PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 17
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Round 17 of the Pro14 arrives after a weekend which saw the race for Finals Series spots get even tighter.
Last weekend’s results meant that champions Leinster became the first team to secure their place (with a home semifinal on offer next), while Munster and Glasgow Warriors won to keep setting the pace in Conference A. However, behind them, the chase is as close as ever for the remaining places.
This weekend sees some huge games taking place, in particular with Benetton hosting Edinburgh and Connacht taking on the Ospreys.
What’s at stake?
The weekend kicks off on Friday with just the one game, as Leinster (B1) play host to the Cheetahs (A6) at the RDS. Leinster’s bonus-point win over the Southern Kings last week, combined with other results meant that the 2017/18 champions are now mathematically assured of a place in the Finals Series, and another win would seal top spot in Conference B. The Cheetahs, by contrast, really need a win to stay in touch in the race for a top three spot in Conference A. However, they are still searching for a first win in Ireland and face a Leinster team who have not lost at home since April 2018.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) February 28, 2019
Saturday’s action begins at the Sportsground as Connacht (A4) host the Ospreys (A5). With just three points separating Cardiff Blues, Connacht and Ospreys in the race for a Finals Series spot, this could have huge implications for the end of season. The Ospreys were narrowly beaten by Munster last week and have now lost five in a row in all competitions to slip to fifth in Conference A. Connacht, meanwhile, have had some struggles of their own with just one win in their last four in the Championship but have not lost at home to a Welsh side since 2017.
Later on Saturday the Scarlets (B5) host Munster (A1) in a re-run of the 2017 Final, this time at Parc y Scarlets. Last year’s runners-up find themselves in a perilous position in the race for a Final Series sport, sitting fifth in Conference B. They are however only five points off Benetton in second, so that could all change in a single weekend. The Scarlets boast a fine home record, with just one defeat at Parc y Scarlets since 2016 in the Championship, and they got back to winning ways against the Cheetahs last time out. However, Munster were victorious on their last trip to the Scarlets, winning in September 2016.
Glasgow Warriors (A2) will look to keep the pressure on Munster as they travel to Parma to take on Zebre (A7). The Warriors sit just a point back on Munster following last week’s bonus-point success against Connacht, and now face a Zebre side who they have beaten in all 13 meetings between the sides. The Warriors were beaten on their last trip to Italy, away to Benetton, while Zebre beat the last Scottish opposition to come to Parma, Edinburgh.
The final game of Saturday is Cardiff Blues (A3) at home to the Southern Kings (B7). The Blues came from behind to record a vital win away at Edinburgh last week, and moved into the top three in Conference A. They will be keen to consolidate that position against a Kings side whose only wins this season have come against Scottish opposition. The Blues have only been beaten once in their last four games, that thriller against Glasgow Warriors, and with their two play-off rivals facing each other earlier in the day, a win could open up some breathing room ahead of the loser in Galway.
Finally, on Sunday Ulster (B3) travel to the Dragons (B6) in need of a win at Rodney Parade. A big win over the Kings got Ulster back into the top three in Conference B, and they have the chance to cement that place in Wales. The Dragons have not beaten Irish opposition since 2017, although the last time the teams met at Rodney Parade, they played out a thrilling 32-32 draw. Ulster are on a good run having now won two in a row on the road and will look to make it three straight away wins for the first time since 2016.
Pick of the Round – Benetton v Edinburgh
The pick of the games in Round 17 comes in Italy as Benetton (B2) host Edinburgh (B4). A record win last time out against the Dragons consolidated Benetton’s position in the top three, and they can give their chances of making a first Final Series spot a real boost this weekend.
They host an Edinburgh team who are still right in the thick of things but will have to get the better of Benetton who have not lost in seven in the Championship. Edinburgh’s record at the Stadio Monigo is played eight, won four, lost four. Their Finals Series hopes may end up being dependent on whether they can come away from this weekend with a winning record in Treviso.
Opta Top Performers – Round 16:
Most tackles: 29 Tienie Burger, Henry Brown (both Southern Kings)
Most carries: 20 Ed Byrne (Leinster)
Defenders Beaten: 10 Keelan Giles (Ospreys)
Offloads: 7 Monty Ioane (Benetton)
Clean Breaks: 5 Paul Asquith (Scarlets)
Metres made: 139 Paul Asquith (Scarlets)
Turnovers Won: 4 Tadhg Beirne (Munster)
Lineout Steals: 2 Tadhg Beirne (Munster)
Opta Top Performers – Overall:
Most tackles: 210 Olly Cracknell (Ospreys)
Most Carries: 221 Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Defenders Beaten: 61 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh)
Offloads: 24 Tom Farrell (Connacht)
Clean breaks: 27 Sibhale Maxwane (Cheetahs)
Metres made: 996 Malcolm Jaer (Cheetahs)
Turnovers won: 23 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Lineout Steals: 7 Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), James King (Ospreys)
We take a closer look at all the Round 17 action!
Friday, March 1:
LEINSTER v CHEETAHS
At RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA time)
Leinster’s only two defeats in the Pro14 this season were both on the road, at Scarlets in Round Two and at Munster in Round 12. Leinster’s only defeat in their last twenty-six home games in all tournaments was 15-17 to Benetton at the RDS Arena in the Pro14 in April last year. The Cheetahs have lost their last two matches, at Connacht and at Scarlets, since they beat Southern Kings in Bloemfontein a month ago. Cheetahs record on visits to Ireland is played five, lost five. The two sides have met just once before, at Bloemfontein in September 2017 where the home side won 38-19.
Leinster: 15 Dave Kearney, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Conor O’Brien, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Max Deegan, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Peter Dooley
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Josh Murphy, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Barry Daly.
Cheetahs: 15 Louis Fouche, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (captain),8 Junior Pokomela, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais R, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Marnus van der Merwe, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Shaun Venter.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)
Saturday, March 2:
CONNACHT v OSPREYS
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 14.45; 14.45 GMT)
Connacht’s only win in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 25-17 at home to Cheetahs in Round 15. The Irishmen have lost only once at home in any tournament since September: 24-31 to Munster in the Pro14 in early January. No Welsh side has won at The Sportsground since Cardiff Blues were the visitors in September 2017. Ospreys have lost their last five fixtures in all tournaments since beating Blues 20-11 at Liberty Stadium in Round 13 of the Pro14. Ospreys have won only once away from home this season: 22-8 at Zebre in late September. The Welshmen have lost their last ten visits to Irish provinces since beating Connacht in Galway in September 2016. Ospreys only defeat in their last five fixtures against Connacht was 15-26 at The Sportsground in February 2018.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Stephen Fitzgerald, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Kyle Godwin, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Ultan Dillane, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 James Cannon, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Cian Kelleher.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Cory Allen, 12 James Hook, 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 Harri Morgan, 22 Tom Williams, 23 Luke Morgan.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Matteo Liperini (Italy)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
BENETTON v EDINBURGH
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK & Ireland time; 15.00 GMT)
Benetton are unbeaten in the Pro14 since November, a run which has seen them claim six wins and a draw. Benetton have won their last six home matches in all competitions since Ulster beat them at Stadio Monigo in early November. Edinburgh have lost two of their last three Pro14 matches, at Southern Kings and at home to Cardiff Blues. The Scotsmen have lost on three of their last five visits to Italy. Edinburgh have won their last two matches against Benetton whilst their overall records on visits to Stadio Monigo is an even won four, lost four.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian McKinley, 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 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Robert Barbieri, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Edinburgh: 15 Tom Brown, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Jack Blain, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos (captain), 8 Ally Miller, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 WP Nel, 2 David Cherry, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Senitiki Nayalo, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Mark Bennett.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Kieran Barry (Ireland)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
SCARLETS v MUNSTER
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.00; 17.00 GMT)
Scarlets three-game losing run in all tournaments ended with their 43-21 victory at home to Cheetahs last weekend. The Welshmen have been beaten just once in Guinness PRO14 at Parc y Scarlets since September 2016, by Cardiff Blues in December 2018. Munster’s only defeat in the last ten rounds of the Pro14 was 12-19 at Ulster on 21 December. Munster have won their last four away games in all competitions since then. The two sides have met just once since the Scarlets won the 2017 Pro14 Final at Aviva Stadium: Munster winning 19-7 in Limerick in March 2018. The Munstermen won on their most recent visit to Parc y Scarlets in September 2016 to end a five-game winless streak at the venue.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Ioan Nicholas, 13 Kieron Fonotia (captain), 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Josh Macleod, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 4 Josh Helps, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Tom Price, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Steff Evans.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Ronan O’Mahony, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 Bill Johnston, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8, Arno Botha, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Fineen Wycherley, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Jaco Taute.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales), Dave Sutherland (Scotland)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
ZEBRE v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 18.15; 17.15 UK & Ireland time; 17.15 GMT)
Zebre have lost their last nine Pro14 encounters since beating Edinburgh in Parma in October. All four of Zebre’s home wins against Scottish opponents have been against Edinburgh. Glasgow Warriors have won their last three Pro14 matches since their defeat in Treviso in Round 13. Warriors have won four times on the road in the Championship this season, at Connacht in Round One, Cheetahs in Round Three, Ospreys in Round Eight and Cardiff Blues in Round 15. Glasgow’s only two defeats in Guinness PRO14 on visits to Italy were both on trips to Treviso, in April 2011 and January 2019. The two sides have met on thirteen previous occasions with Warriors winning them all.
Zebre: 15 Francois Brummer, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 James Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 6 James Brown, 5 David Sisi, 4 Samuele Ortis, 3 Roberto Tenga, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Daniele Rimpelli.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Matteo Nocera, 19 Apisai Tauyavuca, 20 Jacopo Bianchi, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Boni, 23 Paula Balekana.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Robbie Nairn, 13 Kyle Steyn, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Chris Fusaro (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Bruce Flockhart, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Paddy Kelly.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Luca Trentin (Italy), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)
CARDIFF BLUES v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA time)
Cardiff Blues only defeat in their last four matches in all competitions was 34-38 at home to Glasgow Warriors in Round 15 of the Pro14. It was only the second defeat Blues had suffered at The Arms Park this season – the other being against Leinster in Round One. Southern Kings have not won since beating Edinburgh 25-21 in Port Elizabeth on January 26. Southern Kings have visited Wales on five previous occasions in the Championship and lost them all. The two sides have met just once before in the Guinness PRO14 with the Welshmen claiming an away win at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last April.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Aled Summerhill, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Harri Millard, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Harries, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams (captain), 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Macauley Cook, 4 George Earle, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Seb Davies, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Southern Kings: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Meli Rokoua, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Bader Pretorius, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Henry Brown, 5 John-Charles Astle (co-captain), 4 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 2 Michael Willemse (co-captain), 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Replacements: 16 Alandre Van Rooyen, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Lupumlo Mguca, 19 Stephan Greeff, 20 Stephan De Wit, 21 Rudi Van Rooyen, 22 Berton Klassen, 23 Masixole Banda.
Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Sunday, March 3:
DRAGONS v ULSTER
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Dragons have lost their last four fixtures since beating Timisoara Saracens at Rodney Parade in the European Challenge Cup on January 11. Dragons have lost three of their last five home games in the Pro14 whilst they have not beaten an Irish province at any venue since they defeated Connacht in Newport in September 2017. Ulster are unbeaten in their last five fixtures in all competitions since losing at Leinster in Round 13 of the Pro14. Ulster have won their last two away games, at Leicester Tigers and at Ospreys, but have not won three in a row on their travels since January 2016. Ulster are unbeaten in their last seven encounters with Dragons since the Men from Gwent’s 26-22 victory at Rodney Parade in March 2015, a sequence which also includes a 32-all draw, the last time the sides met in Newport.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jarryd Sage, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Harri Keddie, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Huw Taylor, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Richard Hibbard (captain), 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Max Williams, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Warwick, 17 John Andrew, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Matthew Rea, 21 David Shanahan, 22 James Hume, 23 Peter Nelson.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa))
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Gareth John (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)