournament, so this promises to be an enthralling affair.
Ospreys are in need of a win to get their season back on track and in Scarlets they face their closest rivals and the defending champions. Scarlets are off to a hot start and this derby duel should bring out the best of both teams who have won three games each in their last six fixtures against each other. The other Welsh derby takes place in the capital where Cardiff Blues face a Dragons team which is showing signs of rejuvenation under Bernard Jackman, but their last win over a fellow Welsh region came against Blues in 2014.
Zebre will visit Myreside to take on Edinburgh hoping to repeat the heroics of Benetton who won there just two weeks ago, however, history is against the visitors who are yet to win three Championship games in a row.
Benetton will also host the Southern Kings and Italy will become the sixth country they have played in during 2017 - Singapore, Australia, Argentina, Wales and Ireland are the others.
At Kingspan Stadium, Connacht go in search of a win to arrest their form but they will come up against an Ulster team eager to bounce back from last weekend's loss and armed with a record of nine wins from their last 10 fixtures against the westerners.
Pick of the Round Leinster v Munster
Aviva Stadium, the location of the 2018 Pro14 Final, will host Leinster v Munster as both teams enter the game sitting second in their respective conferences on 19 points having both won four of their five fixtures. The hosts have won their last four in a row at Aviva while Munster have only a single victory (34-23 v Leinster, 2014) to show from their last 10 visits to the Dublin venue, but those figures will only add to the motivation for the men in red.
Opta Top Performers - Round Five
* Tackles made: 22 Josh Macleod (Scarlets) / Bobby de Wee (Southern Kings)
* Carries: 24 Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)
* Defenders beaten: 10 Steff Evans (Scarlets)
* Offloads: 4 Tom Farrell (Connacht)
* Breaks: 4 Tom James (Cardiff Blues)
* Metres made: 152 Tiernan O'Halloran (Connacht)
* Turnovers won: 3 Carlo Canna (Zebre)
* Lineout steals: 2 Bobby de Wee (Southern Kings)
CONFERENCE A: Cardiff Blues, Cheetahs, Connacht, Glasgow Warriors, Munster, Ospreys, Zebre.
CONFERENCE B: Benetton, Dragons, Edinburgh, Southern Kings, Leinster, Scarlets, Ulster.
We look at all the Round Six matches:
Friday, October 6
CARDIFF BLUES v DRAGONS
(Cardiff Arms Park - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Cardiff Blues only victory in the Pro14 this season was 17-15 over Connacht in Galway in round Four.
The Blues have won their last two fixtures against fellow Welsh regions.
Dragons have won two of their last three matches in the Championship, but both of those were at home, to Connacht and Southern Kings.
Dragons have lost their last 25 away games in the Championship since they won at Treviso in March 2015.
The Men from Gwent have not beaten a fellow Welsh region since they visited the Arms Park and overcame Cardiff on Boxing Day 2014.
Blues have won their last five encounters with Dragons in the Championship, although Dragons did win 25-21 in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup at Rodney Parade in April 2015.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhun Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Tom James, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams (captain), 8 Nick Williams, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 James Down, 20 Josh Turnbull, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Dragons: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Gavin Henson, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 James Benjamin, 7 Ollie Griffiths, 6 James Thomas, 5 Cory Hill (captain), 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Luke Garrett, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Owain Leonard, 22 Angus O'Brien, 23 Will Talbot-Davies.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones, Adam Jones (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
EDINBURGH v ZEBRE
(Myreside Stadium, Edinburgh - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have lost their last three matches in the Pro14 since beating the Dragons in round 2.
The Scotsmen have already lost at home to an Italian side this season having slipped up to Benetton at Myreside on 15 September - they have actually been defeated in three of their last four encounters with Italian teams.
Zebre have won their last two Pro14 matches, at Southern Kings and at home to Ulster, they have never won three in a row in the Championship.
The Italians have won just one of their last seven fixtures with Scottish opponents: 19-14 on their most recent visit to Edinburgh (at Murrayfield) in October 2016.
The last seven meetings between the two sides have been edged by Zebre by four wins to three.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury (captain), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Darryl Marfo.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Anton Bresler, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Robbie Fruean.
Zebre: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Giovanni Licata, 5 George Biagi, 4 David Sisi, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 Leonard Krumow, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Ciaran Gaffney.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi, Manuel Bottino (Italy)
CHEETAHS v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 20.35; 19.35 UK time; 18.35 GMT)
Cheetahs end their four game home stand having won the first three with maximum points, against Zebre, Leinster and Ospreys.
The South Africans have not won four matches in a row since they did so in Super in 2013.
Glasgow Warriors are the only side left in this season's Pro14 with a 100 per cent winning record. They have dropped only two points this campaign, missing out on a try bonus in Connacht in round 1 and at Cardiff in round 3.
The two sides have never met before.
Cheetahs: 15 Sergeal Petersen, 14 Rosco Specman, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Ernst Stapelberg, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Teboho Mohoje, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Nico Lee, 23 Luther Obi.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Geroge Turner, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D'Arcy Rae, 19 Brian Alainu'uese, 20 Rob Harley, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Niko Matawalu.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni, Ben Crouse (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
ULSTER v CONNACHT
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ulster's perfect start to the new Pro14 season was spoiled with their 23-27 reversal to Zebre in Parma on Saturday.
The Ulsterman have not lost at Kingspan Stadium in any tournament since Bordeaux were the visitors in the European Champions Cup on 21 January.
Ulster have been defeated only twice by an Irish province in Belfast since May 2014, and both of those were to Munster.
Connacht have slipped to three straight Pro14 defeats, whilst their only victory in the Championship since April was 32-10 at home to Southern Kings on 9 September.
Connacht have lost their last five encounters with Irish provinces since beating Ulster 30-25 in Galway in October 2016.
Ulster have lost just one of their last ten fixtures with Connacht, at the Sportsground in round 6 last season, whilst Connacht have not triumphed in Belfast since November 1960.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Chris Henry (captain), 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Pete Nelson, 23 Louis Ludik.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Conor Carey, 19 James Cannon, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Eoin Griffin.
Referee: Andy Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon
Saturday, October 7
LEINSTER v MUNSTER
(Aviva Stadium, Dublin - Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT)
Leinster's only defeat in the Pro14 this season was 19-38 away to Cheetahs in round 4.
The Leinstermen have won on their last four visits to Aviva Stadium in all tournaments, since Toulon beat them there in the European Champions Cup in December 2015.
Munster's only defeat so far in the Pro14 also came in round 4, away at Glasgow.
The Munstermen' s only victory in their last ten visits to Aviva Stadium in all tournaments was 34-23 over Leinster in the Championship in October 2014.
Each side won its respective home game when they met last season, whilst Munster's solitary victory on Leinster soil since September 2008 came at Aviva Stadium in round 5, 2014/15.
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Munster: 15 JJ Hanrahan, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Tyler Bleyendaal, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Chridstian Stander, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Robin Copeland, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Alex Wootton.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans, Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
BENETTON v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso - Kick-off: 20.00; 20.00 SA time; 18.00 GMT)
Benetton ‘s two victories so far in the Pro14 have been at Edinburgh in round 3 and at home to Ospreys in round 4.
Benetton have lost two of their last five home games, but both of those were to Irish provinces, Munster and Ulster.
Southern Kings are still without a league point after five rounds of the Pro14.
Southern Kings most recent victory was a 31-30 win over The Bulls in Pretoria in Super in July.
This will be the South African team's first visit to Italy having already visited Singapore, Australia, Argentina, Wales and Ireland in 2017.
The two sides have never met before.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Marco Barbini 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Pieter–Steyn de Wet, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Dries van Schalkwyk, 7 Jurie van Vuuren, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Martin Dreyer, 2 Michael Willemse (captain), 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Tango Balekile, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Entienne Swanepoel, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Khaya Majola, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Oliver Zono, 23 Berton Klaasen.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Rhys Thomas, Jonathan Hardy (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
OSPREYS v SCARLETS
(Liberty Stadium - 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ospreys have slipped to four straight Pro14 defeats since overcoming Zebre 22-13 at Liberty Stadium on the opening weekend.
Ospreys record in their last six encounters at Liberty Stadium in the Championship is won three, lost three, however their only defeat there to a fellow Welsh region in the Championship since October 2010 was to Scarlets in March 2016.
Scarlets only defeat in their last dozen Pro14 fixtures was 20-27 to Ulster in Belfast on 15 September.
Scarlets only defeat to a fellow Welsh region in the Championship since April 2016 was on their most recent visit to Liberty Stadium in December 2016.
The last six meetings between the two sides have been evenly split with three wins apiece. Scarlets have won just twice before at Liberty Stadium, in September 2007 and March 2016.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Cory Allen, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 James Hook, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 James King, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Scott Otten, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Paul James, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Owen Watkin.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny Mcnicholl, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Tadhg Beirne, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Scott Williams.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Joy Neville (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)