Pro14, Round One: Teams and predictions
BLOCKBUSTER START: All eyes will once again be on Leinster, following their third consecutive title recently.
Six blockbuster encounters will raise the curtain on the new campaign, starting with a Friday triple-header – which is guaranteed to tantalise the tastebuds.
Zebre and Cardiff Blues will have the honour of launching the season at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma, as both clubs bid to put last season’s disappointment behind them.
Leinster and Ulster, the two 2019/20 Pro14 finalists, will also be in action on Friday – when they host Dragons and Benetton, respectively.
Scarlets will then welcome Munster in Saturday’s opening encounter, before Connacht take on Glasgow Warriors in Galway and Edinburgh lock horns with Ospreys in the Scottish capital.
The Round One predictions and teams follow below …
Friday, October 2
Zebre v Cardiff Blues
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – kick-off: 19.00; 18.00 UK; 17.00 GMT)
Zebre and Cardiff Blues will not have to wait long to put their indifferent campaign behind them as they look to hit the ground running in the opening game of the 2020/21 season.
The Italians finished second bottom of Conference A at the conclusion of the 2019/20 edition of the Championship while Cardiff Blues occupied the same position in Conference B.
Michael Bradley will be hoping the hosts can claim just their second win on the opening weekend against a Blues team that have not triumphed on the road since December 2019.
@rugby365com: Cardiff Blues by 10 points
Zebre: 15 Junior Laloifi, 14 Federico Mori, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Daniele Rimpelli.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Giosuè Zilocchi, 19 Cristian Stoian, 20 Lorenzo Masselli, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani , 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Jacopo Trulla.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 James Botham, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Cory Hill (captain), 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rhys Carré, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Ben Murphy, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Garyn Smith.
Referee: George Clancy
Assistant referees: Federico Vedovelli, Riccardo Angelucci
TMO: Stefano Penne
Ulster v Benetton
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 20.15; 21.15 Italian time; 19.15 GMT)
It may not have ended how Ulster would have wanted but the 2019/20 campaign was a season of progress for Dan McFarland’s men after reaching the Pro14 Final.
Bettered by Leinster in the silverware showpiece, Ulster must quickly put that hurt behind them as they look to go one step further and dethrone the formidable men in blue.
The Irish province begin their quest for a first title since 2005/06 against Benetton, who will feel confident they can upset the hosts after winning their last two Pro14 away games.
@rugby365com: Ulster by 12 points
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 James Hume, 12 Stewart Moore, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Michael Lowry, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Sam Carter, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 David O’Connor, 20 David McCann, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Louis Ludik.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Cherif Traore.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Niccolò Cannone, 20 Eli Snyman, 21 Giovanni Pettinelli, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Edoardo Padovani.
Referee: Adam Jones
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Robert O’Sullivan
TMO: Brian MacNeice
Leinster v Dragons
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 20.15; 19.15 GMT)
The Invincibles, unbeaten in 17 games on their way to a third successive Pro14 title, get back to business on Friday night when they welcome Dragons to Dublin.
Leo Cullen’s men conquered all before them in the Championship last season but came up short in Europe against Saracens, a result that will still be fresh in their mind when Dragons visit.
And while Leinster has not lost on the opening weekend since 2015, they face a Dragons side with renewed vigour following the signings of Nick Tompkins, Jamie Roberts and Jonah Holmes.
@rugby365com: Leinster by 30 points
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Tommy O’Brien.
Dragons: 15 Will Talbot-Davies, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Harrison Keddie, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Joe Maksymiw, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Conor Maguire, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Adam Warren.
Referee: Andrea Piardi
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy, Chris Busby
TMO: Simon McDowell
Saturday, October 3
Scarlets v Munster
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Having narrowly missed out on a semifinal place to Munster last season, Scarlets will be aiming to exact revenge on the Irish province when they come face-to-face in the opening round.
Munster came unstuck against Leinster in the last four once again but a fresh start gives Johann van Graan another chance to work out how to get the Red Army over that penultimate hurdle.
The hosts have won their last two Pro14 matches but the Munstermen have a good Round 1 record, with their only defeat since 2009 coming against Edinburgh in 2014.
@rugby365com: Scarlets by five points
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Steff Hughes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 James Davies, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Craig Casey, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jack O’Donoghue, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Rory Scannell.
Referee: Sam Grove-White
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens, Dan Jones
TMO: Ben Whitehouse
Connacht v Glasgow Warriors
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
A sluggish start to the 2019/20 season ultimately proved costly for Glasgow Warriors as the Scottish outfit missed out on a place in the last four, finishing third in Conference A.
Danny Wilson now has the task of improving on that result in his first full season in charge, starting with a visit to Galway and a clash against a Connacht side who also have a point to prove.
A fourth-place finish in Conference B was below expectations for Andy Friend’s men but a 26-20 victory over Ulster in their first match after lockdown showed the full force of their potential.
@rugby365com: Connacht by eight points
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Peter Sullivan, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Jarrad Butler (captain), 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Seán Masterson, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Huw Jones, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Robbie Nairn, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Rob Harley, 3 D’arcy Rae, 2 Fraser Brown (captain), 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Fotu Lokotui, 21 George Horne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Ratu Tagive.
Referee: Craig Evans
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Eoghan Cross
TMO: Olly Hodges
Edinburgh v Ospreys
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Last but not least, Edinburgh will look to build on a positive 2019/20 campaign under Richard Cockerill which saw the Scottish capital side finish at the summit of Conference B.
And while defeat to Ulster in the semifinals took the gloss off an otherwise strong season, the future looks bright for Edinburgh as they welcome Ospreys in the final game of Round 1.
The Welsh region only won twice in the Pro14 last term but with the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric in their ranks, Toby Booth will be keen to get off to a quick start.
@rugby365com: Edinburgh by 15 points
Edinburgh: 15 Damien Hoyland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Jamie Farndale, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Charlie Shiel, 8 Nick Haining, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally (captain) 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 WP Nel, 19 Andrew Davidson, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Dan Nutton, 22 Nathan Chamberlain, 23 George Taylor.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Mat Protheroe, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Josh Thomas, 23 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant referees: Ben Blain, Keith Allen
TMO: Andy McMenemy
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) September 30, 2020