Spotlight on Glasgow's challenge to Irish domination
URC ROUND FIVE – TEAMS AND PREDICTIONS: South African fans and people connected with the SA teams in the United Rugby Championship, plus most neutrals, should become Glasgow Warriors supporters as champions Leinster head to Scotstoun for the plum fixture of the fifth round.
Leinster have missed out on just one bonus point in their four matches thus far and are second behind countrymen Ulster on a log table currently dominated by the top three Irish teams, with Munster third on the same number of log points as Leinster but with an inferior points difference.
The Warriors are fourth, five points behind Ulster and four behind the other two, but it is not just their current status as the next best team to the Irish trio that offers hope of an upset win in Friday’s game. That comes by way of the fact that Glasgow beat Leinster the last time they visited Glasgow, and that win wasn’t exactly a bolt out of the blue either.
Indeed, if you consider how Leinster have dominated what was previously the Pro14 over the past few seasons, you might even consider the synthetic 4G pitch to be a hoodoo ground for the champions.
Leinster have lost more than they have won at Scotstoun in recent years, with the record from the last 10 games at the venue across all competitions being six wins to the Warriors and four to the Irish team.
Couple that with the Warriors’ good recent run of form, with the Scots going into the game off a three-game winning streak, and this one adds up to a game that should be watched with considerable interest by those who are hoping for Leinster to slip up and be shown to be beatable.
What doesn’t weigh in the Warriors’ favour though is their recent record against Irish teams. Their win over Leinster in the Rainbow Cup in June was their only positive result in the last 11 games. They lost to Ulster in the first week of the URC and will need to play well in order to ensure they avoid making it two losses in two against teams from the hitherto dominant nation in the competition.
British and Irish Lions centre Robbie Henshaw has been ruled out of the Leinster team due to a foot injury and Ireland’s veteran first-choice flyhalf Jonny Sexton, who was crucial to the Lions’ drawn series result against the All Blacks in 2017, is out because of a hip injury.
“Leinster will be a big test for our squad – they’ve been the benchmark for the rest of the competition in recent years and we know they’ll present a physical challenge tomorrow night,” said Warriors head coach Danny Wilson.
“It’s important for us to finish this first block of fixtures in the right manner, and we want to build on our three straight wins ahead of the international window.”
The South African teams are only due to play again when they come back for a double round of home games at the end of November, but they should be watching developments in their absence with interest.
It isn’t just the battle for top spots and a favourable draw for any play-off games that should be interesting the local sides, but the possible impact on their ancillary goal to make it into the top eight, which will mean qualification for next year’s Champions Cup.
Right now the Stormers are the top placed South African team, but they are out of the placings for Champions Cup in 10th position. The Sharks, Bulls and Lions are all near the bottom of the table and can’t afford the teams in the top half to put more space on them than they already have.
One of the struggling teams at the moment is previous champions Scarlets, who have shipped over 100 points in their last two games and are listing badly in 13th place and currently well out of the Champions Cup qualifications.
It is still early days but with a trip to South Africa up next for them, they will be under pressure to get back on the winning track when they host Benetton at Parc Y Scarlets in the other game on Friday.
Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel said: “Obviously the boys are hurting after the last two results, but with our internationals missing we have boys coming in who have trained hard and are deserving of an opportunity this weekend.
“There have been flashes of what we can offer in these four games. We have to show the desire to play and keep backing ourselves to play.
“For me it is about getting better at what we do. We have told the boys this week that we back them to go out and play. We have to have a firm belief in where we are going.”
Rhyno Smith starts in the No 10 jersey for Benetton after impressing in the role off the bench against Ospreys as the Italians bring a strong team to Wales.
*Friday teams and predictions follow below …
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22:
Glasgow Warriors v Leinster
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
@rugby365com: Leinster by four points.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ross Thompson, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Rufus McLean, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Ali Price, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Richie Gray, 4 Rob Harley, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Johnny Matthews, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Lewis Bean, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 George Horne, 22 Nick Grigg, 23 Cole Forbes.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 Ryan Baird, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Jamie Osborne, 23 Josh van der Flier.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), David Sutherland (Scotland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Scarlets v Benetton
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
@rugby365com: Scarlets by seven points.
Scarlets: 15 Ioan Nicholas, 14 Ryan Conbeer, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Scott Williams (captain), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Shaun Evans, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Jac Price, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Daf Hughes, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Iestyn Rees, 21 Luke Davies, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tom Rogers.
Benetton: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Tommaso Menoncello, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Rhyno Smith, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Abraham Steyn, 7 Sebastian Negri, 6 Giovanni Pettinelli, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Giacomo Nicotera, 17 Cherif Traoré, 18 Ivan Nemer, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Lorenzo Cannone, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Leonardo Marin, 23 Luca Morisi.
Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Rhys Jones (Wales), Gareth Newman (Wales)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)