PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 20
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Last weekend saw the rare occurrence of two draws out of the seven Pro14 matches in Round 19.
On Sunday the Southern Kings and Dragons played out a tie in Port Elizabeth while Benetton struck on the last play of the game to earn a draw with Leinster. The later result coupled with Ulster’s loss to Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh’s win at Scarlets as kept the battle for second place in Conference B wide open.
In Conference A, Glasgow and Munster are still well clear of the chasing pack, but even Ospreys have an outside chance of pipping Connacht and Cardiff Blues to the Final Series depending on performances in the final two rounds. Particularly as the Connacht and Cardiff Blues face each other this Saturday while Ospreys and the Blues meet in Round 21.
Pick of the Round Conference A – Connacht (A3) v Cardiff Blues (A4)
It’s all to play for from positions three to five in Conference A. Victory for Connacht would guarantee them a Final Series place and berth in next season’s Champions Cup, whilst Blues need a win or a draw to keep themselves in the hunt. Allen Clarke’s side are still in with a shout for the third Final Series spot if they can get five points against the Southern Kings and then beat Cardiff Blues in the final round. Connacht have to play Munster in their final fixture of the regular season so would prefer to get the job done this weekend rather than risk having to beat their inter-provincial rivals on the last matchday to qualify for the Final Series.
Blues favour the head to head as comfortably as 23-6, though the Welsh side won by just a single point when they met in Cardiff at the start of the year. Connacht had a single point win in their most recent outing (at Zebre on Saturday) as well as winning their previous two at home to Benetton and Ospreys. Blues previous three results saw wins at home to Scarlets and Kings preceding a heavy loss at Munster on Friday.
Pick of the Round Conference B – Edinburgh (B4) v Ulster (B2)
Conference B is even more open than Conference A with the home quarterfinal yet to be secured. Any of Ulster, Benetton or Edinburgh could finish in B2 come two rounds’ time. Scarlets could even sneak into the last Final Series spot (B3) if they can take maximum points in the final two games. This fixture has big consequences in Conference B – an Edinburgh win would guarantee them at least a European Play-Off place as well as good chance of reaching the Final Series and it would leave Ulster needing to pick up a win against Leinster in their final round clash.
There was just one point between these teams at Kingspan Stadium in September when Ulster just prevailed over Edinburgh, taking their head to head lead to 21-11 during 32 match-ups. Having struggled earlier in the year, Edinburgh have beaten Scarlets, Leinster and Benetton in their most recent three Pro14 matches. Ulster lost to Glasgow on Friday, but beat the Kings and Dragons comfortably enough in the two weeks before that.
What else is at Stake in Round 20:
The weekend kicks off with Southern Kings (B6) hosting the Ospreys (A5) at the Madibaz Stadium. The South African side sit just a point clear of the Dragons at the foot of the Conference B table, this Friday evening match likely being their best chance of distancing themselves further from the wooden spoon position. Their final match of the 2018/19 Pro14 season sees a South African derby at the Cheetahs’ home in Bloemfontein. Ospreys still have an outside chance of a Final Series spot, five points this weekend a necessity to keep their hopes alive, they then play Blues on Judgement Day at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, April 27.
The other Friday kick off sees Benetton (B3) v Munster (A2) at Stadio Monigo. Benetton travelled home from Dublin with mixed emotions after their last gasp draw at the RDS Arena on Saturday in a game they really could have and should have won. Munster were the highest scorers of Round 19, putting 45 past the Cardiff Blues backline. Munster still have a chance of replacing Glasgow at the top of Conference A, with second spot already confirmed. Benetton have only beaten Munster three times in 15 meetings, but this weekend’s meeting arguably has the most importance on it, a win for the home side and an Ulster loss could take Benetton parallel with Munster in second place in their own Conference.
Saturday sees a battle of the top two as Leinster (B1) host Glasgow Warriors (B1). Leinster have confirmed top spot and a home semifinal on the weekend of May 18/19 whilst Glasgow still have Munster gunning them down for that same privilege. Leinster are up 21-12 in the head to heads between these two great sides, but Glasgow prevailed 31-21 at Scotstoun in November. Leinster have stumbled a little since sealing top spot, drawing at home to Benetton on Saturday, having lost at Edinburgh the round before. Glasgow know they have to keep on winning as they have done in their most recent three fixtures.
Scarlets (B5) play Zebre (A7) still with an outside chance of making the Final Series from Conference B, but will need other results to go their way as well as near maximum points from their final two fixtures. This is more than realistically attainable with Scarlets fortunately playing the two bottom sides in their final Pro14 fixtures of the regular season. Helping this, too, is the fact that Zebre have never beaten Scarlets in 11 previous meetings, just the one draw the best they have managed. Scarlets won 41-10 in September.
Cheetahs (A6) host Dragons (B7) in the only Saturday night kick-off this weekend. Neither side can qualify for the Final Series, but Dragons have the incentive of overtaking the Kings at B6 to not finish bottom of Conference B. The Cheetahs will especially want to take winning momentum into their final game – the South African derby to close out the season on a high.
We take a closer look at all the action in Round 20:
Friday, April 12:
SOUTHERN KINGS v OSPREYS
(Madibaz Stadium, Port Elizabeth – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 UK & Ireland time; 17.35 GMT)
Southern Kings five-game losing run in the Pro14 ended with their 18-all draw at home to Dragons on Sunday. Kings are now unbeaten in their last two fixtures at Madibaz Stadium. Ospreys have won their last two Pro14 encounters, at home to Dragons and away at Cheetahs, but have not won three in a row in the Championship since last April. Ospreys have lost just once to a South African opponent in the Pro14: 25-44 to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in September 2017. The two teams have met just once before in the Championship with the Welshmen winning 26-12 at Liberty Stadium in February 2018.
Southern Kings: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Harlon Klaasen, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Berton Klaasen, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Bader Pretorius, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Andries van Schalkwyk, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 JC Astle (captain), 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Replacements: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 Stephan De Wit, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Masixole Banda, 23 Meli Rokoua.
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 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Dan Lydiate, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Luke Morgan.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Ruhan Meiring (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
BENETTON v MUNSTER
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 20.00; 19.00 UK & Ireland time; 18.00 GMT)
Benetton’s only defeat in any competition since mid-December was 14-29 at Connacht in Round 18 of the Pro14. Benetton have won their last seven matches in all tournaments at Stadio Monigo since Ulster beat them there in the Pro14 on November 3. The Italians are winless in their last five fixtures with Irish provinces, a run which includes two draws. Munster’s only defeat in any tournament since 21 December was 6-10 at Scarlets in Round 17 of the Pro14. The Munstermen have won their last twenty-one fixtures against Italian opponents since September 2013. All three of Benetton’s previous victories against Munster have been at Stadio Monigo in the Pro14 – in 2011 and two in 2013.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Marco Zanon, 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 Hame Faiva, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Shane Daly, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Fineen Wycherley, 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 Dave O’Callaghan, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Alex McHenry.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy), Rhys Jones (Wales)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)
EDINBURGH v ULSTER
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have won their last two Pro14 matches, at home to Leinster and away at Scarlets. The Scotsmen’s only defeat at home in the Pro14 in the last twelve months was 17-19 to Cardiff Blues on February 23. Ulster’s four-match winning run in the Pro14 ended with their 7-30 reversal at Glasgow on Friday. Ulster have won just twice on their last eight visits to Scotland, against Glasgow Warriors in September 2016 and Edinburgh in April 2018. Ulster have won their last two matches against Edinburgh but have not achieved a season’s double over them since 2014/15. Ulster have won on three of their last five visits to Murrayfield.
Edinburgh: 15 Darcy Graham, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 John Barclay, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 George Taylor.
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcelle Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Nick Timoney, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Iain Henderson (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Angus Kernohan.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
Saturday, April 13:
CONNACHT v CARDIFF BLUES
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Connacht have won their last three Pro14 matches but have not won four in a row in the tournament for the last two years. Connacht’s only home defeat in any tournament since September was 24-31 to Munster in Round 13 of the Pro14. The Irishmen have won their last four home games against Welsh regions. Cardiff Blues three game-winning run in the Pro14 ended against Munster in Cork last Friday. The Blues have won just once outside Wales in the Championship this season: 19-17 at Edinburgh in Round 16. Blues have won their last three fixtures against Connacht since the Irishmen triumphed at Cardiff Arms Park in February 2017.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Paul Boyle, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Conor Carey, 19 James Cannon, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Cian Kelleher.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Harries, 10 Gareth Anscombe (captain), 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Seb Davies, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 George Earle, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ethan Lewis, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 20 James Botham, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Garyn Smith.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Fin Brown (Scotland)
TMO: Ken Henley-Willis (Ireland)
LEINSTER v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Leinster are winless in their last two Pro14 encounters but have not gone three in a row without a victory for four years. The Leinstermen’s only home defeat in any tournament since the 2017 Pro14 semifinal was to Benetton in Round 20 last year. Glasgow Warriors are the best team on current form in the Pro14, garnering 29 out of a possible 30 league points in their last six games. The Warriors only defeat to an Irish province this season was by a single point to Munster at Thomond Park in Round Seven. Since Leinster beat Glasgow in the 2014 Pro14 final the two sides have met on seven occasions in the Championship with Glasgow winning four, Leinster two and one game drawn. Glasgow were the most recent Scottish opponents to win at the RDS Arena, doing so in September 2011.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Joe Tomane, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Seán O’Brien (captain), 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Jack Dunne, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Will Connors, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Adam Byrne.
Glasgow: 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 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Bruce Flockhart, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 George Horne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Huw Jones.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Joy Neville (Ireland), Mateo Liperini (Italy)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
SCARLETS v ZEBRE
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT; 18.15 Italy time)
Scarlets have lost their last two Pro14 matches, at Cardiff Blues and at home to Edinburgh, they have not lost three in a row in the Championship since December. Scarlets have not lost back-to-back home games in the Championship since September 2016. Zebre’s only victory since Round Three of the Pro14 was 34-16 at home to Edinburgh on 26 October. Zebre’s most recent away win in the Championship was on their shortest trip, to Treviso, in April 2018. The Italians’ only previous victory in 25 visits to Wales was 30-25 at Cardiff Blues in September 2013. Zebre are yet to beat Scarlets in eleven previous encounters, although they did draw 16-all in Parma in October 2013.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Will Boyde, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Ed Kennedy, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Nicolas De Battista, 11 Paula Balekana, 10 Maicol Azzolini, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 James Brown, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Samuele Ortis, 3 Marco Ciccioli, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Daniele Rimpelli.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Fillipo Alongi, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Apisai Tauyavuca, 21 Joshua Renton, 22 Mattia Bellini, 23 James Elliott.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Gareth John (Wales)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Wales)
CHEETAHS v DRAGONS
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein, – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 UK & Ireland time; 17.35 GMT)
Cheetahs have slipped to five straight defeats, their worst run since they were in Super Rugby in 2017. Cheetahs only victory over a Welsh region this season was 21-10 at home to Cardiff Blues in Round Seven. Dragons most recent victory in the Pro14 was 23-22 at home to Ospreys on December 30. Dragons 18-all draw at the Southern Kings on Sunday ended their 42-game losing run on the road in the Championship. Dragons record against South African opponents in the Pro14 is won two, drawn one lost two. The two teams have met just once before in the Pro14 with Cheetahs winning 29-17 at Rodney Parade in March 2018.
Cheetahs: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Tian Meyer (captain), 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Marnus van der Merwe, 17 Aranos Coetzee, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Louis Fouche, 23 Darron Adonis.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Zane Kirchner, 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 Lewis Evans, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Elliot Dee (captain), 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Max Williams, 20 Huw Taylor, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Will Talbot-Davies.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Griffin Colby (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)