Preview: Pro14, Round Four
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Round Four of the PRO14 returns in style this weekend after a much-storied previous round where the undefeated Championship sides were whittled down to three.
Two of them also have a full rack of bonus points. The Cheetahs and Leinster are jostling for position at the top of Conference A on 15 points, with the South Africans having swept aside Munster 40-16 last time out and Leinster recording a very similar scoreline – 40-14 – at home to Edinburgh.
The Cheetahs start their European tour at a very tricky place to travel – Connacht Sportsground – with Andy Friend’s side in excellent form having played some scintillating rugby at Dragons last time out – young flyhalf Conor Fitzgerald pulling some tuneful strings.
Elsewhere in Conference A Leinster are at Zebre, Ulster host the Blues and there’s a mid-table battle as Warriors travel to Dragons looking to build on their first win – an intense 17-13 over the Blues at Scotstoun. The action kicks off on Friday as Munster welcome Ospreys to Irish Independent Park, Johann van Graan’s men looking to bounce back from that defeat to Cheetahs and the Welsh region looking to build on Round 3 success against Benetton.
Elsewhere on Saturday Benetton and Southern Kings are both without a win – they trade blows in Italy, while it all rounds off with a blockbuster finish in the evening as the other undefeated side – Scarlets – travel up to Edinburgh. Conference B is already stacking up as one of the most competitive ever, and Richard Cockerill’s men will be desperate to rein in Brad Mooar’s rejuvenated west Walians.
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What’s at Stake
Munster v Ospreys
If Ospreys are looking for inspiration for this one then look no further than their visit to Cork in February 2016, when they overcame Munster 21-17 in a memorable performance. Since then the Munstermen have taken revenge, winning their last seven against the Welsh region, but what better time for Ospreys to buck that trend than during the World Cup season? They possess miracle man Sam Parry in their ranks of course, the hooker now the only forward to score two hat-tricks in Championship history, Scott Williams grabbing their other try against Benetton. Munster conceded six tries in Bloemfontein but with first-rate players like Mike Haley, Rory Scannell and Tyler Bleyendaal in their ranks – expect a response.
Ulster v Blues
Cardiff Blues head to the Old Smoke of Belfast with the numbers stacked against them as they look to unseat Ulster on Friday night. The hosts are unbeaten on home soil for a year, with a favourable record against Welsh regions to boot, and will be keen to keep up the pace at the summit of Conference A after the electric starts made to the PRO14 by both Leinster and the Cheetahs. The Blues are without a win since a Round 1 triumph at the Southern Kings, but have shown battling resolve in their latest defeats, something that they will look to convert into victory this time around.
Dragons v Warriors
Two sides with points to prove do battle on the bank of the River Usk as Warriors enter the Dragons’ den. After putting a stop to their three-game losing run in PRO14 action, the visiting Warriors will be desperate to underline their credentials as they look to replicate last season’s run all the way to the showpiece. The Dragons, meanwhile, failed to back up their away-day win at Zebre in Round 2, with Connacht running out 38-14 winners at Rodney Parade last time out. They are winless against the Warriors since February 2014, although will look to last season’s 15-15 draw in the same fixture for inspiration on Saturday.
Benetton v Southern Kings
Conference B’s bottom two sides meet in Treviso on Saturday as Benetton host Southern Kings. Kieran Crowley’s side have, perhaps, been a little unlucky so far coming out on the losing end of two tight contests against Leinster and Ospreys in Round 1 and Round 3 respectively. Between that, the Italians were soundly beaten by Connacht and their creativity seems to be a problem having scored the joint second fewest amount of points in the entire competition so far. The Kings put in spirited performances in the opening two rounds but were soundly beaten by Ulster 42-17 last time out, and have never beaten Benetton in the PRO14.
Connacht v Cheetahs
Currently enjoying their best-ever run in PRO14, having won five matches on the spin in Bloemfontein, Cheetahs must now do it the hard way on their travels and their first task comes in Ireland against Connacht. With three wins from three so far this season the Cheetahs sit top of Conference A on points difference but have not yet won on a trip to Ireland so will know they face a stiff task. Connacht have responded to their opening game defeat to Scarlets with back-to-back wins and have only lost to South African opposition once in the Championship, a statistic they will be aiming to maintain to secure a third straight victory.
Zebre v Leinster
Two sides at opposite ends of Conference A do battle on Saturday as high-flying Leinster travel to Parma to take on bottom side Zebre. Leinster have taken three bonus-point wins from three games so far and, worryingly for the rest of the league, further reinforcements are on the horizon following Ireland’s World Cup exit in Japan. Another five-point win this weekend would see Leo Cullen’s troops become the first side in Championship history to amass 20 points from the first four rounds. Zebre face a tall task to prevent that as they have lost all 12 times they’ve faced Leinster and their last PRO14 victory of any description came against Edinburgh way back in Round 7 last season.
Edinburgh v Scarlets
Just four points separates leaders Scarlets and fourth-placed Edinburgh in a remarkably hotly-contested Conference B and the Welsh side will be eyeing a fourth straight league victory, for the first time since November 2017, under new coach Brad Mooar. But Edinburgh’s home record is formidable – they have lost only twice at BT Murrayfield in the PRO14 since April 2018 and haven’t been beaten by the Scarlets there in six years. Mooar’s men are the highest scorers in Conference B this term and will need to rack up more points in order to snap their three-game losing streak against Edinburgh.
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We take a closer look at all the matches in Round Four!
Friday, October 25
Munster v Ospreys
(Irish Independent Park, Cork – Kick-off: 19:35)
Munster have been defeated just twice in PRO14 since March, both on the road, to Leinster in last season’s semi-final and at
Cheetahs in round 3. The Munstermen are unbeaten in their last twenty-three home games in all competitions since Leinster beat them at Thomond Park in the Championship in December 2017.
Munster have won their last eleven fixtures in Cork since Blues beat them there by a single point in September 2016. Ospreys only two defeats in their last eight PRO14 fixtures were both away from home to Irish provinces Ulster and Leinster in rounds 1 and 2. Osprey have lost their last six matches against Irish opponents since they beat Connacht in Bridgend on this weekend last year. The Welshmen’s most recent success on a trip to Ireland was when they visited Connacht in September 2016.
Munster have won their last seven encounters against Ospreys since the Welsh region’s 21-17 victory at Irish Independent Park in February 2016.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Neil Cronin, 8 Jack O’Sullivan, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Jeremy Loughman, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Craig Casey, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Sammy Arnold
Ospreys: 15 Cai Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 11 Tom Williams, 10 Luke Price, 9 Matthew Aubrey, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Sam Cross, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Lloyd Ashley, 4 Dan Lydiate (captain), 3 Tom Botha, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Rhodri Jones
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Will Griffiths, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Lesley Klim
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, Paul Haycock (Both Ireland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
Ulster v Blues
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19:35)
The Ulstermen are unbeaten in their last dozen home fixtures in all competitions since Connacht defeated them in Belfast in the PRO14 twelve months ago.Ulster’s only defeat to a Welsh region in any tournament since March 2018 was 12-29 on a visit to Scarlets in round nine of the Championship last season. The only Welsh region to have been victorious at Kingspan Stadium in the last six years was Scarlets in February 2016. The Blues have won just one of their last six PRO14 encounters: 31-27 at Southern Kings in round 1.
Last season The Blues record against Irish opponents was won two, lost four. The Welshmen have won just once away at an Irish province in the last three years: 17-15 at Connacht in September 2017. The Blues have won just two of their last eight fixtures against Ulster, both at the Arms Park, in February 2016 and March 2018, whilst their most recent victory in Belfast came in April 2010.
Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 James Hume, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Billy Burns (captain), 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 John Andrew, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Matt Faddes
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Jason Harries, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams (captain), 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Will Boyde, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Josh Turnbull, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Brad Thyer
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Harri Millard
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), David Sutherland (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Patterson (Scotland)
Saturday, October 26
Dragons v Warriors
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 15:00)
Dragons were victorious at Zebre in round 2 but lost to Irish provinces Munster and Connacht in rounds 1 and 3. Dragons most recent victory at Rodney Parade in PRO14 was by a single point over Ospreys on 30 December. The Welsh region have beaten a Scottish opponent just once since 2016, at home to Edinburgh in November 2018. Warriors ended a three-game losing run in PRO14 with their 17-13 victory over Blues at Scotstoun in round 3. Warriors only defeat to a Welsh region since the 2018 semi-final was 21-25 to Scarlets at Scotstoun in round 2. Dragons have not beaten Warriors since a 24-23 success at Rodney Parade in February 2014, although the two sides did draw 15-all at the same venue in February 2018.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Owen Jenkins, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Ollie Griffiths, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Huw Taylor, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Brok Harris
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Max Williams, 20 James Benjamin, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Arwel Robson, 23 Tyler Morgan
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Brandon Thomson, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Adam Ashe, 5 Kiran McDonald, 4 Rob Harley, 3 Adam Nicol, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Andrew Davidson, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Jamie Dobie, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Ruaridh Jackson
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Benetton v Southern Kings
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 15:00)
Benetton have lost their last four PRO14 matches since beating Zebre in Parma in round 21 last season, whilst they have not begun a season with four successive defeats since 2015/16. The Italian’s record against South African opponents in the Championship is won five, lost one, with the defeat being on a visit to Cheetahs in November 2018. The Southern Kings have lost their last five PRO14 matches since they drew 18-all with Dragons at Madibaz Stadium on 7 April. Kings are yet to taste victory away from home in the Championship.
Benetton have won all four previous fixtures they have played against Kings in PRO14.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Marco Barbini, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Federico Zani
Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Michele Mancini Parri, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Marco Zanon
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Christopher Hollis, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Josiah Twum-Boafo, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Juan Schoeman, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 Lusanda Badiyana (captain), 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Bobby de Wee, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Xandre Vos, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 JC Astle, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Erigh Louw, 22 Siya Masuku, 23 Erich Cronje.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Marius Mitrea (Italy), Dai Cambourne (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
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Connacht v Cheetahs
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 17:15)
Connacht have won their last two PRO14 fixtures, at home to Benetton and away at Dragons. Connacht have met South African
opponents on six previous occasions in the Championship, with their only defeat being by a solitary point to today’s opponents, Cheetahs, in Bloemfontein in March 2018. Cheetahs have won their last five matches representing their best run since they joined the PRO14, although all five of those games have been played at home in Bloemfontein.
Cheetahs have lost their last four away games since beating
Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth in January, whilst they have not been victorious outside the Republic since a trip to Zebre, also in January. The South Africans have won their last two matches against Irish opponents but have yet to record a victory on a visit to an Irish province in the Championship. The two side have met on four previous occasions with Cheetahs only win being 26-25 at Toyota Stadium in March 2018.
Connacht: 15 Stephen Fitzgerald, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Peter Robb, 11 John Porch, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Cillian Gallagher, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Darragh Leader
Cheetahs: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Majezi, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Luan de Bruin, 18 JP du Preez, 19 Sias Koen, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 George Whitehead, 22 William Small-Smith
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
Zebre v Leinster
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 17:15)
Zebre have not won in the PRO14 since beating Edinburgh 34-16 in Parma in round 7 last season. Zebre’s most recent victory over an Irish province was 19-11 over Connacht in Galway in February 2018. Leinster have won their last five PRO14 encounters since tripping up to Ulster by a single point in Belfast in April. Leinster have maximum league points after three rounds (along with Cheetahs), no side has ever amassed 20 points after the first four rounds of a campaign. The Leinstermen’s only defeat to an Italian opponent since
2010 was at home to Benetton in April 2018. The two sides have met on a dozen previous occasions with Leinster winning them all.
Zebre: 15 Michelangelo Biondelli, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 David Sisi, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Giovanni Licata, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Giosuè Zilocchi, 2 Marco Manfredi, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Alexandru Tarus, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Renato Giammarioli, 21 Marcello Violi, 22 Tommaso Boni, 23 James Elliott
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Joe Tomane, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Scott Fardy (Captain), 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Vakh Abdaladze, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Caelan Doris, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jimmy O’Brien
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Manuel Bottino (Italy), Chris Williams (Wales)
TMO: John Mason (Wales)
Edinburgh v Scarlets
(BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19:35)
Edinburgh have lost only twice at BT Murrayfield in the PRO14 since April 2018, to the Blues in February 2019 and to Ulster in
April. The Scotsmen have won their last two matches against Welsh regions but have not won three such fixtures in succession since September 2017.
Scarlets have won their last three PRO14 games but have not won four in a row in the Championship since November 2017 whilst they have not won the opening four fixtures of a campaign since 2015/16. Scarlets won their most recent away game, 25-21 in
Glasgow in round 2 – their first victory on the road in the Championship for almost twelve months – whilst the Welsh Region have not won consecutive matches in Scotland for six years. Edinburgh have won their last three matches against Scarlets but have not won four in succession against them since January 2007.
Scarlets have not been victorious at BT Murrayfield since September 2013.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Eroni Sau, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Nic Groom (captain), 8 Nick Haining, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Ally Miller, 5 Murray Douglas, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Cameron Fenton, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Sam Thomson, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 George Taylor
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Ryan Conbeer, 13 Steff Hughes (captain), 12 Ioan Nicholas, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Tom Phillips, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Taylor Davies, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Dan Davis, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Angus O’Brien 23 Kieron Fonotia
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sam Grove-White (SRU), Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)