Preview: Pro14, Round Eight
JUST BEFORE THE BREAK: Competition is rife around the Pro14 this season and as Round Eight approaches there are plenty of teams whose ambitions to reach the Championship Final on May 26 in Dublin appear on track.
Glasgow Warriors remain unbeaten in Conference A where Munster and the Cheetahs lead the chasing pack while Scarlets' title defence continues to look in good health as they sit atop Conference B with Leinster and Ulster in close pursuit.
Round Eight will be followed by a two-week break as the November international games take place and clubs in the Pro14 continue to provide the backbone for Test rugby with over 100 players called up between the Italian, Irish, Scottish and Welsh national teams while four Cheetahs players will tour with South Africa.
With the Pro14 continuing to lead the way in Positive Play and with each fixture producing an average of six tries another round of exciting action awaits in Round Eight.
What's at Stake
With the first Irish and Welsh derbies of the season completed every fixture in Round Eight will be a cross-border affair.
Both of the Italian teams face trips to Wales where Benetton face Scarlets and Zebre travel to the capital to take on Cardiff Blues.
Both of the visiting clubs were involved in narrow losses in Round 7 and the resilience they have shown this season means that both Scarlets and Cardiff Blues must be on their guard.
In Ireland, Dragons pay a visit to Cork to face Munster who enters this fixture off the back of two derby losses eager to make amends, while in Galway, Connacht will face a dangerous looking Cheetahs team who arrive having won four games from their last five in the Pro14.
The Cheetahs' compatriots, the Southern Kings, welcome Ulster to the Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth, a ground which is in the heart of Kings country. The venue becomes the 42nd ground to host a Championship game and one where the Kings should feel much more at home.
Ospreys will travel north to face Edinburgh in the Scottish capital where the hosts have used their European Challenge Cup fixtures as a springboard to regain their form in the Pro14 having won their last four games in all competitions. Edinburgh lies just five points away from 3rd place in Conference B and a win here would set them up nicely ahead of their two-game tour to South Africa in Rounds Nine and 10.
Pick of the Round - Glasgow Warriors v Leinster:
Glasgow Warriors appear to be the front-runners for this season's title having won seven games from seven so far.
Should they a produce victory against Leinster this week then they will become only the third team in the Championship's history to win their first eight games of the season.
Leinster come into this fixture having produced five wins from their last five in all competitions - including two derby wins against Munster and Ulster - but Warriors look set to draw another sell-out crowd to Scotstoun where the home faithful will be eyeing up a reverse of their recent loss to Leinster in the Champions Cup.
Opta Top Performers - Round Seven
* Tackles made: 24 - James Benjamin (Dragons) / Cory Hill (Dragons)
* Carries: 21 - Olly Cracknell (Ospreys)
* Defenders beaten: Eight - Johann Meyer (Zebre)
* Offloads: Four - Sam Cross (Ospreys)
* Breaks: Four - Steffan Evans (Scarlets)
* Metres made: 176 - Hallam Amos (Dragons)
* Turnovers won: Three - Gavin Henson (Dragons)
* line-out steals: Three - Reniel Hugo (Scarlets)
Friday, November 3
GLASGOW WARRIORS v LEINSTER
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have made their best start ever to a Pro14 season having won all seven matches so far including the last four with maximum points.
Warriors only defeat at Scotstoun in the Championship since February was to Edinburgh in round 22 last season.
Leinster's only reversal in any competition so far this season was 19-38 to Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in Round Four of the Pro14.
Leinster have won their last five matches against Scottish opponents in all tournaments including two on visits to Scotland.
The last seven meetings between the two sides in all competitions have been evenly split with three wins apiece plus a draw.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Peter Horne, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 D'Arcy Rae, 2 George Turner, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Lewis Wynne, 20 Matt Smith, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Alex Dunbar, 23 Leonardo Sarto.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Conor O'Brien, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Ross Molony (captain), 3 Michael Bent, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Josh Murphy, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Hugo Keenan.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White, Lloyd Linton (both Scotland)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
MUNSTER v DRAGONS
(Irish Independent Park, Cork - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Munster have won just one of their last four matches in all tournaments: 14-7 at home to Racing 92 in Round Two of the European Champions Cup.
Munster's only home defeat in any competition since the start of the 2016/17 season was 21-30 to Scarlets in the Pro14 last February whilst the Munstermen have not been defeated in Cork since Cardiff Blues were the visitors in September 2016.
Dragons two victories in the Pro14 this season were both at Rodney Parade in September - against Connacht and Southern Kings.
The Welshmen have lost their last 27 away games in the Championship since beating Benetton in Treviso in March 2015, whilst they have not been successful on a trip to an Irish province since beating Ulster in November 2014.
Munster have lost just one of their last eight encounters with Dragons: 6-22 at Rodney Parade in December 2015.
Dragons only success on Munster soil came on their very first visit in March 2004, 16-6 at Thomond Park, they have lost on all eleven previous visits to Cork.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Liam O’Connor.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 James Cronin, 18 Brian Scott, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Mark Flanagan, 21 James Hart, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Sam Arnold.
Dragons: 15 Will Talbot-Davies, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 James Sheekey, 7 James Benjamin, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Gerard Ellis, 1 Thomas Davies.
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Luke Garrett, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Scott Andrews, 20 Ben Roach, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Arwel Robson, 23 Pat Howard.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland) John Carvill (Ireland)
SCARLETS v BENETTON
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Scarlets have lost only one of their last fourteen fixtures in the Pro14: 20-27 at Ulster on 15 September.
Scarlets have won their last fourteen Pro14 matches at Parc y Scarlets since Munster beat them there in the opening game of last season.
The Welshmen have not lost to an Italian opponent since Benetton visited Llanelli in May 2013 and won 41-17, Benetton's most recent victory in Wales.
Benetton has a won three, lost four record in the Pro14 this season with their only away win in that sequence being on a trip to Edinburgh in Round Three.
Scarlets have won their last eight encounters with Benetton whilst the Italians have won only once in eight previous visits to Parc y Scarlets in all tournaments.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams (captain), 11 Paul Asquith, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 John Barclay, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Dylan Evans.
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Rhys Fawcett, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Tom Price, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Declan Smith, 22 Rhys Jones, 23 Steff Hughes.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Ignacio Brex, 11 Andrea Bronzini, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Robert Barbieri (captain), 7 Nasi Manu, 6 Whetu Douglas, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Cherif Traore.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Filippo Filippetto, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Sebastian Negri, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Alberto Sgarbi, 23 Luca Sperandio.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Joy Neville (Ireland), Justin Williams (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Saturday, November 4
SOUTHERN KINGS v ULSTER
(Wolfson Stadium, KwazaKhele - Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 UK time; 13.00 GMT)
Wolfson Stadium becomes the 42nd different venue to host a Pro14 encounter.
Southern Kings are still winless after the first seven rounds of the Pro14, with their 'closest' margin of defeat being 16 points against Dragons in Newport in Round Five.
Ulster has slipped to successive defeats in La Rochelle in the European Champions Cup and at home to Leinster in the Pro14.
Ulster's only away victory since March was 21-14 in Treviso on 9 September.
The Ulstermen have already beaten South African opposition this season: 42-19 over Cheetahs in Round One.
The two sides have never met before.
Southern Kings: 15 Yaw Penxe, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Oliver Zono, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Jurie van Vuuren, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 Schalk Ferreira (captain).
Replacements: 16 Tango Balekile, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Lindokuhle Welemu, 20 Dries van Schalkwyk, 21 Rowan Gouws, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Jarryd Sage.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry (captain), 6 Matty Rea, 5 Alan O'Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 John Andrew, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Ben Crouse (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
EDINBURGH v OSPREYS
(Myreside Stadium, Edinburgh - Kick-off: 17.30; 17.30 GMT)
Edinburgh has won their last four matches in all competitions since their 13-21 defeat in Leinster in Round Five of the Pro14.
Edinburgh has lost only one of their last four fixtures at Myreside: 17-20 to Benetton in Round Three.
Ospreys ended a seven-game losing streak in all competitions with their 28-14 victory at home to the Dragons last weekend.
Ospreys have not won away from home since they last visited Myreside on 3 March.
Ospreys have won their last three matches against Edinburgh since the Scotsmen's 20-9 victory at Murrayfield in October 2015.
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 Luke Crosbie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Neil Cochrane, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Fenton, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Magnus Bradbury, 20 Lewis Carmichael, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Glenn Bryce, 23 Chris Dean.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Dafydd Howells, 13 James Hook, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Habberfield, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Paul James (Captain).
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 James King, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Price, 23 Kieron Fonotia
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland), Bob Nevins (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
CARDIFF BLUES v ZEBRE
(Cardiff Arms Park - Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 Italian time; 19.35 GMT)
Cardiff Blues three-game winning run in all tournaments ended with their 17-30 reversal in Llanelli last week The Blues have won their last two matches at the Arms Park, both with try bonus points, against Dragons in the Pro14 and Lyon in the European Challenge Cup.
The Welshmen have not lost to an Italian opponent since a visit to Treviso in February 2016.
Zebre's last four matches in the Pro14 have resulted in two victories and two defeats by a single point.
Zebre has won just once away from home in any competitions since October 2016: 43-17 against Southern Kings in South Africa in Round Four this season.
Zebre has recorded just two victories against Welsh regions since October 2015, both against Dragons in Parma, in May 2016 and April 2017.
Blues have lost only once to Zebre in their last six meetings: 15-26 in Parma in October 2015 whilst Zebre's only success in Cardiff came at the Arms Park in September 2013.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Blaine Scully 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ollie Robinson, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins (captain).
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 George Earle, 20 Sion Bennett, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Ben Jones, 23 Tom James.
Zebre: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Mattia Bellini, 12 Tommaso Castello (capyain), 11 Gabriele Di Giulio, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Giovanni Licata, 5 Valerio Bernabò, 4 Leonard Krumow, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Sami Panico.
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Jacopo Sarto, 20 Renato Giammarioli, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Ciaran Gaffney.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Mike English (Wales)
TMO: Neil Hennessey (Wales)
CONNACHT v CHEETAHS
(Sportsground, Galway - Kick-off: 19.35; 21.35 SA time; 19.35 GMT)
Connacht has won their last three matches in all competitions since their 8-16 loss in Ulster in Round Six of the Pro14.
Connacht's only loss in their last four games at The Sportsground was 15-17 to Cardiff Blues in Round Four.
The Irishmen have already beaten a South African side in Galway this season: 32-10 over Southern Kings on 9 September.
Cheetahs have lost just one of their last five Pro14 matches: 26-29 at home to Glasgow on 6 October.
Cheetahs record against Irish provinces so far is won one at home and lost two away.
The two sides have never met before.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Craig Ronaldson,11 Niyi Adeolokun,10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Eoin McKeon, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 Conor McKeon, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Matt Healy.
Cheetahs: 15 Fred Zeilinga, 14 Luther Obi, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Makazola Mapimpi, 10 Ernst Stapelberg, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Junior Pokomela, 7 Jasper Wiese, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Hugo, Reniel, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (captain), 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Dennis Visser, 20 Rynier Bernardo, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Ali Mgijima, 23 Shaun Venter.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: John Lacey, Kieran Barry (Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)