Preview: Pro12, Round Eight
Table topping Ulster welcome Edinburgh to Ravenhill in one of three Pro12 games Friday.
Ulster have been victorious in all competitions so far this season, and will no doubt want to maintain that unbeaten record as the Pro12 breaks for the year-end Tests.
In Scotland third placed Glasgow Warriors face a Newport Gwent Dragons team currently residing at the wrong end of the table, and Warriors will be looking for a win to equal their best ever run in the competition.
Elsewhere Munster, who sit just outside the play-off zone, travel to Cardiff to take on a Blues team facing their worst run of defeats since the 2004/5 season.
Munster need a victory if they are to have any chance of re-entering the top four before the year-end break.
The two Italian teams are both in action on Saturday, both away from home; Benetton Treviso traveling to the Sportsground in Galway whilst Zebre make their first appearance at Parc y Scarlets. Second placed Scarlets have only lost two games in this campaign whereas their opponents have yet to record a victory, whilst Benetton Treviso sit two places and three points ahead of their hosts, Connacht in the Pro12 table.
The round wraps up on Sunday at the Liberty Stadium when reigning champions Ospreys take on last year’s play-off finalists Leinster. Just three points separate the two teams in the table, and should other results go their way, victory could see the Welsh Region take over Leinster’s play-off spot in the top four.
We look at all the Round Eight matches!
Friday, November 2:
CARDIFF BLUES v MUNSTER
(Cardiff Arms Park – 19.05)
Cardiff Blues have suffered five straight defeats in all competitions – their worst run since season 2004/05.
Since they returned to the Arms Park at the start of the season the Blues have won just once there: 34-18 over Treviso in the Pro12 on 22 September.
Munster have won their last two encounters against Edinburgh in the European Cup and Zebre, however away from home the Munstermen have lost their last four games since their visit to Edinburgh on the opening weekend in the PRO12.
Munster have won their last four fixtures with Cardiff Blues, but have only been victorious at the Arms Park in this tournament once before: 18-16 on 4 November 2005. Munster are winless in their last three trips to Wales.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Tom James, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Andries Pretorius (captain), 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Robin Copeland, 5 James Down, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Rhys Williams, 1 Campese Ma'afu.
Replacements: 16 Andi Kyriacou, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Ryan Harford, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Rob Lewis, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Owen Williams.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Doug Howlett (captain), 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Ian Keatley, 11 Luke O'Dea, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Tommy O'Donnell, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Dave Foley, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Damian Varley, 17 John Ryan, 18 Wian du Preez, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Patrick Butler, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Danny Barnes, 23 Johne Murphy.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies, Martyn Lewis (both Wales)
TMO: Paul Adams (Wales)
ULSTER v EDINBURGH RUGBY
(Ravenhill – 19.05)
Unbeaten Ulster continue to set the pace atop the Pro12 table, and have a perfect played 8, won 8 record in all competitions this season.
The Ulstermen’s single loss at Ravenhill in the last 12 months was 8-16 to Leinster on 20 April.
No Scottish side has won at Ravenhill since Glasgow were the visitors on 4 December 2009. Edinburgh have slipped to six successive reversals in all competitions since beating Zebre 41-10 at Murrayfield on 14 September.
The Scotsmen have lost their last ten fixtures against Irish provinces, and have not been victorious in Ireland since a visit to tonight’s opponents, Ulster, on 18 September 2009.
Ulster’s only defeat in their last seven encounters with Edinburgh was 16-21 at Murrayfield on 22 October 2010.
Ulster: 15 Ricky Andrew, 14 Chris Cochrane, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Mike McComish, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Neil McComb, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Nigel Brady (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Ricky Lutton, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Nick Williams, 21 Niall O'Connor, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Peter Nelson.
Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Lee Jones, 13 John Houston, 12 James King, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Gregor Hunter, 9 Chris Leck, 8 Stuart McInally, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Sean Cox (captain), 5 Robert McAlpine, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Andy Titterrell, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Alun Walker, 17 Allan Jacobsen, 18 Lewis Niven, 19 Izak van der Westhuizen, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Dougie Fife, 23 SepVisser.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
(Scotstoun Stadium – 19.30)
Glasgow Warriors have strung together five successive victories in the Pro12, and another win would see them equal the Glasgow record, set in 2008.
The Warriors’ only defeat against a Welsh region in their last six encounters was 13-18 to the Scarlets at Scotstoun on 7 September.
Newport Gwent Dragons’ solitary win in their last eight matches in all competitions was 32-12 at home to Edinburgh on 28 September.
The Dragons have not been victorious away from home since the last time they visited Scotland to play Edinburgh at Murrayfield on 23 March.
The Men from Gwent have beaten the Warriors just once since their European Cup meeting in October 2009: 23-11 at Rodney Parade on 12 September 2010. The Dragons have not won in Glasgow since their visit on 9 January 2009.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Troy Nathan, 11 Taylor Paris, 10 Scott Wight, 9 Niko Matawalu, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Chris Fusaro (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Tom Ryder, 3 Mike Cusack, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Finlay Gillies, 17 Ofa Fainga'anuku, 18 German Araoz, 19 James Eddie, 20 John Barclay, 21 Ryan Wilson, 22 Sean Kennedy, 23 Peter Horne.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Tom Prydie, 14 Will Harries, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Andy Tuilagi, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Lewis Robling, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Jevon Groves, 6 Tom Brown, 5 Rob Sidoli, 4 Adam Jones, 3 Nathan Buck, 2 Steve Jones (captain), 1 Owen Evans.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Nathan Williams, 18 Dan Way, 19 Ian Nimmo, 20 Nic Cudd, 21 Liam Davies, 22 Steffan Jones, 23 Pat Leach.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Neil Paterson, David Changleng (both Scotland)
Saturday, November 3
CONNACHT v BENETTON TREVISO
(Sportsground – 17.00)
Connacht’s only victory in their last five Pro12 encounters was 34-6 at home to Leinster in round five.
The Irishmen have won their last three games against Italian opponents in all competitions.
Benetton Treviso’s two game winning run in the PRO12 ended at home to Glasgow Warriors on Saturday, whilst Treviso have lost their last six fixtures against Irish provinces, since beating Connacht 15-13 at Galway in this equivalent match last season.
Honours are even in the four previous clashes between the two sides, with two wins apiece.
Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Danie Poolman, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Johnny O'Connor, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Nathan White (captain), 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Rodney Ah You, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 John Muldoon, 20 Mick Kearney, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Gavin Duffy.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Brendan Williams, 14 Andrew Vilk, 13 Christian Loamanu, 12 Andrea Pratichetti, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Alberto Di Bernardo, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Marco Filippucci, 7 Valerio Bernabò, 6 Manoa Vosawai, 5 Corniel Van Zyl (captain), 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Jacobus Roux, 2 Franco Sbaraglini, 1 Matteo Muccignat.
Replacements: 16 Enrico Ceccato, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, 19 Giovanni Maistri, 20 Enrico Targa, 21 Giulio Toniolatti, 22 James Ambrosini, 23 Luca Morisi.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, E Hogan-O’Connell (both Ireland)
SCARLETS v ZEBRE
(Parc y Scarlets – 18.30)
Scarlets have won their last two Pro12 matches, against Newport Gwent Dragons and Edinburgh, but have slipped to defeat in two of their last three games at Parc y Scarlets in all competitions.
Scarlets have already been beaten by an Italian team this season: 20-22 in Treviso on 29 September.
Zebre are still looking to add to their tally of just one league point gained so far, during their 19-22 loss in Glasgow in round five of the Pro12.
The two teams have never met before. Five Italian teams have visited Parc y Scarlets and all have lost with only Treviso attaining a losing bonus point during a 16-22 defeat on 27 March 2011.
Scarlets: 15 Morgan Stoddart, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Gareth Owen, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Kieran Murphy, 7 Johnathan Edwards (captain), 6 Tomás Vallejos, 5 Johan Snyman, 4 George Earle, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Phil John
Replacements: 16 Craig Hawkins, 17 Shaun Hopkins, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Craig Price, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Nick Reynolds.
Zebre: 15 Ruggero Trevisan, 14 David Odiete, 13 Matteo Pratichetti, 12 Daniel Halangahu, 11 Samuele Pace, 10 Paolo Buso, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Filippo Cristiano (captain), 6 Filippo Ferrarini, 5 Filippo Cazzola, 4 Josh Sole, 3 Luca Redolfini, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Matias Aguero
Replacements: 16 Andrea De Marchi, 17 Luciano Leibson, 18 Carlo Fazzari, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Nicola Belardo, 21 Alberto Chiesa, 22 Leonardo Sarto, 23 Alberto Benettin.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Greg Morgan, Alan Jenkins (both Wales)
TMO: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Sunday, November 4
OSPREYS v LEINSTER
(Liberty Stadium – 16.00)
Last season’s Pro12 finalists meet at Liberty Stadium. Defending champions, Ospreys have got their defence back on track with four straight victories.
Of the last eight Irish provinces to have visited Liberty Stadium only Ulster have won: 16-13 on 8 September 2012.
Leinster have won their last four matches in all competitions since their defeat at Connacht on 28 September – the Leinstermen have lost two of their last three away games in the Pro12.
Leinster have won their last three encounters with Welsh regions, and have been victorious in four of their last five visits to Wales in all tournaments.
Ospreys only reversal in their last five clashes with Leinster was 10-15 at the RDS on 7 January 2011.
The Leinstermen have not won at Liberty Stadium since 18 September 2009.
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Tom Isaacs, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Matthew Morgan, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 George Stowers, 5 Jonathan Thomas (captain), 4 Lloyd Peers, 3 Joe Rees, 2 Matthew Dwyer, 1 Duncan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Arthur Ellis, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Daniel Suter, 19 James King, 20 Morgan Allen, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Jonathan Spratt, 23 Ross Jones
Leinster: 15 David Kearney, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Andrew Goodman, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Leo Auva'a, 7 Shane Jennings (captain), 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Damian Browne, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Thomas Sexton, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Ben Marshall, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Sam Coghlan-Murray.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Wayne Davies (both Wales)
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)