URC, Round 18 - teams and predictions
SATURDAY PREVIEW: South African teams’ prospects of breaking the Irish stranglehold at the top of the United Rugby Championship standings have just become a lot more complicated.
Leinster’s decision to feature a largely second-string selection against Munster in the top-of-the-table derby opened the front door for an Irish one-two – putting a massive dent in the hopes of the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls to claim that all-important second place behind Leinster.
Fresh from their demolition of French giants Toulouse last Saturday in Dublin, Champions Cup finalists Leinster named an entirely different starting XV to face Munster in Saturday’s Round 18 encounter.
None of the 15 players who took the field as starters in last weekend’s European Cup semifinal has been chosen and only four replacements have been included – Ciaran Frawley, Ross Byrne and Joe McCarthy as starters with Cian Healy again named on the bench.
In contrast to the Leinster overhaul, Munster will run out in Dublin with 11 of the same starters that lost out to Toulouse a fortnight ago in a Champions Cup quarterfinal that was decided on a penalty shootout.
Skipper Peter O’Mahony, Stephen Archer, Simon Zebo and Damian de Allende are the four names missing from their teamsheet on this occasion.
Munster knows a win will confirm a home quarterfinal fixture and potentially earn a top-two finish.
Johann van Graan’s side heads into the final round sitting in second place, but only three points separate them from the Bulls in sixth.
Leaders Leinster has already topped the ladder, leaving five teams in a fight to secure the final three places in the top four.
Clinging on to second would earn Munster home advantage through to the semifinals should they make it.
“What we’re looking for on Saturday is a performance to be good enough to guarantee us a home quarterfinal,” Munster coach Johann van Graan said.
“We’re playing against the province that has just qualified for the Final of the European Cup and they are already guaranteed a home quarterfinal, a potential home semi and a home Final, so we’re under no illusion as to what we need to do.
“We want to play at Thomond Park in the quarterfinals, so we’ve got to make sure we go and perform and hopefully get the points to put us in that position.
“It’s Munster versus Leinster at Lansdowne Road, so we expect a massive game and it’ll be a tightly contested encounter.”
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* With the Sharks and Bulls playing on Friday, the Stormers could have a massive battle on their hands to get back in the top four (home quarterfinal territory) when they face Scarlets in Llanelli.
The home team have a massive battle of their own, hoping to win the Welsh conference and secure a place in the Champions Cup next season.
“One of our goals is to be top of the Welsh Conference and we have got that to play for this weekend,” Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel said.
“It is slightly out of our hands with Ospreys playing on Friday, but we have prepped for having to win this game.
“We realise we have a difficult proposition in the Stormers coming to town, it is going to be a tough game, but one we are relishing.”
John Dobson’s Stormers head into the final round of the regular season level on points and matches won with second-placed Munster and the third-placed Sharks, so are still in the hunt to claim home advantage through to the semifinals should they make it that far.
The Stormers themselves have Shield glory in their sights, with the Bulls – three points back from the Cape Town outfit and the Sharks – also in the running for that honour.
“This is a vital game for us as we look to secure home advantage in the play-offs, so the players all understand what is at stake,” Dobson said.
“The players understand what is required against a Scarlets team that will also be highly motivated.
“We will need full focus and execution to get the result that we need.”
Stormers skipper Steven Kitshoff also touched on the quality of the Scarlets, who will field a number of the internationals they will encounter again in the three-Test series between Wales and South Africa in July.
“These days we encounter the European teams all the time,” Kitshoff told @rugby365com, adding: “You can compare Scarlets to Wales and Leinster with Ireland.
“We know exactly how tough the game is going to be, Welsh players play with passion and heart.
“In my opinion, they [Wales] are by far the toughest European country I have played against.
“While the Test series [in July] is looming, this game and the next five weeks is what is important for the Stormers.”
* The Dragons will be targeting a first home win of the season when they welcome the Lions to Rodney Parade for their final match of the campaign.
Dean Ryan’s men have picked up two wins so far this season but both have come on the road – at Connacht and the Scarlets.
The Men of Gwent can finish no higher or lower than their current position of 15th but the 11th-placed Lions will hope to fend off Connacht this weekend, with the Westerners one point behind them heading into Round 18.
“It’s a huge challenge facing a South African side this weekend,” the Dragons coach, Ryan, said.
“We’ve lost the three frontline players for us, the most regular starters, but I can’t speak highly enough of Huw [Taylor] for the way he adapted last week against Cardiff.
“This is another opportunity for him to put a marker down about his role as a second row.”
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen reiterated a statement he made earlier in the week, that this match is an opportunity for them to cast their eye towards the future.
“This approach is in line with our strategy of developing within our structures and some of these names are proof of that,” Van Rooyen said.
“In saying that, Dragons will be a tough outfit to play in their own backyard.
“However, it offers a few of our players an opportunity to impress.
“We are looking to create and establish a platform for what we would accept as the standard [for the team and the union] going forward.”
Captain Reinhard Nothnagel described it as a “growing phase” for the union.
* There is much more than derby bragging rights at stake when Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors collide at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The winners will clinch the Scottish/Italian conference and with it a place in the Champions Cup next season.
With the seventh-placed Warriors ahead of Edinburgh on matches won, the clash will also determine the sides’ destinations in the top eight, with the losing team set to travel to table-topping Leinster.
“Intercity derbies are always special occasions and tomorrow [Saturday] is massive for this team,” Edinburgh coach Mike Blair said.
“Our group of players and the supporters who’ve backed us brilliantly throughout the season.
“We’ve talked a lot this week about going out and enjoying the game, but doing that by putting everything into the performance and playing for the jersey for the full 80 minutes.”
Glasgow Warriors coach Danny Wilson said: “We played some outstanding rugby in the first leg of the 1872 Cup at Scotstoun to earn a 30-17 lead, but we know that we’ll need to up our level again to get the job done on Saturday.
“Edinburgh are a side who have gone very well at home this season.
“We’ve had a number of games on the road recently. However, as this match is being played just along the M8 we know our supporters will turn out in force which is massively exciting and motivating for our players.”
All the teams and predictions for Saturday, May 21, are below …
Dragons v Lions
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 15.00; 16.00 SA time; 14.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Dragons by 15 points
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Rio Dyer, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Josh Lewis, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Will Reed, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Ollie Griffiths (captain), 7 Taine Basham, 6 Ben Fry, 5 Huw Taylor, 4 Joe Maksymiw, 3 Mesake Doge, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Lloyd Fairbrother, 18 Chris Coleman, 19 Max Williams, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Ioan Davies.
Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Henco van Wyk, 12 Matt More, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Sibusiso Sangweni, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (captain), 4 Ruan Venter, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Jean-Pierre Smith.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Botha, 17 Sithembiso Sithole, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Ruben Schoeman, 20 Jarod Cairns, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manuel Rass, 23 Tiaan Swanepoel.
Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dewi Phillips (Wales), John Darcy (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
Connacht v Zebre
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 17.00; 18.00 Italian time; 16.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Connacht by 18 points
Connacht: 15 Oran McNulty, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Cian Prendergast, 7 Seán Masterson, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Abraham Papali’i, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Zebre: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Asaeli Tuivuaka, 13 Franco Smith Jr, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Jacopo Trulla, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Taina Fox-Matamua, 7 Iacopo Bianchi, 6 Luca Andreani, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 David Sisi (captain), 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Giampietro Ribaldi, 17 Paolo Buonfiglio, 18 Matteo Nocera, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Ross Vincent, 21 Nicolò Casilio, 22 Alessandro Fusco, 23 Junior Laloifi.
Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Dan Carson (Ireland), Keane Davison (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)
Scarlets v Stormers
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.10; 18.10 SA time; 16.10 GMT)
@rugby365com: Scarlets by five points
Scarlets: 15 Tom Rogers; 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies (captain), 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Jac Price, 4 Tom Price, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Shaun Evans, 1 Steff Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Daf Hughes, 17 Phil Price, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Joe Roberts.
Stormers: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Jean-Jacques Kotze, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Ernst van Rhyn, 20 Kuyenzeka Xaba, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Godlen Masimla, 23 Cornel Smit.
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Gareth Newman (Wales), Rhys Jones (Wales)
TMO: Wayne Davies (Wales)
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 18.30; 17.30 GMT)
@rugby365com: Glasgow by three points
Edinburgh: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Damien Hoyland, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ben Vellacott, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 4 Jamie Hodgson, 3 WP Nel, 2 Dave Cherry, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Harrison Courtney, 18 Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Ben Muncaster, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 James Lang.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Rufus McLean, 10 Ross Thompson, 9 Ali Price, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Thomas Gordon, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Richie Gray, 4 Rob Harley, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Gregor Brown, 21 Jamie Dobie, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Stafford McDowall.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Ian Kenny (Scotland), Graeme Ormiston (Scotland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Leinster v Munster
(Lansdowne Road, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.15; 18.15 GMT)
@rugby365com: Munster by six points
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Rob Russell, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Rory O’Loughlin, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Cormac Foley, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 Josh Murphy, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Ed Byrne (captain).
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Cian Healy, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Alex Soroka, 21 Ben Murphy, 22 David Hawkshaw, 23 Adam Byrne.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack O’Donoghue (captain), 7 Alex Kendellen, 6 Fineen Wycherley, 5 Thomas Ahern, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Josh Wycherley.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Jack Daly, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Rory Scannell.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial