Preview: Pro14, Round One
NEW BEGINNINGS: The tournament returns to action 125 days after Leinster defended their title at Celtic Park against
Glasgow Warriors and set a new record of six crowns in front of the largest crowd to ever attend a Championship
Now begins a 152-game marathon that will end on June 20 in Wales when the 2020 Pro14 Final takes place at Cardiff City Stadium.
With new Conference make-ups and a more intense run-in to the end of the season which now finishes in the summer, the Pro14 promises more drama than ever before.
The campaign will kick-off on South African soil for the first time as the recently crowned Currie Cup champions, Cheetahs, take on last season’s beaten finalists and 2015 champions, Glasgow Warriors, in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Round One will also boast a full slate of neutral referee appointments, a trend that will continue to at least Round 6 after the initial Match Official selections were made.
What’s at stake
Cheetahs v Glasgow Warriors
Dave Rennie’s Warriors’ team are the one of only two teams in the Pro14 to win on both their visits to Bloemfontein, but the Cheetahs are a renewed force after their Currie Cup triumph.
The hosts have built steadily into the new season while Glasgow must cope with the loss of several key internationals to the World Cup.
Both teams like to play expansive rugby and the high-altitude setting is guaranteed to provide an entertaining affair.
Ulster v Ospreys
Dan McFarland has only lost a handful of players to Ireland’s World Cup campaign and will sense an opportunity to immediately build on last season’s semifinal appearance. Ospreys boast a strong record on opening day with one loss in their last six, however, that was away to Ulster at a venue where they have not posted a win since 2013.
Allen Clarke’s team required a Play-Off victory to earn a place in this season’s Champions Cup and a positive result
here will be needed if they are to rise up into the automatic qualification places this time around.
Munster v Dragons
Another team eager to progress beyond the final four are the three-time champions from Ireland’s southern province and Munster will hope their young talent can see off the challenge of Dragons who arrive with a new Director of in Dean Ryan.
It is almost four years since the Welsh region recorded a victory away from Rodney Parade in the Pro14 and although Thomond Park has seen a handful of surprise raids in its history, it will take a special effort from Ryan’s men to upset the hosts here.
Southern Kings v Cardiff Blues
The Kings return to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for the opening of the 2019/20 season in a run of three home fixtures to kick off their campaign. The hosts have retained their squad from last year and added some new faces but will rely on Director of Robbi Kempson to mastermind a victory against a Cardiff Blues team eager to avoid their poor away form from early last season.
Indeed, John Mulvihill’s team will want to reach this year’s Pro14 Final in Cardiff and picking up points in South Africa will be key to the start of that mission.
Scarlets v Connacht
The champions of 2017 host the title winners of 2016 and in a World Cup year fans of both teams are hoping they can take full advantage of unsettled opponents to charge ahead in the race to reach the knock-out stages come May.
Brad Mooar takes charge of his first Pro14 game for Scarlets and goes up against second-year coach Andy Friend at Connacht, who enjoyed a very positive debut campaign in Galway. Both coaches will place their faith and attacking game plans in the hands of young players eager to make their mark.
Benetton v Leinster
Expectancy shadows the hosts after they became the first Italian team to reach the Pro14 Final Series and their strong showings at the Stadio Monigo will force their guests to show plenty of respect when it comes to their line-ups. Leinster are without a host of international players, but despite Benetton’s positive results at the RDS in the past two seasons the champions are renowned for the strength of their squad.
Interestingly, both Benetton and Leinster are joined by Glasgow Warriors in picking up the most points during Test windows last season despite giving up the highest amount of players to international squads.
Edinburgh v Zebre Club
The success of Edinburgh’s first season under Richard Cockerill did not translate into a second appearance in the knock-out stages of the Pro14 last season, however, some canny recruitment this summer should allow the team to perform better when their squad restricted by Scotland call-ups.
Zebre have developed a reputation for playing a daring style of rugby with young players trusted by Head Coach Michael Bradley but the forward power offered by the home team will prove a stiff hurdle to overcome.
We look at all the Round One matches!
Friday, September 27
CHEETAHS v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 19.05; 18.05 UK time; 17.05 GMT)
The nineteenth season of Pro14 rugby begins in Bloemfontein where Cheetahs welcome Glasgow Warriors.
Cheetahs won their last two games of the 2018/19 campaign beating Dragons and Southern Kings at Stadium.
The South African’s only defeat in their last five home games was to Ospreys in round 19 last season.
Cheetahs have yet to win their opening game of a PRO14 season.
Glasgow Warriors were last year’s losing finalist in the Pro14 whilst their most recent defeat in the regular season came in Round 13 on a trip to Benetton in January.
The Warriors only defeat in round 1 since 2012 was at home to Scarlets in 2015.
The two sides have met on four previous occasions in Pro14 with the Scotsmen victorious in each instance, although Glasgow have been defeated in South Africa, 28-38 to the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth in September 2018.
Cheetahs: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Erich de Jager, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche
Replacements: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Sias Koen, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Louis Fouche
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Brandon Thomson, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Andrew Davidson, 3 D’arcy Rae, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Bruce Flockhart, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Jamie Dobie (0), 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Robbie Nairn
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse, Griffin Colby (both South Africa)
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
ULSTER v OSPREYS
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ulster reached the semifinals of the Pro14 last season with their only defeat in the last eight rounds of the regular season coming on a trip to Glasgow in April.
The Ulstermen have lost only once at Kingspan Stadium in any competition since February 2018: 15-22 to Connacht last October.
Ulster lost only one fixture against Welsh opponents last season, on a visit to Scarlets in Round Nine.
The Ulstermen have been defeated on the opening weekend just once since 2009, at Dragons in 2013.
Ospreys finished off last season with five straight victories in the Pro14, including their European Champions Cup qualifying match against Scarlets.
The Welshmen’s only victory over an Irish province since April 2018 was 22-17 against Connacht at Bridgend in October last year.
Ospreys only defeat in round 1 in the last six seasons was to Ulster in Belfast in 2015.
Ulster have lost only one of their last seven encounters with Ospreys: 10-24 at Liberty Stadium in April 2017, whilst Ospreys most recent victory at Kingspan Stadium was in February 2013.
Ulster: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 James Hume, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Greg Jones, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Michael Lowry, 23 Louis Ludik.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Luke Price, 9 Matthew Aubrey, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Dan Lydiate (captain), 5 James King, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Gheorghe Gajion, 19 Sam Cross, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Cai Evans, 23 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)
Saturday, September 28
MUNSTER v DRAGONS
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Munster reached the Pro14 semifinals last season but were beaten at that stage by eventual Champions Leinster.
The Munstermen lost just once in the last ten rounds of the regular season: 6-10 at Scarlets in March.
The Irishmen have not been defeated at home in any tournament since Leinster were victorious at Thomond Park in the Pro14 on St Stephen’s Day 2017.
Munster’s only defeat on the opening weekend in the last nine seasons of Pro14 was by a single point at home in Limerick to Edinburgh in 2014.
Dragons 34-32 victory over Scarlets in the round 21 ‘Judgement Day’ encounter ended an eight-game winless run in the Pro14.
Dragons have not won on the road in the Championship since a trip to Treviso in March 2015 whilst their most recent victory at an Irish province was over Leinster at the RDS Arena in February 2015.
Munster have won their last five encounters with Dragons since the Welshmen’s 22-6 victory at Rodney Parade in December 2015, whilst Dragons only victory at Thomond Park came in March 2004.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley; 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Rory Scannell, 12 Tyler Bleyendaal, 11 Shane Daly; 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Nick McCarthy; 8 Arno Botha, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Billy Holland (captain);4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 Stephen Archer; 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 Jeremy Loughman,
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 James Cronin, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Liam Coombes, 23 Jack O’Sullivan
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Owen Jenkins, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain); 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Ollie Griffiths, 6 Huw Taylor, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Brok Harris,
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Max Williams, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jacob Botica, 23 Tyler Morgan
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Finlay Brown (Scotland)
SOUTHERN KINGS v CARDIFF BLUES
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK time; 14.00 GMT)
Southern Kings’ most recent Pro14 victory was against Edinburgh at Madibaz Stadium in January, although they did draw 18-all with Dragons at the same venue in April in round 19.
Southern Kings record against Welsh regions in the Pro14 is won one, drawn one, lost ten, with the victory and the draw both being against Dragons.
Cardiff Blues slipped to three straight defeats at the end of last season, on away trips to Munster and Connacht, and the ‘Judgement Day’ loss to the Ospreys.
Blues record against South African opponents in the Pro14 is won four lost two, with both defeats being on visits to the Cheetahs, in April and October 2018.
The two teams have met twice before with the Welshmen victorious on both occasions, including a 45-12 win on their only previous visit to Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in April 2018.
Southern Kings: 15 Andell Loubser, 14 Christopher Hollis, 13 Howard Mnisi, 12 John-Thomas Jackson, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Lusanda Badiyana, 7 Arthur de Wee, 6 Martinus Burger, 5 John-Charles Astle (Captain), 4 Jerry Sexton, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Alandre van Rooyen, 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Xandre Vos, 18 Rossouw De Klerk, 19 Aston Fortuin, 20 Elrigh Louw, 21 Josh Allderman, 22 Bader Pretorius, 23 Sibusiso Sithole
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 Josh Turnbull, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Brad Thyer,
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Harri Millard
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Divan Uys, Paul Mente (both South Africa)
TMO: Christie Du Preez (South Africa)
BENETTON v LEINSTER
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 18.15; 17.15 UK time; 16.15 GMT)
Benetton reached the play-offs for the first time last year despite winning just once in the last four rounds of the regular season.
The Italian’s latest fixture at Stadio Monigo in the Pro14 was a 28-37 defeat to Munster which ended a seven-game home wining streak in all competitions.
Benetton beat Dragons 21-17 in Newport in round 1 last season.
The Italians have secured just one victory over an Irish province since April 2016, and that was against Leinster at the RDS Arena in April 2018.
Reigning champions Leinster actually concluded the regular Pro14 season without a win in the last four rounds.
The Leinstermen have been victorious in round 1 of the Pro14 for the last four seasons.
Benetton have beaten Leinster just twice, once at Stadio Monigo in September 2010 and 17-15 in Dublin on 14 April 2018, although the two teams did draw 27-all at the RDS Arena last April.
Benetton: 15 Angelo Esposito, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Joaquin Riera, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Luca Petrozzi, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Marco Barbini, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Michele Mancini Parri, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Derrick Appiah
Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Niccolò Cannone, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Charly Trussardi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Luca Sperandio
Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Joe Tomane, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Will Connors, 6 Max Deegan, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Ross Molony (Captain), 3 Michael Bent, 2 Rónan Kelleher , 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Vakh Abdaladze, 19 Josh Murphy, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Hugo Keenan
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
SCARLETS v CONNACHT
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Scarlets only victory in their last five Pro14 encounters was 42-0 at home to Zebre on 13 April.
Scarlets have lost just twice at Parc y Scarlets in the Championship since the opening weekend of the 2016/17 season, to Cardiff Blues in December 2018 and to Edinburgh in April.
Scarlets only two defeats at home to Irish provinces in the in the Championship since December 2012 were both in round 1 fixtures, to Leinster in 2013 and to Munster in 2016.
Connacht reached the play-offs of the Pro14 last season for the first time since they won the trophy in 2016.
Connacht have won just once away from home in the Championship since last December: 6-5 over Zebre in Parma in April.
Last season Connacht made six visits to Wales in the Pro14 and lost them all.
The Irishmen have not won on the opening weekend of the season since 2015.
Connacht’s victory over Scarlets in Galway last season ended a three-game losing streak to the Welshmen whilst Connacht have not won on Llanelli soil since a trip to the old Stradey Park in October 2004.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Ryan Conbeer, 13 Steff Hughes (captain), 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Tom Phillips, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Dan Davis, 21 Dane Blacker, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Corey Baldwin
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Stephen Fitzgerald, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Paddy McAllister
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Darragh Leader
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Mike English (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)
EDINBURGH v ZEBRE
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 Italy time; 18.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have won their last two Pro14 fixtures, at home to Ulster and away at Glasgow, but have not won three in succession in the Championship for twelve months.
The Scotsmen have lost their last two matches against Italian opponents, but both were on visits to Italy.
They have not been defeated by an Italian side at Murrayfield since Zebre visited in October 2016.
Zebre have lost their last fourteen Pro14 matches since beating Edinburgh in Parma in Round Seven last season – their only victory over any Scottish opponent for almost the last three years.
The Italians have visited Scotland on thirteen previous occasions and won just once.
Zebre won for the first time in round 1 of the Championship twelve months ago beating Southern Kings in Parma.
Zebre have the slight edge in recent meetings with Edinburgh, winning on five of their last nine meetings.
Edinburgh: 15 Damien Hoyland, 14 Jamie Farndale, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nic Groom (captain), 8 Nick Haining, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Lewis Carmichael, 5 Murray Douglas, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Dave Cherry, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Mesu Kunavula, 20 Ally Miller, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 George Taylor
Zebre: 15 Charlie Walker, 14 James Elliot, 13 Ludovico Vaccari, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Paula Balekana, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 Giovani Licata, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Iacopo Bianchi, 5 Ian Nagle (captain), 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Alexandru Tarus, 2 Marco Manfredi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Cecilani, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 George Biagi, 20 Apisai Tauyavuca, 21 Nicolò Casilio, 22 Pierre Bruno, 23 Federico Mori.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)