Predictions and teams: Pro14, Round 15
BIG DASH FOR FINAL SPOT: Almost a year after the season began, the curtain is set to come down on the league campaign this weekend.
There will be a scramble for the one remaining spot in the play-offs.
Leinster, Ulster and Edinburgh are already home and hosed in the last four, while Munster are sitting pretty in their quest to join them.
However, Scarlets will not have given up hope and could edge in front if results go their way this weekend.
All eyes will be on those two matches, but with four other derby matches set to take place, we’re set for a thrilling end to an incredible season.
The Scarlets showed enough last week to suggest they can make it a tricky and nervous Sunday for Munster.
Just what will be on the line when Munster run out against Connacht for the second of two appetising Irish derbies in Dublin, will depend on what Scarlets do against the Dragons in Newport on Saturday.
There have been some close encounters between the two Welsh sides in recent times, but even though they are the travelling team the Scarlets will be confident after their highly impressive return-to-play win over Cardiff Blues.
Round 15 predictions
Friday, August 28
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Friday marks the fourth and final meeting of Scotland’s two franchises and Glasgow Warriors need to win in order to draw that mini-series 2-all.
Edinburgh came from behind in the final quarter last weekend to secure a 30-15 victory and the 1872 Cup, and they have a Pro14 semifinal against Ulster to look forward to.
Warriors are safely third in Conference A but last week’s defeat ended their slim post-season prospects and head coach Danny Wilson has already promised changes to his team.
One man who looks set to remain is makeshift fullback Huw Jones, converted from centre to start at No.15 last weekend.
@rugby365com: The Warriors by five points
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean (c), 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Nathan Chamberlain, 9 Charlie Shiel, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Jamie Hodgson, 4 Nick Haining, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 WP Nel, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Roan Frostwick, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Matt Gordon
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Huw Jones, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Ratu Tagive, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Tom Gordon, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown (c), 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Charlie Capps, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Robbie Nairn
Referee: Ben Blain
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White, Graeme Ormiston
TMO: Neil Paterson
Saturday, August 29
Dragons v Scarlets
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15)
If results go their way, Scarlets could end up in the semifinals and Conference A table-toppers Leinster will surely not fancy a tangle with the Welsh region’s electric attack.
But, before they can sit and scream at the TV urging Connacht to do them a favour on Sunday, Scarlets must first take care of business against the Dragons – and that is easier said than done.
Dean Ryan’s side showed plenty of spirit to come from behind and draw at Ospreys thanks to a last-gasp try, and have beaten Scarlets in each of their last two meetings – including a 22-20 win in December – but have never won three straight.
In addition to a possible semifinal spot, there is plenty on the line for Scarlets winger Steff Evans – who is just two behind the league’s leading try-scorer Rhyno Smith (10).
@rugby365com: Scarlets by nine points
Dragons: 15 Will Talbot-Davies, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Harrison Keddie, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Max Williams, 3 Chris Coleman, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Josh Reynolds.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Conor Maguire, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Joe Maksymiw, 20 Huw Taylor, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Arwel Robson, 23 Jack Dixon.
Scarlets: 15 Angus O’Brien, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 James Davies, 6 Ed Kennedy, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Dane Blacker, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Tom Rogers.
Referee: Craig Evans
Assistant referee: Ben Whitehouse, Gwyn Morris
TMO: Ian Davies
Ulster v Leinster
(Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Is this a warm-up for the Final?
Ulster and Leinster have battled hard all season long in Conference A and both will be getting ready for the Pro14 semifinals, starting next week.
Although both will have to get through those last-four clashes first, this could be the second of three potential meetings this season and if the first is anything to go by, we are in for a treat.
Leinster, victorious in every match this season, obviously prevailed but the contest was as breathless as the 54-42 scoreline suggests.
Ulster’s recent record against their rivals is a cause for concern, with just one win in five league meetings, but the shackles are off at the Aviva Stadium.
@rugby365com: Leinster by 10 points
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Matt Faddes, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Sam Carter (captain), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Louis Ludik.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Will Connors, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Ross Molony, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Ed Byrne (captain).
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Tom Clarkson, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Rowan Osborne, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jimmy O’Brien.
Referee: George Clancy
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace, Eoghan Cros
TMO: Brian MacNeice
Sunday, August 30
Munster v Connacht
(Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Munster’s task is simple on Sunday: win and they are in the semifinals.
Of course, it’s never easy when you’re playing a derby and especially against an opponent full of beans after such an impressive victory last weekend.
Munster do hold an advantage, winning each of their last four Pro14 matches against Connacht, but arrive with injury scars after losing new signing Rudolph Snyman for at least six months after he damaged his knee against Leinster.
But in JJ Hanrahan, Munster have the league’s top points-scorer this season with 111 and they top the Fairplay league – with just four sin-bins all campaign.
Connacht, fourth in Conference B, have collected 11 of those, the second most in the league, and how they cope with Munster at the breakdown could be key.
@rugby365com: Munster by 15 points
Munster: 15 Shane Daly, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Keith Earls, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Jack O’Sullivan.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Colm de Buitléar, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Abraham Papali’i, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux (captain), 4 Niall Murray, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Conor Kenny, 18 Matthew Burke, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Seán Masterson, 21 Stephen Kerins, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Conor Dean.
Referee: Frank Murphy
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Chris Busby
TMO: Olly Hodges
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 17.00; 16.00 GMT)
Cardiff Blues and Ospreys don’t do one-sided affairs and we can expect another close battle again on Sunday.
The last time one side beat the other by more than ten points was in 2017, six matches ago, with the Blues edging this season’s lone encounter by just three points at Christmas.
Both teams are looking up the table, hoping to improve their current position, with Ospreys keen to avoid finishing bottom of Conference with a first win against a fellow Welsh team this season.
A win is imperative for them to put the pressure on Zebre, currently three points above, while the Blues are aiming to pip Benetton into fifth place.
@rugby365com: Cardiff by five points
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Jason Harries, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Max Llewellyn, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Navidi (captain), 7 James Botham, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Ratti, 20 Sam Moore, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Ben Thomas, 23 Ioan Davies.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Dewi Cross, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Otten, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Nicky Thomas, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Morgan Morris, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Mat Protheroe, 23 Keiran Williams.
Referee: Adam Jones
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens, Dan Jones
TMO: Sean Brickell
Zebre v Benetton
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 20.00; 18.00 GMT)
The two teams that played the first Pro14 match since lockdown, will also play the last of the regular season.
Zebre were outstanding in their 17-13 win at Benetton last Friday, their first success against their neighbours in six attempts, and will hope to build on that and edge ahead of Dragons into fifth in Conference A.
Benetton no doubt have a point to prove and have Cardiff Blues breathing down their necks in the battle for fifth in Conference B.
@rugby365com: Treviso by five points
Zebre: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Giulio Bisegni (captain) 13 Federico Mori, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Antonio Rizzi, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 Cristian Stoian, 3 Matteo Nocera, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Giosuè Zilocchi, 19 Lorenzo Masselli, 20 Jimmy Tuivati, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Boni, 23 Iacopo Bianchi.
Benetton: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Benvenuti, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan (captain), 9 Luca Petrozzi, 8 Marco Barbini, 7 Marco Lazzaroni, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Riccardo Favretto, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Cherif Traore.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Giovanni Pettinelli, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Marco Zanon.
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi
Assistant referees: Andrea Pairdi, Federico Vedovelli
TMO: Stefano Penne