PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 21
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The stage is set for the final round of the regular season with so much still to play for in the Pro14.
Munster and Glasgow Warriors will fight for top spot in Conference A, three teams in Conference B still have a chance of reaching the pro14 Final Series and a place in the Champions Cup play-off game is on the line when Cardiff Blues host Ospreys at Judgement Day.
This Saturday features a full slate of derby games which gives teams and fans plenty to shout about and for teams who finish up their campaigns on Saturday their stars have a final chance to impress the international selectors ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Pick of the Round Conference A – Cardiff Blues (A5) v Ospreys (A4)
It’s all on the line at Judgement Day as Cardiff Blues go toe-to-toe with Ospreys in the cathedral of Welsh Rugby – Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. With just one point splitting the teams in fourth and fifth place in Conference A, the winner will advance to the Champions Cup play-off game and will be guaranteed to have home advantage as long as the game does not end in a draw.
Pick of the Round Conference B – Glasgow Warriors (A1) v Edinburgh (B4)
Regardless of how this one finishes, Edinburgh will end the day still in possession of the 1872 Cup having beaten Glasgow Warriors twice this season – including a 16-8 victory over their hosts at Scotstoun in December. But both teams are in vital need of a win in this fixture. Success for the Warriors means they will host the winner of the Ulster v Connacht quarterfinal at Scotstoun which would leave them just 80 minutes away from playing a Pro14 Final in their own city.
For Edinburgh, not even victory would guarantee them a place in the Pro14 Final Series, but it would secure their spot in the Champions Cup play-off. Lose, however, and it is likely that Scarlets will gazump them into the play-pff or even the knock-out stages should Benetton slip up against Zebre. While all this is going on, Munster will be playing Connacht at Thomond Park hoping to take advantage of an Edinburgh win by nicking the home semifinal berth in Conference A.
What’s At Stake Elsewhere in the Final Round of both Conferences
The first game of Round 21 kicks off in Cardiff at Judgement Day with Dragons (A7) playing for derby pride against a Scarlets (B5) team being led by head coach Wayne Pivac for the final time in the regular season before he departs for the Wales job. Scarlets know a bonus-point win will secure a Champions Cup play-off spot against either Cardiff Blues or Ospreys and could even sneak the 2017 champions into the Pro14 Final Series should Benetton fail to win in Parma.
The final all-South African duel of the campaign takes place in Bloemfontein between Toyota Cheetahs (A6) and the Isuzu Southern Kings (B6). Both sides will want to sign off the season with a win, but the Cheetahs are keen to build momentum ahead of the Currie Cup as they look to re-establish themselves as play-off contenders in next season’s Pro14.
In Parma, Zebre (A7) host Benetton (B3) with history on the line with the visitors aiming to become the first Italian team to reach the knock-out stages of the Pro14. A bonus-point victory guarantees Benetton an away quarterfinal against the runner-up from Conference A but Zebre’s international contingent will be focusing on impressing the international selectors with the World Cup only a few months away.
First plays second in Conference B as Ulster (B2) face Leinster (B1) with both teams already assured of home fixtures in the Pro14 Final Series. The game will be Leinster’s final hit-out ahead of the Champions Cup Final on May 11 with Ulster already set to take on Connacht in a Final Series quarterfinal on Saturday May 4.
Kicking off in tandem with Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh, is Munster (A2) versus Connacht (A3) at Thomond Park. Connacht have made their return to the knock-out stages for the first time since claiming the Championship title in 2016. Head coach Andy Friend will be eager to retain momentum for their trip to Ulster the following week when they go head-to-head for a semifinal place. Munster, however, will have their target set on a Bonus Point win to ensure they can make the most out of anything that occurs in Scotstoun in their favour.
Opta Top Performers – Round 20:
Most tackles: 43 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) *New Championship record
Most carries: 25 Caelan Doris (Leinster)
Defenders Beaten: 8 Rob Lyttle (Ulster), Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Keelan Giles (Ospreys)
Offloads: 4 Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets)
Clean Breaks: 4 Rob Lyttle (Ulster), Matt Healy (Connacht)
Metres made: 129 Dan Evans (Ospreys)
Turnovers Won: 3 Josh McLeod (Scarlets)
Line-out Steals: 1 Multiple Players
Opta Top Performers – Overall:
Most tackles: 262 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Most Carries: 274 Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Defenders Beaten: 67 Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets)
Offloads: 30 Tom Farrell (Connacht) / Monty Ioane (Benetton)
Clean breaks: 34 Sibhale Maxwane (Cheetahs)
Metres made: 1196 Dan Evans (Ospreys)
Turnovers won: 25 Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Line-out Steals: 7 Multiple Players
We take a closer look at all the matches in Round 21!
Saturday, April 27:
DRAGONS v SCARLETS
(Principality Stadium, Cardiff – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Dragons are winless in the last eight rounds of the Pro14, since they beat Ospreys at Rodney Parade on December 30, although that run does include an 18-all draw at Southern Kings in Round 19. Dragons have made six previous visits to the Principality Stadium, all on ‘Judgement Days’ and have lost them all. Scarlets have won three of their last five Pro14 encounters, but all of those victories were at Parc y Scarlets. Scarlets have played seven previous matches at the Principality Stadium in all competitions with their only reversal being 13-17 to Cardiff Blues at ‘Judgement Day’ 2014. Scarlets only defeat in their last twenty-one encounters with Dragons in the Pro14 was 16-23 at Rodney Parade in September 2013.
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 Aaron Wainwright, 6 Lewis Evans, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Elliot Dee (captain),1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Max Williams, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Jared Rosser
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 Josh Helps, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones,
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger,19 Blade Thomson, 20 Ed Kennedy, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Rhys Jones (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
CARDIFF BLUES v OSPREYS
(Principality Stadium, Cardiff – 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Cardiff Blues have lost their last two matches since beating Scarlets at Cardiff Arms Park on March 22. The Blues previous record at ‘Judgement Day’ is won two, lost four. Ospreys have won their last three matches since their defeat in Connacht in Round 17 but have not won four in a row in the Championship for twelve months. Ospreys have played nine previous matches at Principality Stadium in all tournaments with their only two defeats both being in April 2017, against Stade Francais in the quarterfinal of the European Challenge Cup and to Cardiff Blues on ‘Judgement Day’. Ospreys have lost just one of their last sixteen fixtures against the Blues in the Guinness PRO14: 17-35 at Principality Stadium on April 15, 2017.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe; 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 Josh Turnbull, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ethan Lewis, 1 Rhys Gill,
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 George Earle, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Jason Harries
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans; 14 George North, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Hanno Dirksen; 10 Sam Davies, 9 Aled Davies; 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith,
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Luke Price, 23 Keelan Giles
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
ULSTER v LEINSTER
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Ulster’s only defeat in the last seven rounds of the Pro14 was 7-30 at Glasgow in Round 19. The Ulstermen have lost only once in Belfast in any tournament since February 2018, that was 15-22 to Connacht in Round Six of the Pro14. Leinster are winless in the last three rounds of the Pro14 but have not gone four matches without a victory since 2014/15. Leinster’s only defeat to a fellow Irish province in any competition this season was 17-26 to Munster in Limerick on December 29. Leinster’s only loss in their last seven meetings with Ulster in all tournaments was 13-17 at Kingspan Stadium in May 2017.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry; 14 David Busby, 13 Darren Cave (Captain), 12 Peter Nelson,11 Angus Kernohan; 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 Dave Shanahan; 8 Sean Reidy; 7 Clive Ross, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Ian Nagle, 3 Ross Kane, 2 John Andrew, 1 Andy Warwick,
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Tommy O’Hagan, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Nick Timoney, 20 Marcus Rea, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Jack Owens, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien; 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Joe Tomane, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Dave Kearney; 10 Ross Byrne(captain), 9 Nick McCarthy; 8 Caelan Doris , 7 Will Connors, 6 Max Deegan, 5 Oisín Dowling, 4 Josh Murphy,3 Michael Bent, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Jack McGrath,
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Vakh Abdaladze, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Paddy Patterson, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Barry Daly
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Joy Neville (Ireland), Eddie Hogan O’Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
CHEETAHS v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – 17.30; 15.30 GMT)
The Cheetahs five-game losing run in the Pro14 ended with their 38-13 victory over Dragons in Bloemfontein in Round 20. Cheetahs home record this season is won five, drawn one, lost four. The Southern Kings are without a win in the Pro14 since beating Edinburgh 25-21 at Madibaz Stadium on January 26. The Kings have still not won away from home since they joined the Championship last season. The two sides have met on nine previous occasions in all tournament with Cheetahs winning them all.
Cheetahs: 15 Louis Fouche, 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 Marnus van der Merwe, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Malcolm Jaer, 23 Darron Adonis.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Meli Rokoua, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 Sibusiso Sithole, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Courtney Winnaar, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Stephan De Wit, 5 John-Charles Astle (captain), 4 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Alandre Van Rooyen, 17 Xandre Vos, 18 Lupumlo Mguca, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 Jurie Van Vuuren, 21 Rudi Van Rooyen, 22 Bader Pretorius, 23 Ntabeni Dukisa.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Aled Evans (Wales), Paul Mente (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Greeff (South Africa)
ZEBRE v BENETTON
(Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 18.00; 16.00 GMT)
Zebre’s only victory since Round Three of the Pro14 was at home to Edinburgh in Round Seven. Zebre have won just three times in the Pro14 this season, all in Parma, against the Southern Kings, Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh. Benetton are without a victory in their last three Pro14 matches since their home win over Edinburgh in Round 17. Benetton have lost only one of their last five away games in the Championship: 14-29 at Connacht on March 22. Benetton’s only defeat in their last seven encounters with Zebre was 17-22 at Stadio Monigo on this same weekend last year.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani; 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 James Elliott; 10 Maicol Azzolini, 9 Joshua Renton; 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Filippo Alongi, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti,
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Samuele Ortis, 20 James Brown, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Nicolas De Battista, 23 Gabriele Di Giulio
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan (C), 9 Tito Tebaldi, 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 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Dean Budd, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Marco Barbini, 22 Dewaldt Duvenage, 23 Antonio Rizzi
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v EDINBURGH
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have won their last seven Pro14 matches, the last six with a bonus point, since their defeat in Treviso on January 5. Another bonus point win would equal their own all-time Pro14 record they set in December 2017. The Warriors solitary defeat at Scotstoun in the Championship this season was to Edinburgh on December 29. Edinburgh have won two of their last three matches in the Pro14 but were defeated by Ulster in Round 20. Edinburgh have won just twice away from home in the Championship this season – at Glasgow in Round 12 and at Scarlets in Round 19. This is the 165th meeting in the history of the 1872 Cup with Edinburgh having the edge by 82 wins to 60 and twenty-two games drawn. In recent times Edinburgh have also had the better of the encounter registering eight victories in the last ten meetings.
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 Tom Gordon, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown (captain), 1 Jamie Bhatti,
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Tevita Tameilau, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 George Horne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Rory Hughes
Edinburgh: 15 Darcy Graham; 14 Dougie Fife, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe; 10 Simon Hickey, 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 Jason Baggott, 23 Mark Bennett
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland) David Sutherland (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Patterson (Scotland)
MUNSTER v CONNACHT
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Munster’s only defeat in the last nine rounds of the Pro14 was 6-10 at Scarlets on March 2. The Munstermen have not been defeated at home in any tournament since Leinster beat them at Thomond Park in the PRO14 in December 2017. Connacht have won their last four Pro14 matches since their loss in Glasgow on February 22. They have not won five in a row in the Championship since 2016. Connacht have only ever won three away games against fellow Irish provinces in the Championship – in 2002 against Leinster at Donnybrook, in 2015 versus Munster in Limerick and last October in Ulster. Munster have lost just one of their last five fixtures against Connacht: 16-20 in Galway in October 2017. Connacht have won just twice at Thomond Park, in 1986 and in 2015.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley; 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Shane Daly; 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Alby Mathewson; 8 CJ Stander, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony (Captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne,
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 John Ryan, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Arno Botha,21 Neil Cronin, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Connacht:15 Tiernan O’Halloran; 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Stephen Fitzgerald; 10 Conor Dean, 9 Kieran Marmion; 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 James Cannon, 4 Joe Maksymiw, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Matthew Burke,
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Eoghan Masterson, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Eoin Griffin, 23 Darragh Leader.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland) Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)