PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 12
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Festive season brings with it a second helping of derby fixtures right across the Pro14 after Round 11 delivered tension and drama throughout the weekend.
Five of the six games produced losing bonus-points and some last-gasp winning scores as the local rivalries in the Championship delivered when it came to intense competition.
With 2019 fast approaching the Pro14 Final on May 25, which will take place at Celtic Park, is coming firmly into focus.
What’s at Stake
Connacht’s (A4) resurgence under head coach Andy Friend was strongly tested in the RDS last weekend and with Ulster (B2) arriving to the Galway Sportsground the 2016 champions will believe they can return to winning ways. Jack Carty was man of the match in the loss to Leinster and if he can repeat his dazzling performance then Ulster will have a serious challenge to overcome. The men from the north will arrive with confidence after their win over Munster, but Connacht swept away all three of their interprovincial rivals in Galway last season proving what a difficult venue the Sportsground is for visiting teams.
In Treviso Benetton (B4) take on Zebre (A7) for the second time in six days after Kieran Crowley’s men ground out a tense 10-8 win in Parma. Now in his third year as head coach Crowley has asserted dominance over Benetton’s national rivals, winning five of the six fixtures between the teams. After a winning a record number of games last season Benetton will be aiming to reach the Pro14 Final Series for the first time and a victory here would tee up their next home game with Glasgow Warriors very nicely. Benetton trail third-placed Scarlets by just three points and their results at the refurbished Stadio Monigo will prove crucial if they are to finish in the knock-out places.
The second leg of the 1872 Cup takes place at Scotstoun where Glasgow Warriors (A1) have to up their game against Edinburgh Rugby (B5) after the men from the Scottish capital won the first game at Murrayfield in Round 11. Dave Rennie’s Warriors are still top of Conference A by nine points, but their momentum has been slowed of late this represents the perfect opportunity to get their title tilt back under full steam. Richard Cockerill, however, has got Edinburgh close to the form that saw them qualify for the Final Series last season and their progression would be greatly buoyed by sneaking a victory at the home of their closest rivals.
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Scarlets (B3) host Cardiff Blues (A5) in Llanelli with both of these regions working hard to ensure their seasons continue to spark. The hosts have seen a few key faces depart this year but are still fully capable of producing the scintillating rugby that won them the Pro12 title two years ago.
Facing them is a Blues team which had to grit it out at home to Dragons last weekend with Gareth Anscombe kicking a late winner and proving yet again that he can keep his cool when pressure is on. Having qualified for the Champions Cup off the back of their displays last season, reaching the knock-outs will be top of their list of ambitions – but winning away to a former champion would provide them with the belief that they can do it.
Dragons (B6) welcome Ospreys (A3) to Rodney Parade in a fixture between a team which has found its way again and another hoping emulate them. The hosts have been a mixed bag in the past three outings in the Pro14, with a hard-fought win over Edinburgh, a big loss to Leinster and a heart-breaking defeat away to Cardiff Blues. During that time Bernard Jackman has departed as head coach and the players will need to take the best of display in the Welsh capital back to Rodney Parade against an Ospreys team that is looking relevant again after last season’s disappointment.
Fresh from a derby win over Scarlets, Ospreys are proving much more consistent in their performances this season and on current form look set for a return to the Pro14 Final Series. Avoiding a banana skin here would help them keep in touch with Munster and Glasgow Warriors, but derby games are terrific equalisers and nothing can be taken for granted in this one.
Pick of the Round: Munster v Leinster
Leinster’s (B1) visit to Thomond Park to face Munster (B2) has been sold out for some time now and it looks set to be an all-out battle. There is so much to play for in this game with Leinster 16 points clear at the top of Conference A while Munster are focused on reeling in Glasgow Warriors in Conference B. With so many Irish internationals across both teams this also represents an opportunity for those players to reinforce their worth to the national team ahead of the Six Nations.
Leo Cullen’s team seem like an irresistible force at the moment, but Munster have downed plenty of high-flyers at their famous Limerick citadel and no team will narrow the eyes for the men in red in the way that Leinster do.
Opta Top Performers – Round 11
Most tackles: 21 Stuart McInally (Edinburgh) / Colby Fainga’a (Connacht)
Most Carries: 23 Matt Fagerson (Ospreys)
Defenders Beaten: 6 Jayden Hayward (Benetton)
Offloads: 6 Adam Byrne (Leinster)
Breaks: 4 Dave Shanahan (Ulster)
Metres Made: 151 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh)
Turnovers Won: 3 Owain Watkin (Ospreys)
Line-outs Steals: 1 Multiple Players
Opta Top Performers – Overall
Most tackles: 134 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Most Carries: 143 Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Defenders Beaten: 39 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh)
Offloads: 18 Tom Farrell (Connacht)
Breaks: 15 Rabz Maxwane (Cheetahs)
Metres Made: 700 Jordan Williams (Dragons)
Turnovers Won: 17 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues) / Marcell Coetzee (Ulster)
Line-outs Steals: 7 Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs)
We take a closer look at all the action in Round 12:
Friday, November 28:
CONNACHT v ULSTER
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Connacht’s five game winning run in all competitions ended with their narrow defeat to Leinster at the RDS Arena last weekend. Connacht’s only defeat in Galway since the opening game of the season was to Leinster in the Pro14 on 29 September. Ulster’s only defeat in any competition in their last seven encounters was to Scarlets in Llanelli in the Pro14 on 23 November. Ulster’s record away from home in the Pro14 this season is an even won two, drawn one, lost two. The Ulstermen have not been victorious away from home at a fellow Irish province since they visited The Sportsground on St Stephens’ Day 2015. Connacht have won their last two matches against Ulster but have not won three in succession against them since the mid-1950s. The two provinces have met on 93 occasions, Ulster winning 73, Connacht 16 and four games drawn.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Kyle Godwin, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Dominic Robertson McCoy, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 James Mitchell, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Stephen Fitzgerald.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Will Addison, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Angus Kernohan, 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Nick Timoney, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Ian Nagle, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Tommy O’Hagan, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Greg Jones, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Stuart McCloskey.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Manuel Bottino (Italy), Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Saturday, December 29:
BENETTON v ZEBRE
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Benetton have lost just one of their last four matches in all tournaments: 9-20 at Harlequins in Round Four of the European Challenge Cup. Benetton have lost their last two home games in the Pro14 but have not lost three in succession in Treviso since February 2017. Zebre have lost their last four Pro14 matches since beating Edinburgh in Parma at the end of October. Zebre have not won away from home in the Championship since their visit to Treviso in Round 21 last year. Treviso have lost just one of their last six fixtures with Zebre: 17-22 at Stadio Monigo in April.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Marco Barbini (captain), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Michele Lamaro, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Derrick Appiah.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Irné Herbst, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Paula Balekana, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 James Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Apisai Tauyavuca, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 George Biagi, 4 David Sisi, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Luhandre Luus, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 Samuele Ortis, 20 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 James Brown.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Matteo Liperini (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v EDINBURGH
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors 7-23 defeat to Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round 11 ended a five-game winning run in all competitions. The Warriors are one of five teams who have won all five home games they have played in the Pro14 this season. Edinburgh have won their last three matches in all tournaments since their defeat to Munster in Cork at the end of November. Edinburgh’s 21-8 victory at Newcastle in Round Four of the European Champions Cup was their first away victory since March when they beat Connacht in Galway in Round 18 of the Pro14. Edinburgh’s only loss in their last five encounters with Glasgow was 0-17 on their most recent visit to Scotstoun on 30 December 2017.
Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (co-captain), 6 Ryan Wilson (co-captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 D’Arcy Rae, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Kevin Bryce, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Siua Halanukonuka, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 George Horne, 22 Sam Johnson, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
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 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Juan Pablo Socino.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), David Sutherland (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
MUNSTER v LEINSTER
(Thomond Park Stadium, Limerick – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Munster have lost their last two matches, both away from home, at Castres and at Ulster but have not lost three in succession since 2015. The Munstermen are unbeaten at home in their last fifteen matches since Leinster beat them at Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day 2017. Leinster’s dramatic late comeback at Connacht last weekend extended their winning run to seven matches in all tournaments since their defeat in Toulouse in October. The Leinstermen have lost just once away from home in the Pro14 this campaign: 21-23 at Scarlets in Round Two. Leinster’s only defeat to a fellow Irish province in their last ten matches was on a trip to Connacht in April. The two provinces have met on 155 previous occasions with Leinster winning 97, Munster 47 and 11 games drawn. Munster’s only victory over their greatest rivals since 2014 was at Thomond Park in December 2016.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander (captain), 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Fineen Wycherley, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Rory O’Loughlin, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 James Tracy, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Noel Reid.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
SCARLETS v CARDIFF BLUES
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Scarlets have lost their last four matches in all competitions since their home win over Ulster in Round Nine of the Pro14. Scarlets have not lost at home in the Guinness PRO14 in their last 26 matches since losing to Munster at Parc y Scarlets in the opening game of the 2016/17 campaign; only Leinster have a longer unbeaten sequence at home, 29 games without defeat 2008-2011. The last opposing Welsh region to have won at Parc y Scarlets was Cardiff Blues in April 2016. Cardiff Blues four-game losing run in all competitions ended with their home win over Dragons on Friday. The Blues have won away from home only twice this season, at Dragons in Round Six of the Pro14 and at Lyon in Round One of the Champions Cup. Scarlets have won their last four fixtures against the Blues since the capital side’s victory in Llanelli on 2 April 2016.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 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 Josh Helps, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Tom Price, 20 Dan Davis, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Paul Asquith.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Garyn Smith, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Seb Davies, 4 George Earle, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey (captain), 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 James Down, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
Sunday, December 30:
DRAGONS v OSPREYS
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Dragons have lost their last four matches in all tournaments since beating Edinburgh 18-12 at Rodney Parade in Round Nine of the Pro14. Dragons most recent victory over a fellow Welsh region in the Championship was on a visit to Cardiff Blues on Boxing Day 2014. Ospreys only defeat in their last four matches was 3-12 to Stade Francais in Paris in Round Four of the European Challenge Cup. Ospreys only away win in any tournament this season was 22–8 over Zebre in Parma in Round Five of the Pro14. Ospreys have won their last thirteen encounters with Dragons in the Championship since the Men from Gwent’s victory by a single point at Rodney Parade in January 2012.
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 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Gerard Ellis, 18 Dan Suter, 19 Lewis Evans, 20 James Benjamin, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Jordan Williams.
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 Rhodri Jones/Rowan Jenkins, 18 Alex Jeffries, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Luke Price/James Hook, 23 Cory Allen.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)