PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 19
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Pro14 returns after an exciting quarterfinal round of the European Champions Cup.
In the Conference tables, Glasgow Warriors still hold a slight advantage over Munster in Conference A, while Pool B Leinster still plough on with their home semifinal already in the bag.
It looks to be going right down to the wire for second place in Conference B. Benetton and Ulster should both be wary of Edinburgh as well as each other, especially as the latter two play each other in Round 20.
Pick of the Round – Scarlets (B5) v Edinburgh (B4)
Scarlets simply must win to keep themselves in the running for Conference B second spot. Mathematically Edinburgh have some leeway but if Scarlets win, then they’d go above Edinburgh and the Scottish side would have three sides above them in the race for second spot going into the final two rounds. Fortunately for both Edinburgh and Scarlets, Ulster and Benetton are both facing top placed sides this weekend. A draw would be the ideal result for both Ulster and Benetton, severely hindering their threat from below, making it more of a two-team shootout for spot B2 in the final rounds.
These sides share a very close head to head record, Edinburgh just edging it 16-14 in their previous 31 meetings. Scotland’s capital side also won their most recent meeting, 31-21 at Murrayfield in November. Interestingly, despite having lost two more of their previous matches, Scarlets have scored a massive 11 more tries than Edinburgh. So, when they beat Edinburgh, Scarlets seem to do so in style, and their losses tend to still be high-scoring, exciting affairs. All great omens for this weekend’s battle.
Scarlets marginally edge the form guide entering this crucial match-up, they’ve won two out of their last three, most impressively defeating Munster two rounds ago. Edinburgh have won just one of their last three, but that was an even more impressive defeat of Leinster, 28-11 last time out.
What’s At Stake
The weekend kicks off with Glasgow Warriors (A1) v Ulster (B2) at the Scotstoun Stadium. Warriors have a Final Series berth secured but are battling Munster in the final three rounds for top spot in Conference A. Ulster have three clubs breathing down their necks battling it out for second and third spot in Conference B, but currently lead the charge by four points. Ulster prevailed 36-15 in Belfast last April, taking their head to head to 17-14, including some titanic battles between these two great clubs.
The other Friday night kick off is across the Irish Sea in the city of Cork; Munster (A2) v Cardiff Blues (A4). Munster are looking to down Glasgow for top spot whilst Cardiff Blues aim to pip Connacht to the final Conference A Final Series spot. The higher placed side, Munster, has won 18 of their 31 previous match-ups, but Cardiff Blues came out on top, 37-13 in the Welsh capital last September. The Blues come into this one in slightly better form, having beaten Scarlets, the Southern Kings and Edinburgh in their last three Championship matches, whilst Munster lost to Scarlets in between victories over Ospreys and Zebre.
Saturday’s Pro14 action commences with Cheetahs (A6) v Ospreys (A5) at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein. In just three previous meetings the Cheetahs have won one to the Ospreys two. Most recently the Welsh side won 46-14 at home in September. There is little but pride riding on this one as Cheetahs are already out of the Final Series equation whilst Ospreys would need to win all three of their remaining games and have neither Cardiff Blues nor Connacht pick up one win from their own three remaining matches.
Zebre (A7) face Connacht (A3) at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi. The two teams have done battle on 13 occasions, Connacht lead the head to head 10-3. September’s meeting saw the dominant side triumph 32-13. Zebre have still not added to their three victories all season, whilst Connacht have beaten Benetton and Ospreys in recent rounds since losing to Glasgow in February. If Connacht win and Munster beat Cardiff Blues, then the Galway-based side will have their best chance of sealing a quarterfinal berth.
Two of the top three in Conference B do battle on Saturday as Leinster (B1) play Benetton (B3). Leinster are well clear at the top of Conference B and Benetton will arrive with clear intentions on repeating last year’s surprise win in Dublin. Leinster will be eager to build momentum after their European Cup win over Ulster and already this season Leinster have handled Benetton comfortably with a 31-3 victory in Treviso back in October.
The Sunday fixture will be played at the Madibaz Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. This fixture between the Southern Kings (B6) and Dragons (B7) will go a long way to deciding who avoids finishing bottom in Conference B. Only once in the past three meetings have the Kings prevailed, but Dragons edged a high-scoring match 27-22 at Rodney Parade last September.
Opta Top Performers – Round 18:
Most tackles: 30 Mick Kearney (Leinster)
Most carries: 23 Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Defenders Beaten: 12 Dan Evans (Ospreys)
Offloads: 3 Cory Allen (Ospreys)
Clean Breaks: 5 Dan Evans (Ospreys)
Metres made: 154 Dan Evans (Ospreys)
Turnovers Won: 3 multiple players
Lineout Steals: 1 multiple players
Opta Top Performers – Overall:
Most tackles: 246 Tienie Burger (Kings)
Most Carries: 244 Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Defenders beaten: 61 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh)
Offloads: 28 Monty Ioane (Benetton)
Clean breaks: 28 Sibhale Maxwane (Cheetahs)
Metres made: 1011 Malcolm Jaer (Cheetahs)
Turnovers won: 24 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Lineout Steals: 7 Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs)
We take a closer look at all the matches in Round 19:
Friday, April 5:
GLASGOW WARRIORS v ULSTER
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have won their last five Pro14 matches since their defeat in Treviso on January 5. The Warriors have lost only twice at Scotstoun this season, to Saracens in Round One of the European Champions Cup and Edinburgh in Round 12 of the PRO14. Glasgow’s most recent home defeat in the Championship to an Irish province was when Munster visited Scotstoun in December 2016. Ulster are unbeaten in their last five Pro14 matches since Leinster were victorious at the RDS Arena in early January. The Ulstermen have won their last two away games in Pro14, at Ospreys and at Dragons, but have not won three in a row on their travels since December 2012. Ulster have lost only one of their last five encounters with Glasgow since the 2015 Championship semifinal: 17-27 at Scotstoun in March 2016. Ulster have won on two of their last three visits to Scotland.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Kyle Steyn, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Chris Fusaro (captain), 6 Adam Ashe, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Rob Harley, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Siua Halanukonuka, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Tevita Tameilau, 21 George Horne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Robbie Nairn.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Rob Lyttle, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 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 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Matthew Rea, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Angus Kernohan.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Ian Kenny (Scotland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
MUNSTER v CARDIFF BLUES
(Irish Independent Park, Cork – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Munster’s only defeat in their last ten first-team matches was on a visit to Scarlets in Round 17 of the Pro14. Munster have won their last twelve home games in all competitions and are unbeaten in their last nineteen at home since Leinster were victorious at Thomond Park at Christmas 2017. The Munstermen have not been beaten in Cork since today’s opponents, Cardiff Blues, won there by a single point in September 2016. Cardiff Blues only defeat in their last six first-team matches were 34-38 at home to Glasgow in Round 15 of Pro14. Blues have won twice away from home in the Championship since October, at Scarlets in Round 12 and at Edinburgh in Round 16. Cardiff Blues have won their last two matches against Munster, but both were played at the Arms Park. The Blues have been victorious at Irish Independent Park on four previous occasions in the Pro14, no other visiting side has managed more than two wins there.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey (captain), 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 George Earle, 20 James Botham, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)
Saturday, April 6:
CHEETAHS v OSPREYS
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 17.30; 16.30 UK & Ireland time; 15.30 GMT)
Cheetahs have lost their last four matches in the Pro14, but all were played away from home. Cheetahs have lost just twice in Bloemfontein since September, both by four points against Irish provinces, to Munster in Round Eight and Connacht in Round 10. The South African’s only victory against a Welsh opponent this season was 21-10 at home to Cardiff Blues on October 27. Ospreys six game losing run in all tournaments ended with their 29-20 victory at home to Dragons in the latest round of the Pro14. Ospreys have won only once away from home in any competition this season, at Zebre in Round Five of the Pro14. The two sides have met on three previous occasions in the Pro14 with all going the way of home field advantage. Ospreys only previous trip to South Africa in the Championship ended in a 25-44 defeat to Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in September 2017.
Cheetahs: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Shaun Venter (captain), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Marnus van der Merwe, 17 Aranos Coetzee, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Justin Basson, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Louis Fouche
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Luke Price, 9 Aled Davies, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Lydiate, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Luke Morgan
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Ben Crouse (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
ZEBRE v CONNACHT
(Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 18.30; 17.30 UK & Ireland time; 16.30 GMT)
Zebre’s most recent Pro14 victory was 34-16 at home to Edinburgh on October 26. Zebre’s only two victories over Irish opponents since September 2017 were both against Connacht. Connacht have lost just once in the last four rounds of the Pro14, 17-43 at Glasgow Warriors on February 22. Connacht have not won away from home in the Championship since beating Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in Round 10. Connacht have won their last three matches against Italian opponents. All three of Zebre’s victories in nineteen previous encounters with Connacht in all tournaments came in successive matches between April 2017 and February 2018. Connacht have lost on their last two visits to Parma.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 James Elliott, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 David Sisi, 3 Marco Ciccioli, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 James Brown, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Nicolas De Battista, 23 Gabriele Di Giulio
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conan O’Donnell, 19 Joe Maksymiw, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Cian Kelleher
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Andrea Spadoni (Italy)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
SCARLETS v EDINBURGH
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 18.45; 17.45 GMT)
Scarlets last six matches in the Pro14 have all been won by the home side on the day. The Welshmen’s only loss at Parc y Scarlets in the Pro14 since the opening day of the 20016/17 season was to Cardiff Blues on December 29, 2018. Scarlets have lost both matches they have played against Scottish opponents this season. Edinburgh have won just two of their last five fixtures in the Pro14 but have won just once away from home in the Championship this season: 16-8 at Glasgow on December 29. Edinburgh have won just twice in their last nine visits to Wales. The home side has won the last seven fixtures between the two teams whilst Edinburgh’s most recent victory at Parc y Scarlets came in March 2015.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 James Davies, 6 Will Boyde, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Ioan Nicholas
Edinburgh: 15 Darcy Graham, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Matt Scott
Referee: George Clancy
Assistant referees: Joy Neville, Eddie Hogan-O’Connell
TMO: Leo Colgan
LEINSTER v BENETTON
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT; 20.45 Italy time)
Leinster’s only defeat in their last nine first-team matches was 11-28 to Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round 18 of the Pro14. The only team to have beaten Leinster in Dublin since May 2017 was Benetton almost twelve months ago. Benetton’s nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions ended with their 14-29 reversal at Connacht in the last round of the Pro14. The Italians have not beaten an Irish opponent so far this season, although they did draw 17-all on their visit to Ulster in Round 14. Leinster’s only two defeats to Benetton were at the Stadio Monigo in September 2010 and at the RDS Arena on April 14, 2018.
Leinster: 15 Barry Daly, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Conor O’Brien, 12 Joe Tomane, 11 James Lowe, 10 Noel Reid, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Max Deegan, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Jack Dunne, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Jimmy O’Brien
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan (captain), 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Alberto Sgarbi
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Sunday, April 7:
SOUTHERN KINGS v DRAGONS
(Madibaz Stadium, Port Elizabeth – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 UK & Ireland time; 13.00 GMT)
The Southern Kings most recent victory in the Pro14 was 25-21 at home to Edinburgh on January 26. Both of Kings’ victories this season have been against Scottish opponents at Madibaz Stadium. The Kings only victory over a Welsh region was against Dragons at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in March 2018. Dragons most recent victory in thePro14 was by a single point against Ospreys at Rodney Parade on December 30. Dragons have not won away from home in the Championship for over four years, since beating Benetton in Treviso. Dragons record against South African opponents in the Pro14 is own two, lost two. The two sides have met on three previous occasions, all games being won by the home side on the day.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Bader Pretorius, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 JC Astle (captain), 4 Andries van Schalkwyk, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Replacements: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Stephan Greeff, 20 Stephan De Wit, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Berton Klaasen, 23 Ulrich Beyers
Dragons: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Max Williams, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Richard Hibbard (captain), 1 Brok Harris
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Huw Taylor, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Jordan Williams
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Paul Mente (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)