Preview: Pro14, Round Nine
BRAGGING RIGHTS: The derbies certainly delivered in Round Eight, as five of the six went down to the final play.
The final match was Leinster’s 14-try thriller against Ulster.
Bragging rights will be on the line once again this week over the course of the three days, from two Boxing Day derbies in Wales and culminating in a match-up of the Conference leaders at Thomond Park on Saturday.
In between, you also have Ulster and Connacht looking to get back to winning ways, Benetton hoping to complete the double over Zebre and Glasgow Warriors with the chance to clinch the 1872 Cup away to Edinburgh.
Cardiff Blues v Dragons
It has been a while since a clash between Cardiff Blues and the Dragons had this much riding on it, but with the latter flying high under Dean Ryan, and the former right in the race for the Pro14 Final Series, Thursday’s clash at the Cardiff Arms Park has the potential to be a classic. The Dragons come into the game off the back of a dramatic win over the Scarlets, Sam Davies slotting the winning drop goal with the clock well into the red. The Blues’ success at the Ospreys was a little more comfortable, but not much, as they ended their Liberty Stadium hoodoo with a 19-16 success.
Scarlets v Ospreys
The Scarlets were downed at the death at Rodney Parade and now find themselves in desperate need of a reaction as they return home to take on the Ospreys at Parc y Scarlets. Brad Mooar’s men find themselves just outside the top three in Conference B, two points behind Edinburgh, but they could be as high as second by the end of Round 9. They face an Ospreys team who have not won since mid-October but came close last time out against the Blues. They had Justin Tipuric back for that game and will be hoping he can make the difference against the Scarlets.
Ulster v Connacht
Ulster and Connacht remain second in their respective conferences after the weekend’s action, but both have less margin for error after inter-Pro losses. If you had offered Ulster 42 points away in Dublin prior to the game, they probably would have expected to come away with five points. In the end they had to settle for a single bonus point, but they will hope to put that right against Connacht. Andy Friend oversaw Connacht’s first win in Belfast in more than half a century last season and needs a repeat in a very tight Conference B.
Benetton v Zebre
Benetton have won eight of their last nine meetings with Zebre, and will fancy their chances of extending that record after a 13-8 win in Parma last weekend. Zebre had their chances in that game but could not turn possession into points. Benetton, meanwhile, are aiming for a third straight win in all competitions, a feat they have not achieved as yet this season. In their last home game in the Pro14, they let a big lead slip against Cardiff Blues so they need to avoid a repeat.
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors
Dave Rennie is yet to lay his hands on the 1872 Cup, with Edinburgh having claimed the trophy in each of the past two seasons. That could all change on Saturday at Murrayfield as Glasgow Warriors look to secure a second win in as many matches against their rivals. Their 20-16 win at Scotstoun went down to the wire, with tries from Ali Price and George Turner in the final quarter of an hour making the difference. You have to go back to 2016 for Glasgow’s last win in the Scottish capital however, with Edinburgh still unbeaten on home soil this season.
Munster v Leinster
Conference A leaders Leinster travel to Conference B leaders Munster in perhaps the biggest test of their unbeaten record yet. A relatively untested Munster team came away from Galway with a win last weekend and they will be desperate to add Leinster’s scalp to their collection at Thomond Park. Munster’s recent record at Thomond Park is exceptional, unbeaten in their last 21 there, although Leinster were the last team to conquer the Limerick ground. Leinster have also won five of the last six meetings between the two teams.
We look at all the Round Nine action!
Thursday, December 26
CARDIFF BLUES v DRAGONS
(Cardiff Arms Park – Kick-of: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Cardiff Blues have won their last three Pro14 matches since their home defeat to Munster on 2 November.
The Blues 30-17 defeat of Toyota Cheetahs at the Arms Park in round 6 ended a three-game home losing run in the Championship.
Cardiff Blues won both home games they played last season against fellow Welsh regions at the Arms Park.
Dragons last gasp victory over Scarlets on Saturday evening ended a three-game losing run in Pro14.
The Men from Gwent have won their last two matches against fellow Welsh regions in Pro14 but have only won three in succession once before, in December 2004.
The last time Dragons won away from home against a fellow Welsh region in the Championship was on a visit to the Arms Park on Boxing Day five years ago.
The Blues have won their last eight fixtures against Dragons since their near neighbours 23-17 victory at the Arms Park in 2014.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Navidi (captain), 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 James Ratti, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Dragons: 15 Will Talbot-Davies, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Jacob Botica, 23 Adam Warren.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse, Adam Jones (both Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
SCARLETS v OSPREYS
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Scarlets have lost their last two Pro14 matches, both away from home, to Ulster and Dragons.
Scarlets only defeat in their last twelve games in all competitions at Parc y Scarlets was to Edinburgh in the Championship in April.
The western region has lost their last four fixtures against fellow Welsh opponents but have never lost five in succession against such adversaries.
Ospreys only victory in any competition this season was 24-20 at home to Benetton in Round Three of Pro14, whilst their most recent victory away from home (excluding Judgment Day) was 43-7 on a trip to Southern Kings on 12 April.
Ospreys have won their last two matches against Scarlets but both were played at Liberty Stadium.
Their most recent success at Parc y Scarlets was by a single point in 53 on Boxing Day 2015.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Ryan Conbeer, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Paul Asquith.
Ospreys: 15 Cai Evans, 14 Lesley Klim, 13 Kieran Williams, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Scott Otten, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Rhys Fawcett, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Luke Price, 23 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones, Wayne Davies (both Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Friday, December 27
ULSTER v CONNACHT
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 0 Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Ulster’s 42-54 defeat at Leinster last Friday ended a five-game winning run in all competitions.
The Ulstermen are unbeaten at Kingspan Stadium in any competition in their last seventeen matches since Connacht beat them there in October 2018.
Connacht’s two defeats in their last three matches in Pro14 were both at home to fellow Irish provinces, Leinster and Munster.
Connacht’s two away wins this season have both been on trips to Wales, against Dragons and Ospreys.
Ulster’s 21-13 home victory over Connacht in last season’s Play-Offs ended a three-game losing run to the western province.
Connacht’s 22-15 win at Kingspan Stadium in October 2018 was their first victory in Belfast since 1960.
Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 David O’Connor, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Craig Gilroy.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Daly, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Caolin Blade (captain), 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Paul Boyle, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Joe Maksymiw, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Dominic Robertson McCoy, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Stephen Kerins, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Stephen Fitzgerald.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace, Nigel Correll (both Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Saturday, December 28
BENETTON v ZEBRE
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT)
Benetton has won their last two matches in all competitions but have not won three in a row since March.
Benetton’s two home victories in Pro14 this season were against Southern Kings in Round Four and Edinburgh in Round Five.
Zebre has won just twice this season, at Dragons in Round Seven of Pro14 and at home to Brive in Round Three of the European Challenge Cup.
Zebre has secured only seven away wins in their Pro14 history and two of those were at Benetton.
Benetton has lost just one of their last nine fixtures with Zebre: 17-22 at Stadio Monigo in April 2018.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Abraham Steyn, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Cherif Traore, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Sebastian Negri, 21 Marco Barbini, 22 Tito Tebaldi, 23 Tommaso Allan.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Paula Balekana, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 James Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Giovanni Licata, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Michael Kearney, 4 David Sisi, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Marco Manfredi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Alexandru Tarus, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 21 Joshua Renton, 22 Junior Laloifi, 23 Charlie Walker.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Marius Mitrea, Manuel Bottino (both Italy)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
EDINBURGH v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Edinburgh’s six-game unbeaten run in all competitions ended with their 16-20 reversal to Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun last Saturday.
Edinburgh’s record at Murrayfield this season in all competitions is won four, drawn one, with their most recent defeat at the venue being to Ulster in April.
Glasgow Warriors only loss in the last four rounds of Pro14 was at home to Leinster at the end of November.
The Warriors have won twice away from home this season, at Zebre in round 6 of the Pro14 and at La Rochelle in Round Three of the European Champions Cup.
Warriors have won their last two matches against Edinburgh and another victory would see them claim the 1872 Cup for the first time since 2017.
Glasgow’s only victory at Murrayfield in their last seven visits since 2013 was 25-12 on Boxing Day 2016.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 George Taylor, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20, Magnus Bradbury, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Matt Scott.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Ratu Tagive, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Adam Ashe, 20 Tom Gordon, 21 George Horne, 22 Nick Grigg, 23 Niko Matawalu.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen, David Sutherland (both Scotland)
TMO: Neil Patterson (Scotland)
MUNSTER v LEINSTER
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 18.00; 18.00 GMT)
Munster’s only defeat in the last five rounds of Pro14 was 16-18 to Edinburgh in Cork in Round Seven.
Munster have not been defeated at Thomond Park in any competition in their last twenty-one matches since Leinster won there on St Stephen’s Day 2017.
The Munstermen’s solitary defeat to a fellow Irish province in their last six such matches was 9-24 to Leinster at the RDS Arena in last season’s semi-final.
Leinster have won their last fourteen first-team matches in all competitions since Saracens beat them in last season’s Champions Cup Final.
Leinster’s only defeat in their last six matches against fellow Irish provinces was by a single point to Ulster in Belfast in April.
Leinster’s only defeat in their last six fixtures against Munster was 17-26 at Thomond Park on 29 December 2018.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Dan Goggin, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Nick McCarthy, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Tommy O’Donnell, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Jack O’Sullivan, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Calvin Nash.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Jimmy O’Brien, 12 Conor O’Brien, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Will Connors, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Scott Fardy (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 James Tracy, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Rowan Osborne, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Tommy O’Brien.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy, Chris Busby (both Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Preview by @PRO14Official