PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 16
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Round 16 of the Pro14 comes swiftly on the heels of an entertaining weekend which saw plenty of tries scored all across Europe and three impressive away wins.
Those victories came on the road for Ulster at Ospreys, Leinster at Zebre, and Glasgow Warriors’ lung-busting 38-34 victory at Cardiff Arms Park.
Ulster and Leinster’s victories contributed to an excellent round for the Irish provinces, as all four registered victories to advance their claims ahead of the Pro14 Finals Series.
In the Conference tables, Munster hold a slight advantage over Glasgow Warriors in Conference A, while Leinster are still reigning supreme in Conference B.
What’s at stake?
The weekend kicks off on Friday with a triple header of action that involves Glasgow Warriors (A2) hosting Connacht (A3) at Scotstoun in an intriguing battle at the top end of Conference A. If Connacht have any designs on overhauling second-placed Glasgow then this match would be the perfect place to start, with Connacht in good form following their 25-17 victory over the Cheetahs on Saturday. The Warriors though are in good form themselves after their scintillating Saturday win at Cardiff Blues, and have only been defeated at home by Edinburgh this season, at the end of December.
Slightly later on Friday it’s top versus bottom in Conference B as Leinster (B1) host the Southern Kings (B7) at RDS Arena. The Dublin-based province have won all three previous encounters between these two sides but the Kings pushed them close in November, losing just 31-38. Leinster have won their last five in all competitions, while the Kings’ two victories this season have both been against Scottish opposition.
The Saturday lunch-time kick-off sees Dragons (B6) travel to Benetton B3). Dragons have performed well in recent rounds, losing out 17-34 at in-form Edinburgh last time out and only being pipped 7-8 by Munster in Round 14. The Welsh region face a tough challenge though with Benetton currently flying – the Italian outfit have picked up 23 Championship points from their last six encounters, with only Leinster and Munster having tallied more. Scarlets led three times against Benetton at the weekend, but tries from Toa Halafihi, Luca Sperandio and Federico Ruzza maintained Benetton’s red-hot form.
Meanwhile, in one of two late kick-offs on Saturday, hosts Edinburgh (B2) will look to consolidate their position in Conference B when they face Cardiff Blues (A5) at Murrayfield. Richard Cockerill’s men bounced back from Round 14 defeat away to Southern Kings by beating Dragons 34-17 last weekend – thanks in part to more wing wizardry from Duhan van der Merwe – and will hope to pull clear of third-placed Benetton this weekend. Visitors Cardiff Blues, by contrast, were on the wrong end of a thrilling encounter against Glasgow Warriors, but are still firmly in the hunt for a place in the Pro14 Final Series. Despite defeat at Arms Park, head coach John Mulvihill will be buoyed by star performances from the likes of Aled Summerhill and Owen Lane – both of whom will be crucial to the Welsh side’s hopes on Saturday.
In the other late kick-off on Saturday, Ulster (B4) welcome Zebre (A7) to the Kingspan Stadium. Narrow victors away to Ospreys in Round 15, Dan McFarland’s men come into the clash off the back of a four-game unbeaten streak and have tasted defeat just once in Belfast over the past 12 months. With just two points separating Ulster from Edinburgh in second, the hosts will look to take a big step towards Final Series qualification against the Italians. Zebre, for their part, have gone without a win since Round Seven, but can at least point to one positive omen ahead of the match; the men from Parma taking bragging rights the last time the two teams met back in 2017.
Round 16’s final game sees Scarlets (B5) take on Cheetahs (A6) on Sunday. The hosts have won just one of their last six matches, yet can rely upon a formidable home record that has seen them lose just once since the opening round of the 2016/17 campaign. Visitors Cheetahs saw their own winning run come to an end in Connacht and will need to improve on their form outside of South Africa if they are to take the spoils in south Wales. Franco Smith’s team have tasted glory just three times on their travels since joining the Pro14.
Pick of the Round – Ospreys (A4) v Munster (A1)
Round 16’s standout fixture is an intriguing Friday night match-up under the lights between Conference A leaders Munster (A1) and Ospreys (A4) at the Liberty Stadium. Nilled for the first time ever at home last weekend, a wounded Ospreys will be eager to make amends in front of their own fans but face one of the Pro14’s in-form sides in Munster, who have won their last six matches in all competitions.
Spurred on by a superb Andrew Conway display, Johann van Graan’s team roared to a 43-0 success against Southern Kings last Friday and have also tasted victory in four of their last five trips to the Liberty Stadium. Another win here would send out a serious statement of intent to the rest of their Conference A rivals.
Cheetahs player Nico Lee banned for 13 weeks after he “accepted that he had cleared the contents of his nose onto the face of an opposing player.” pic.twitter.com/bpXRqT0L6l
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) February 20, 2019
Opta Top Performers – Round 15:
Most tackles: 25 Harrison Keddie (Dragons)
Most carries: 20 Andrew Conway (Munster)
Defenders Beaten: 7 Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh), Jarrod Evans
(Cardiff Blues), Conor O’Brien (Leinster)
Offloads: 4 Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets)
Clean Breaks: 4 Aled Summerhill (Cardiff Blues), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors)
Metres made: 115 Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets)
Turnovers Won: 3 Denis Buckley (Connacht), Chris Cloete (Munster), Tomas Baravalle (Benetton),
Liam Belcher (Cardiff Blues)
Lineout Steals: Samuele Ortis (Zebre)
Opta Top Performers – Overall:
Most tackles: 188 Olly Cracknell (Ospreys)
Most Carries: 205 Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Defenders beaten: 57 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh)
Offloads: 24 Tom Farrell (Connacht)
Clean breaks: 26 Sibhale Maxwane (Cheetahs)
Metres made: 996 Malcolm Jaer (Cheetahs)
Turnovers won: 22 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Lineout Steals: 7 Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs)
We take a closer look at all the Round 16 action
Friday, February 22:
GLASGOW WARRIORS v CONNACHT
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have won their last two Pro14 matches since their defeat in Treviso on January 5. The Warriors only home defeat in the Championship this season was to Edinburgh in the 1872 Cup match at the end of December. Glasgow have not been defeated by an Irish province at Scotstoun in the Pro14 since Munster were the visitors in December 2016. Connacht beat Cheetahs in Galway last weekend to end a pair of successive defeats in the Pro14. Connacht have lost their last two away games in the Championship but have already won three times on the road this season; at Ulster and in South Africa against both Kings and Cheetahs. Connacht’s most recent victory over a Scottish opponent was against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in April 2017. Glasgow have won their last five encounters with Connacht since the Irishmen’s victory in Galway in the 2016 semi-final whilst Connacht’s most recent victory on Glasgow soil was 19-17 at Firhill in September 2010.
Glasgow: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Paddy Kelly, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Brandon Thomson, 9 George Horne, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Chris Fusaro (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Kevin Bryce, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Matt Fagerson, 20 Thomas Gordon, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Rory Hughes, 23 Robbie Nairn.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Stephen Fitzgerald, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 James Cannon, 4 Cillian Gallagher, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Joe Maksymiw, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Cian Kelleher.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Elgan Williams (Wales)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
OSPREYS v MUNSTER
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Ospreys only victory in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 20-11 over Cardiff Blues at Liberty Stadium on January 5. The Welshmen were nilled for the first time ever at home last weekend when Ulster visited Bridgend and won 8-0. Ospreys have lost only once at Liberty Stadium in the Pro14 since November 2017: 20-29 to Glasgow last November. Munster have won their last six matches in all competitions since Ulster beat them in Belfast in Round 11 of the Pro14. Munster’s record on their last nine visits to Wales in won six, lost three, with all three defeats being to the Blues at the Cardiff Arms Park. Munster have won their last six matches against Ospreys since the Welshmen’s 21-17 victory in Cork in February 2016. The Munstermen have won on four of their last five visits to Liberty Stadium.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Luke Price, 9 Matthew Aubrey, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Sam Cross, 6 Olly Cracknell (captain), 5 Bradley Davies, 4 James King, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Rowan Jenkins, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Will Griffiths, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Luke Morgan.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Neil Cronin, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Fineen Wycherley, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Rory Scannell.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Manuel Bottino (Italy)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
LEINSTER v SOUTHERN KINGS
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.55; 19.55 GMT; 21.55 SA Time)
Leinster have won their last five matches in all competitions, four of those with maximum points. The Leinstermen’s only defeat in the Pro14 since Round Two was away at Munster on December 29. The Leinstermen have won their last eleven home games at all venues since Benetton beat them in the Pro14 at the RDS Arena last April. Southern Kings two victories this season have both been against Scottish opponents at Madibaz Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Kings are yet to record an away win since they joined the Pro14 at the start of last season and have lost on all four previous visits they have made to play an Irish province. Leinster have met South African opponents on four occasions in the Pro14 winning all three they played against Southern Kings but losing to Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in September 2017.
Leinster: 15 Barry Daly, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Conor O’Brien, 12 Noel Reid, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Hugh O’Sullivan, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Max Deegan, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Ross Molony (captain), 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Jack Dunne, 20 Scott Fardy, 21 Paddy Patterson, 22 Jimmy O’Brien, 23 Rory O’Loughlin.
Southern Kings: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Meli Rokoua, 12 Berton Klaasen, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Bader Pretorius, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Henry Brown, 5 Andries van Schalkwyk, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 2 Michael Willemse (captain), 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Replacements: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 John-Charles Astle, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Tertius Kruger, 23 Masixole Banda.
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Ian Kenny (Scotland)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)
Saturday, February 23:
BENETTON v DRAGONS
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 UK & Ireland time; 13.00 GMT)
Benetton’s only defeat in their last ten matches in all competitions was 9-20 to Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop in Round Four of the European Challenge Cup. Benetton have picked up 23 league points from their last six encounters, only Irish giants Leinster and Munster have tallied more with 24 apiece. The Italians have not been defeated at Stadio Monigo in any competition since Ulster were the visitors in the Pro14 in early November. Dragons’ only victory in the last six rounds of the Pro14 was by a single point at home to Ospreys on December 30. Dragons most recent away victory in the Championship came at Stadio Monigo in March 2015. Benetton’s only defeat in their last five contests with Dragons was 8-26 at Rodney Parade in January 2017.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Antonio Rizzi, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Niccolò Cannone, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Derrick Appiah
Replacements:16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Giuseppe Di Stefano, 19 Robert Barbieri, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Marco Zanon, 23 Tommaso Iannone
Dragons: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Will Talbot-Davies, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 James Benjamin, 7 Ollie Griffiths, 6 Harri Keddie, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Lewis Evans, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Richard Hibbard (captain), 1 Brok Harris
Replacements:16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Rhys Fawcett, 18 Dan Suter, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Rhodri Davies, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Adam Warren
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Gianlucca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
EDINBURGH v CARDIFF BLUES
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Edinburgh’s only reversal in their last nine matches in all tournaments was to Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on January 26. The Scotsmen have lost only twice at home in the Pro14 under Richard Cockerill: 17-20 to Benetton at Myreside in September 2017 and 20-32 to Ulster at Murrayfield last April. Cardiff Blues only victory in their last seven away games in all competitions was 34-5 over Scarlets in Llanelli in Round 12 of the Pro14. The Blues have not overcome a Scottish opponent in the Pro14 since beating Edinburgh at Myreside by the narrowest of margins in February 2017. Cardiff Blues have lost just once to Edinburgh in their last six Championship meetings: 10-20 at Cardiff Arms Park in September 2017. Blues have won on six of their last seven visits to Edinburgh in the Pro14.
Edinburgh: 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Ally Miller, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill, 4 Fraser McKenzie (captain), 3 Pietro Ceccarell, 2 David Cherry, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Senitiki Nayalo, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Mark Bennett
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams (captain), 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 George Earle, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Rhys Carré
Replacements:16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Dane Blacker, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Jason Harries
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
ULSTER v ZEBRE
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 20.35 SA time)
Ulster are unbeaten in their last four matches in all competitions since their defeat to Leinster at the RDS Arena in Round 13 of the Pro14. The Ulstermen have lost only once in Belfast in the last twelve months: 15-22 to Connacht in the Championship in October. Zebre Rugby have not been victorious in the Pro14 since Round Seven when they overcame Edinburgh in Parma 34-16. The Italians have achieved five previous victories over Irish opponents in the Championship; two at home to Ulster and two at home and one away against Connacht. Zebre beat Ulster 27-23 in Parma the last time they met in September 2017 but have never won in five previous visits to Belfast.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Peter Nelson, 9 Dave Shanahan, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Greg Jones, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Johnny McPhillips, 23 James Hume
Zebre: 15 Francois Brummer, 14 Paula Balekana, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Nicolas De Battista, 11 James Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 Jacopo Bianchi, 7 James Brown, 6 Apisai Tauyavuca, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Daniele Rimpelli
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Roberto Tenga, 19 Lorenzo Masselli, 20 Alessandro Mordacci, 21 Riccardo Raffaele, 22 Maicol Azzolini, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Dewi Phillips (Wales), Gareth Newman (Wales)
TMO: Ken Henley-Willis (Ireland)
Sunday, February 24:
Scarlets v Cheetahs
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT; 15.00 SA time)
Scarlets only victory in the last six rounds of the Pro14 was 22-13 at home to Dragons on January 5. Scarlets solitary defeat at Parc y Scarlets in the Pro14 since the opening round of the 2016/17 campaign was 5-34 to Cardiff Blues on December 29, 2018. The Welshmen’s record against South African opponents in the Pro14 is won five lost one. Cheetahs winning run in the Pro14 ended in Connacht last weekend. Cheetahs have won only three times outside of South Africa since they joined the Pro14, beating Zebre twice in Parma and the Dragons in Newport. The two sides have met just twice before with each team winning its respective home game. The only
previous meeting at Parc y Scarlets was in last year’s play-offs where the home side ran out 43-8 victors.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Josh Macleod, 5 Josh Helps, 4 Jake Ball(captain), 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements:16 Marc Jones, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Tom Phillips, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Steff Hughes
Cheetahs: 15 Louis Fouche, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Shaun Venter (captain), 8 Gerhard Olivier, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Abongile Nonkontwana, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements:16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Reinach Venter, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Tian Meyer
Referee: Johnny Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones, Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)