PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 13
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Entering into the first weekend of action in 2019 it looks like another busy weekend at the turnstiles with close to 150 000 fans taking in Pro14 derby action during Rounds 11 & 12.
It has been all change in Conference A with five teams now battling it out for Final Series positions while Benetton are up to third in Conference B as they aim to become the first Italian club to reach the knock-out stages.
With eight rounds left to play the focus is narrowing on the Pro14 Final on May 25, which will take place at Celtic Park.
What’s at Stake?
Benetton have reached third position Conference B after a run of victories in South Africa and back-to-back wins over Zebre, but they face a stern test in the shape of Glasgow Warriors who visit Treviso. But the visitors will also face a tough examination as they attempt to recover from their double 1872 Cup defeats to Edinburgh which has allowed Munster and Connacht to close the gap on the Warriors.
Dave Rennie’s team boast an impeccable record against Italian opposition with 27 consecutive wins, however, in front of a buoyant crowd in the refurbished Stadio Monigo, Benetton have an opportunity to get a true measure of themselves against one of the top teams in the Pro14 and see where they stand in the reckoning of Final Series contenders.
Defending champions Leinster are licking their wounds from only their second Championship defeat of the season against Munster in Round 12 as Ulster are challenged to chip into their opponents’ 16-point lead at the top of the Conference.
Leinster are a fearsome force at the RDS Arena and you have to go back to 2013 for their last loss at the hands of an Irish province, that it was Ulster will provide little comfort to the visitors as they begin life without Henry Speight, the Australian international who joined the province on a short-term contract. Dan McFarland has steadied the ship during his first season in Belfast but coming off a tough loss to Connacht against a Leinster team eager to right their own wrongs will require a hard day’s work at the office.
Scarlets are in need of a result to kick-start their season, but Dragons are starting to pick up form which means that nothing is certain in Llanelli. Cardiff Blues’ victory over the men in red in Round 12 brought to an end Scarlets’ 27-month, 26-match, unbeaten home record in the Pro14 at Parc y Scarlets – a run of form that was on course to set a new Championship record.
Dragons’ will be buoyed by their narrow loss in Cardiff and their win over Ospreys last weekend, but they have not won an away game in the Championship in their last 38 attempts. Champions in 2017, Scarlets have lost ground to Benetton in Conference B as they bid to reach the Final Series and they will be desperate to get back to winning ways in this one.
The Sportsground will be full to capacity in Galway as Munster arrive to face Connacht where a win for the home team would see them leap frog the two-time European champions in the Conference table.
Connacht were in second place before their opponents’ win over Leinster in Round 12 and there are plenty of positive signals that Andy Friend’s team may make a return to the knock-out stages for the first time since 2016. Their derby form in the past couple of weeks has been strong, even if their late, late loss to Leinster will be rued in years to come, however, Connacht showed strong character to bounce back against Ulster last weekend.
Munster will want to solidify their place in the top end of Conference A, particularly after Glasgow’s recent slips have left just two points between the two sides. However, Johann van Graan’s men will not overlook Connacht on their own patch where they won all three of their derby games last season.
Edinburgh will bounce into their game at Murrayfield against the Southern Kings knowing that if results go their way in Round 13 they could slingshot into second place behind Leinster.
Richard Cockerill’s men struggled for consistency earlier in the campaign coming off the back of their first-ever Pro14 Final Series appearance last season. However, Scotland’s capital team have bounced back in the Pro14 and the Champions Cup and their back-to-back wins over Glasgow Warriors have set them up for a good 2019. The Southern Kings are playing their first game since their winter break and an away win the Pro14 still remains elusive for Deon Davids’ team.
Zebre will be eager to regain some momentum with the Cheetahs arriving in Parma.
However, after their month-long break, the South Africans should leave be refreshed and rejuvenated coming into this game. The Cheetahs’ most obvious issue since joining the Pro14 has been their failure to consistently win on the road, but one of their two away wins last season did come in Stadio Lanfranchi against Zebre. Chilly, but dry conditions are expected and this should be a close contest between two teams who love to throw the ball around.
Pick of the Round – Ospreys v Cardiff Blues:
Ospreys have strong form at home this season with only Glasgow Warriors winning at the Liberty Stadium, but Cardiff Blues have been resurgent of late and their comprehensive win over Scarlets in Round 12 means that they will travel west once more with renewed confidence.
It is a vital fixture for both sides’ aspirations to reach the knock-out stages. Ospreys lost ground in Conference A after their loss to Dragons, but Glasgow’s recent skid means Allen Clarke’s team trail the leaders by eight and third-placed Connacht by just three.
Blues, meanwhile, have finished 2018 strongly and sit just one point behind their hosts ahead of this game. Their upcoming fixtures include Conference A rivals Connacht and Glasgow so this is a crucial run of games to see if they can reach the Pro14 Final Series for the very first time.
Opta Top Performers – Round 12:
Most Tackles: 24 Nick Williams (Cardiff Blues)
Most Carries: 22 Tommaso Castello (Zebre)
Defenders Beaten: 8 Colby Fainga’a (Connacht)
Offloads: 3 Multiple Players
Breaks: 3 George North (Ospreys) / Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff Blues)
Metres Made: 126 Keith Earls (Munster)
Turnovers Won: 4 Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues)
Line-outs Steals: 1 Multiple Players
Opta Top Performers – Overall:
Most Tackles: 146 Josh Turnbull (Cardiff Blues)
Most Carries: 154 Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Defenders Beaten: 40 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh)
Offloads: 19 Tom Farrell (Connacht)
Breaks: 16 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh)
Metres Made: 700 Jordan Williams (Dragons)
Turnovers Won: 19 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues) / Marcell Coetzee (Ulster)
Line-outs Steals: 7 Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs)
We take a closer look at all the matches in Round 13!
Saturday, January 5:
BENETTON v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 UK & Ireland time; 14.00 GMT)
Benetton’s only defeat in their last five matches was to Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop in Round Four of the European Challenge Cup. The Italians have lost their last three fixtures against Scottish opponents since beating Edinburgh at Myreside in September 2017. Glasgow Warriors have lost their last two matches, both against Edinburgh, to end a five-game winning run in all competitions. The Warriors only win in their last four away games in Pro14 was over Ospreys at Liberty Stadium in Round Eight. Glasgow have won their last twenty-seven matches against Italian opponents since they were defeated by Benetton at Firhill in September 2011. The Warriors only defeat at Stadio Monigo in the Championship was 16-19 in April 2011.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Abraham Steyn, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Marco Zanon.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruairdh Jackson, 14 Robbie Nairn, 13 Stafford McDowall, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Kevin Bryce, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Matt Smith, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Lee Jones.
Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Gabriel Chirnoaga (Italy)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
OSPREYS v CARDIFF BLUES
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Ospreys’ last six matches in all tournament have all been won by the home side on the day. The only team to have beaten Ospreys at Liberty Stadium in the Pro14 since October 2017 has been Glasgow (twice) in November 2017 and November 2018. Cardiff Blues have won their last two matches, against Dragons and Scarlets, and are therefore going for a regional clean sweep. The Blues have won just twice away from home in Pro14 this season, at Dragons in Round Six and at Scarlets last weekend. Ospreys have lost just once to The Blues in the Championship since 2010: 17-35 at Principality Stadium on ‘Judgement Day’ 2017. Blues only previous victory at Liberty Stadium in The Pro14 was in December 2005.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 George North, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Sam Cross, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Alex Jeffries, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 James King, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Luke Price, 23 Owen Watkin.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 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 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Kristian Dacey (captain), 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 George Earle, 20 Rory Thornton, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Owen Lane.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Elgan Williams (Wales), Dewi Phillips (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
LEINSTER v ULSTER
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Leinster’s nine game winning run in the Pro14 ended with their defeat at Munster last weekend. The Leinstermen’s only home defeat in any tournament since the 2017 Pro14 semifinal was to Benetton in the Championship last April. The last Irish province to defeat Leinster at the RDS Arena was Ulster in March 2013. Ulster’s four game winning run in all tournaments ended with their defeat in Connacht on Friday. The Ulstermen have won just twice on the road in the Pro14 this season, at the Southern Kings in Round Three and at Benetton in Round Eight. The Ulstermen are without a win in their last eight away games against fellow Irish provinces since beating Connacht in Galway in December 2015. Leinster’s only loss in their last five fixtures with Ulster was in Belfast in May 2017. The only time that Ulster have beaten Leinster in Dublin in the Championship was at the RDS Arena in March 2013. Overall the two provinces have met on 154 previous occasions with Leinster having the edge by 79 wins to 60 and 15 games drawn since they first met in 1875.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney (captain), 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Conor O’Brien, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Ciarán Frawley, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Max Deegan 7 Scott Penny, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Caelan Doris, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jimmy O’Brien.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Rob Lyttle, 13 Darren Cave, 12 James Hume, 11 Angus Kernohan, 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 Dave Shanahan, 8 N Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 G Jones, 5 Alan O’Connor (captain), 4 Matthew Dalton, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Adam McBurney, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Caleb Montgomery, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Johnny Stewart, 22 Bruce Houston, 23 Peter Nelson.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Kieran Barry (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
SCARLETS v DRAGONS
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Scarlets have lost their last five matches in all competitions since their home win over Ulster in Round Nine of the Pro14. Scarlets 27-month, 26 match, unbeaten home record in the Championship ended with their reversal to Cardiff Blues on Saturday. Dragons single point victory at home to Ospreys on Sunday ended a four-game losing streak in all tournaments. It was their first victory over a fellow Welsh region for four years. Dragons are in the midst of the worst away run ever in the history of Guinness Pro14 with 38 successive away defeats since beating Benetton at Treviso in March 2015. Scarlets have won their last nine encounters with Dragons in the Pro14 whilst their only defeat in the Championship to the Men from Gwent since New Year’s Day 2008 was at Rodney Parade in September 2013. Dragons have never won in 11 previous visits to Parc y Scarlets in all tournaments, but they were victorious on their final visit to Stradey Park in September 2007.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Ioan Nicholas, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Paul Asquith, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Ken Owens (captain), 7 Dan Davis, 6 Ed Kennedy, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Josh Helps, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Tom Price, 20 Tom Phillips, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Steff Hughes, 23 Tom Prydie.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Adam Warren, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Harrison Keddie, 7 Aaron Wainwright, 6 Cory Hill (captain), 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Brandon Nansen, 3 Dan Suter, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Aaron Jarvis.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Gerard Ellis, 18 Chris Coleman, 19 Joe Davies, 20 James Benjamin, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Mike English (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
CONNACHT v MUNSTER
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Connacht’s only defeat in their last seven matches in all competitions was 29-33 to Leinster at the RDS Arena on December 22. Connacht’s only two home defeats this season were both in the Pro14, by a solitary point to Glasgow Warriors in Round One and 3-20 to Leinster in Round Five. Munster’s only defeat in the last six rounds of the Pro14 was 12-19 to Ulster in Belfast in Round 11. The Munstermen have won just twice away from home in the Championship this season, at the Cheetahs in Round Eight and at Zebre in Round Nine. Munster have lost their last six away games against fellow Irish provinces. The two provinces have met on 95 previous occasion since the first in 1934 with Munster winning 82, Connacht nine and four games drawn. In recent times Connacht have won three of their last four matches against Munster in Galway.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Paul Boyle, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Dominic Robertson Mc-Coy, 2 Dave Heffernan (captain), 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Cillian Gallagher, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Colm DeBuitlear.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ben Blain (Scotland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
EDINBURGH v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA Time)
Edinburgh have won their last four matches in all tournaments since going down in Munster in Round 10 of the Pro14 at the end of November. The Scotsmen have won their last nine fixtures at Murrayfield in all tournaments since Ulster beat them there in April. Edinburgh’s only defeat to a South African opponent in the Pro14 was against Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in November 2017. Southern Kings solitary victory this season was 38-28 against Glasgow in Port Elizabeth in round Four – their only victory over a Scottish opponent in the Championship. The two sides have met just twice before with Edinburgh running out easy bonus point victors on both
Edinburgh: 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 George Taylor, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill, 4 Fraser McKenzie (captain), 3 Simon Berghan, 2 David Cherry, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Ally Miller, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 James Johnstone.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Martin Du Toit, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Cyril-John Velleman, 5 John-Charles Astle (captain), 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Alandre Van Rooyen, 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 18 Luvuyo Pupuma, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Andries van Schalkwyk, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Berton Klaasen, 23 Ntabeni Dukisa.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Johnny Erskine (Ireland) Hollie Davidson (Scotland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Sunday, January 6:
ZEBRE v CHEETAHS
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT; 15.00 SA Time)
Zebre have slipped to five straight Pro14 defeats, with their only success since Round Three being at home to Edinburgh at the end of October. Zebre have faced South African opponents on four occasions in the Championship, beating Kings twice and losing to Cheetahs twice. Cheetahs only two victories in the Pro14 this season have both been in their last four matches, and both at home, to Cardiff Blues and Benetton. The South Africans have won only twice outside the Republic since they joined the Pro14, at Zebre in October 2017 and at Dragons in March 2018.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Paula Balekana, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Nicolas De Battista, 11 James Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Giovanni Licata, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Samuele Ortis, 4 David Sisi (captain), 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Massimo Ceciliani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 George Biagi, 20 Iacopo Bianchi, 21 Joshua Renton, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Tommaso Boni.
Cheetahs: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Daniel Maartens, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Walt Steenkamp, 21 Abongile Nonkontwana, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Louis Fouche.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Aled Evans (Wales) Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) January 2, 2019