PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 11
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: After a European break the Pro14 returns with a bang in Round 11 and with derby season beginning it should be a thrilling weekend.
It all kicks off on Friday when Ulster host Munster, while Cardiff Blues play host to the Dragons.
On Saturday there are derbies in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, with Ospreys hosting Scarlets, then Edinburgh welcoming Glasgow Warriors in the 1872 Cup, followed by Leinster hosting Connacht. And finally on Sunday, Zebre will look to carry their European form into their all-Italian clash with Benetton.
What’s at stake?
Two teams who are well-placed in Europe will meet at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday when Munster (A2) travel to take on Ulster (B3). Ulster welcome Munster to Belfast on the back of two vitally important bonus-point wins over Pro14 rivals the Scarlets in Europe.
With just one defeat in their last six, Dan McFarland’s side are starting to hit some form, but when it comes to Irish derbies, recent history is against them. Ulster have won just one of their last seven derbies, although it was the last time they hosted Munster, almost a year ago. Munster, meanwhile, will be looking to find some away form, having struggled on the road this season. Last weekend’s loss to Castres leaves them with just two away wins all season, and that has also been an issue in derbies, with a victory over Connacht in Galway in 2016 the last time they got the better of an Irish team on their own soil.
At the same time on Friday, Cardiff Blues (A5) will play host to the Dragons (B6) at the Cardiff Arms Park as both sides look to get back to winning ways. The Blues led at half-time in both clashes with English champions Saracens, but could not close out either game, while the Dragons lost away to French leaders Clermont last time out. In their first game since coach Bernard Jackman’s departure, the Dragons will be looking to end a run of eight straight Blues’ victories in matches between the sides.
On Saturday there’s another Welsh derby when Ospreys (A4) entertain Scarlets (B2) at the Liberty Stadium. The Scarlets head into the game having won 10 straight Welsh derbies, including their last trip to Swansea, but their record on the road this season has seen them pick up just one away win so far. The Ospreys have a formidable home record, with just one defeat in 12 in all competitions, while the last three clashes between the teams have been decided by a total of just seven points.
Later on Saturday it’s up to Scotland where two teams in flying form face off. Edinburgh (B5) and Glasgow Warriors (A1) will meet at Murrayfield with both teams having completed European doubles. Edinburgh’s twin successes against Newcastle Falcons included a first away win of the campaign, while the Warriors took nine points from a possible ten against French side Lyon. Edinburgh have had the better of recent meetings between the sides, with three wins in the last four encounters, and the home team has won every game they have been involved in so far in the Pro14 season. Glasgow will take plenty of encouragement from their own form though, having won five in a row in all competitions.
The action continues into Sunday over in Italy when Zebre (A7) host Benetton (B4) at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi. Zebre’s 58-14 win over Enisei in Europe was the biggest in their short history, while the nine tries scored were also a record. They will look to carry that form back into the Pro14 against a Benetton side who enjoyed a fine win of their own against Harlequins in round three in Europe. Zebre won the last meeting between the two teams, also in Parma, ending a run of four straight Benetton successes.
Pick of the Round – Leinster v Connacht
On Saturday it’s the champions against their 2016 conquerors as Leinster (B1) welcome Connacht (A3) to the RDS Arena. Leo Cullen’s side have opened up a gap at the top of Conference B and have lost just two games all season. Their record at home to Connacht is a good one, with just one defeat, in 2002, at home since 1955. However, Andy Friend’s team ended an even worse run in Belfast with victory over Ulster, and come into the game off the back of five straight wins in all competitions.
Opta Top Performers – Round 10
Most tackles: 23 Will Boyde (Scarlets) / Michele Lamaro (Benetton)
Most Carries: 17 Luke Hamilton (Edinburgh Rugby) / Scott Baldwin (Ospreys)
Defenders Beaten: 9 Adam Byrne (Leinster) / Kyle Godwin (Connacht)
Offloads: 3 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) / Monty Ioane (Benetton)
Breaks: 6 Keith Earls (Munster)
Metres Made: 147 Malcolm Jaer (Cheetahs)
Turnovers Won: 2 Tadhg Beirne (Munster)
Lineouts Steals: 4 Jordi Murphy (Ulster)
Opta Top Performers – Overall
Most tackles: 119 Olly Cracknell (Ospreys)
Most Carries: 134 Luke Hamilton (Edinburgh)
Defenders Beaten: 36 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh)
Offloads: 16 Tom Farrell (Connacht)
Breaks: 15 Rabz Maxwane (Cheetahs)
Metres Made: 700 Jordan Williams (Dragons)
Turnovers Won: 16 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues) / Marcell Coetzee (Ulster)
Lineouts Steals: 7 Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs)
We take a closer look at each match in Round 11!
Friday, December 21:
Ulster v Munster
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Ulster’s only defeat in their last six matches in all tournaments was 12-29 at Scarlets in the Pro14 on November 23. The Ulstermen have lost only once in Belfast since February: 15-22 to Connacht in Round Six of the Pro14. Ulster have won just one of their last seven fixtures against fellow Irish provinces: 24-17 over Munster at Kingspan Stadium on New Year’s Day 2018. Munster have won their last four Pro14 encounters since their 22-30 reversal to Leinster at Aviva Stadium in Round Six. Munster have won just twice on the road in any tournament this season, both in the Pro14, at Cheetahs in Round Eight and at Zebre in Round Nine. The Munstermen have not beaten a fellow Irish province on their own soil since a victory against Connacht in Galway in December 2016. Munster have lost just one of their last ten fixtures against Ulster – on January 1, 2018, a sequence which also includes two draws.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Robert Baloucoune, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Ian Nagle, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Johnny McPhillips, 23 James Hume.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Jaco Taute (captain), 11 Alex Wootton, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Fineen Wycherley, 5 Darren O’Shea, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Gavin Coombes, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Shane Daly.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Correll (Ireland), Leo Colgan (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
CARDIFF BLUES v DRAGONS
(Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Cardiff Blues only victory in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 37-0 at home to Zebre on November 4. The Blues have won their last three home games at Cardiff Arms Park in the Championship. Dragons have won just once in the Pro14 since Round Four: 18-12 at home to Edinburgh on November 25. The Men from Gwent have lost their last 37 away games in the Championship since their victory in Treviso in March 2015. Dragons most recent win over a fellow Welsh region in the Pro14 was 23-17 against the Blues at Cardiff Arms Park on Boxing Day 2014. Cardiff Blues have won their last eight Pro1414 fixtures against Dragons.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Garyn Smith, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey (captain), 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 George Earle, 20 James Down, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Dragons: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jarryd Sage, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Harrison Keddie, 7 Aaron Wainwright, 6 Cory Hill (captain), 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Brandon Nansen, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Gerard Ellis, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Lewis Evans, 20 Nic Cudd, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Jordan Williams.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Tim Spurrier (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
Saturday, December 22:
OSPREYS v SCARLETS
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Ospreys have lost only one of their last dozen home games in any competition: 20-29 to Glasgow Warriors at Liberty Stadium in Round Eight of the Pro14. Ospreys record in their last eight fixtures against fellow Welsh regions in the Championship is an even won four, lost four, however all four defeats were inflicted by Scarlets. Scarlets two defeats in the last six rounds of the Pro14 were both on away trips to Scotland, in rounds Eight and 10. Scarlets only away win in any tournament this season was 41-34 against Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on October 26. Scarlets have won their last ten encounters with fellow Welsh regions in the Championship since their defeat to Ospreys at Liberty Stadium in December 2016. Scarlets have won their last four matches against Ospreys and have now won at Liberty Stadium on three occasions in thirteen previous visits.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Aled Davies, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Rowan Jenkins, 18 Alex Jeffries, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 James Hook, 23 Keelan Giles
Scarlets: 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Kieron Fonotia, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Hadleigh Parkes, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Will Boyde, 7 James Davies, 6 Ed Kennedy, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Dan Davis, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Steff Evans
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Tom Spurrier (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
EDINBURGH v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Edinburgh have won their last two matches, home and away to Newcastle Falcons in the European Champions Cup, but in the Pro14 their only victory in the last four rounds was at home to Scarlets on November 2. All ten of Edinburgh’s fixtures in the Championship this season have been won by the home side on the day, whilst their most recent defeat at Murrayfield was to Ulster in April. Glasgow Warriors have won their last five matches in all competitions since their single point reversal at Munster in Round Seven of the Pro14. The Warriors have lost just twice on the road in any tournament this season, at the Southern Kings in September and at Munster in October. This is the 163rd inter-city contest between Edinburgh and Glasgow and the first of three this season to count towards the 1872 Cup, currently held by Edinburgh, who have won three of the last four fixtures between the two clubs. Warriors have won just once in their last six trips to Murrayfield: 25-12 on Boxing Day 2016.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Bill Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Luke Hamilton, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Juan Pablo Socino
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Peter Horne, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Adam Ashe, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Rob Harley, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Kevin Bryce, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Ali Price, 22 Huw Jones 23 Niko Matawalu
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Keith Allen (Scotland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
LEINSTER v CONNACHT
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Leinster have suffered only two defeats in any competition this season, by a margin of just two points at Scarlets in Round Two of the Pro14, and by a single point at Toulouse in the European Champions Cup. The Leinstermen’s only home defeat in any tournament since the end of the 2016/17 season was 15-17 to Benetton in April 2018. Leinster have lost just once to a fellow Irish province in their last nine contests: 10-47 to Connacht in Galway in April. Connacht have won their last five matches in all competitions since their defeat to Ospreys at Bridgend in Round Seven of the Pro14. Connacht famously beat Ulster in Belfast for the first time since 1960 in round 6 and won at Thomond Park in November 2015 however their only victory over Leinster in Dublin since 1955 was at Donnybrook in 2002.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Conor O’Brien, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Peter Dooley
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Noel Reid
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Darragh Leader, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Jarrad Butler (captain), 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Dominic Robertson McCoy, 19 James Cannon, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 James Mitchell, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Bundee Aki
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Rob O’Sullivan (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Sunday, December 23:
ZEBRE v BENETTON
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Zebre have won their last two games, home and away to Enisei in the European Challenge Cup but in the Pro14 their only win in the last seven rounds was at home to Edinburgh in October. Zebre have lost just twice in Parma since February, both in the Pro14, to Ospreys in Round Five and Munster in Round Nine. Benetton ended a three-game losing run in the Pro14 with their 22-19 victory at the Southern Kings in Round 10. Benetton’s only other away victory this season was against Dragons at Rodney Parade in Round One. Zebre beat Benetton 22-17 in Treviso in April to end a four-game losing run against their local rivals. Benetton have been victorious on two of their previous six visits to face Zebre in Parma.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Paula Balekana, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 James Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Giovanni Licata, 5 George Biagi, 4 David Sisi, 3 Giosué Zilocchi, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Apisai Tauyavuca, 20 Maxime Mbandà, 21 Joshua Renton, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Tommaso Boni
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Marco Barbini (captain), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Michele Lamaro, 22 Tito Tebaldi, 23 Tommaso Allan
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy) Manuel Bottino (Italy)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)