PREVIEW: Pro14, Round Seven
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: A fortnight of European action is in the rear-view mirror and we return to the Pro14 for one week in what could be a crucial Round Seven when all is said and done.
The weekend features a rematch of last May’s final when high-flying Leinster travel to Glasgow to take on the Warriors while on Friday there are two huge encounters as Munster host Edinburgh and Ulster welcome the Scarlets. Then on Saturday, the Cardiff Blues are in Italy to take on Benetton, with another Welsh-Italian battle in Newport where the Dragons host Zebre.
Finally the South African pair are on the road, the Southern Kings will look to build on their recent win away to the Ospreys when they travel to Connacht, while the Cheetahs will look to imitate their compatriots away in Neath.
What’s at stake?
Munster v Edinburgh
There has been something of a budding rivalry between Munster and Edinburgh in recent seasons, with the Irish province having twice narrowly beaten the team from the Scottish capital in knockout encounters. The first of those was in the Guinness PRO14 two seasons ago at Thomond Park, Munster edging home 20-16, before they came from behind to win a European quarterfinal at Murrayfield last year. Now the two teams find themselves together in Conference B, and with just five points separating the top four, the race for a Final Series place is very tight.
Both teams are coming into the game off the back of draws at home, Munster finishing strongly to take two points from their clash with Racing 92, while Edinburgh conceded a late penalty in a draw with Bordeaux-Bègles. Before they return to European action, Johann van Graan and Richard Cockerill will know just how important this game is.
Ulster v Scarlets
Ulster are one of just five teams with two wins from two in the Champions Cup, while Scarlets were very close to matching them in the Challenge Cup. Brad Mooar’s side suffered an agonising defeat away to Toulon, conceding a last-minute converted try, despite playing the whole of the second half with 14 men. Ulster, meanwhile, got the better of Clermont to go top of their European pool, and they will be looking to carry that form back into the Pro14.
Dan McFarland’s side have been very strong at home, with four wins in all competitions from as many games and can consolidate their charge for a Final Series position with a win here. However, they take on a Scarlets team who have lost just one match in the Pro14 this season.
Benetton v Cardiff Blues
There will have been similar feelings for Benetton and Cardiff Blues fans after Saturday’s European action, both seeing last-second kicks turn draws into defeats. For Benetton, it was Dan Biggar’s accuracy from the tee that proved the difference at the death, while Leicester youngster Tom Hardwick did the same to the Blues. So there will be revenge on the minds of both teams, and when you add in the fact that they are Conference B rivals both in desperate need of a win to get back into the hunt for the Final Series, expect there to be an edge. And for those who have forgotten, these two played out an absolute thriller in Treviso last year, Tommaso Allan converting Monty Ioane’s injury-time score in a 27-25 success.
Connacht v Southern Kings
The last time we saw the Southern Kings in action they were stunning the Ospreys in Swansea in their first-ever victory outside South Africa. Now the men from Port Elizabeth are looking to build on that as they take on a Connacht side who are improving in their second year under Andy Friend.
The Kings have had a couple of poor results so far this season – at home to Ulster and in Glasgow – but otherwise they have been competitive for the most part. They got their first win against the Ospreys, capitalising on a fast start to claim a famous victory, but beating Connacht will be a tougher proposition. The team from Galway got the better of Montpellier in their first European game, before letting a second-half lead slip away to French champions Toulouse. They are coming off a loss in the Pro14, however, having been well-beaten at home by Leinster last time out. With no margin for error in Conference B, Friend will be hoping that his injury-hit side can get back on track.
What a solid past few weeks we have had from Juan Schoeman. His loan from The Sharks comes to an end this weekend, as he will rejoin the Durban-based side to start preparations for Super Rugby.
Thank you for your dedication, Husky!@TheSharksZA pic.twitter.com/jI96dNL2QE
— Isuzu Southern Kings (@SouthernKingsSA) November 27, 2019
Dragons v Zebre
The Dean Ryan revolution was not going to happen overnight, but a pair of wins in Europe leave the Dragons well-placed to get out of their pool in the Challenge Cup. They now return to domestic duty to take on a Zebre side still winless, but also the only team to have denied Leinster maximum points in the Pro14 this season. Michael Bradley’s team fell to a narrow loss at home to Stade Français last weekend in the Challenge Cup in difficult conditions.
Their cause should be helped by the Dragons being without some of their young stars, with the likes of Taine Basham and Aaron Wainwright included in Wayne Pivac’s first Wales squad to take on the Barbarians. Ryan’s team showed their strength in depth with victory in Russia, and will need to back that up against a Zebre side who they thumped in Parma earlier this season to end their away day hoodoo.
Glasgow Warriors v Leinster
And so we come to the main event of the weekend. The champions against the runners-up, back in Glasgow. Rather than Celtic Park, this game will be played at Scotstoun, with Glasgow looking to become the first side to beat Leinster this season. They will need to if they are to maintain hope of chasing down Leo Cullen’s side at the top of Conference A – the Warriors have already lost three games this year in the Pro14.
They did get the better of Leinster the last time the teams met in the regular season though, running out comfortable winners at the RDS in April. The teams had contrasting weekends in Europe, Glasgow letting a half-time lead slip away to Exeter, while Leinster ground out a vital win at Lyon. That momentum may be crucial as two of the big guns face off.
Ospreys v Cheetahs
It was a tough weekend for the Ospreys, who were well-beaten away to Saracens, and have now lost five in a row in all competitions. The last of those in the Pro14 was at home to the Kings, and they will face more South African opposition this weekend as the Cheetahs travel to the Gnoll in Neath. Allen Clarke will be hoping that a change in surroundings can reverse their fortunes, but the Cheetahs know a win here will be huge in their bid for a place in the Final Series. While they have been virtually unstoppable at home, they are still looking for a first win on the road this season. They came close away to both Connacht and the Scarlets, but last time out were off the pace against the Cardiff Blues. With just two points separating them from Glasgow Warriors in fourth spot, this is a huge game in the context of their season ambitions.
— Toyota Cheetahs (@CheetahsRugby) November 27, 2019
We take a closer look at all the matches in Round Six!
Friday, November 29:
Ulster v Scarlets
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Ulster’s only defeat in their last six matches in all competitions was 16-22 to Munster in Limerick in Round Six of Pro14. Ulster are unbeaten at Kingspan Stadium in any competition since Connacht defeated them there in the Pro14 on October 5, 2018. The Ulstermen have lost only once to a Welsh region since March 2018: 12-29 at Scarlets twelve months ago. Scarlets only defeat in the Pro14 this season was 7-46 to Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round Four. The Welshmen have won their last two matches against Irish provinces but their most recent victory away to such opponents was when they beat Munster in the 2017 Pro14 Final at Aviva Stadium. The last six meetings between the two side in Guinness PRO14 have all been won by the home team on the day, but Ulster did win both encounters in last season’s European Cup pool phase. Scarlets only victory in Belfast since 2008 was by a solitary point 21-20 in February 2016.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Bill Johnston, 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 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 David O’Connor, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Angus Kernohan.
Scarlets: 15 Steff Evans, 14 Corey Baldwin, 13 Steff Hughes (captain), 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Morgan Williams, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Jac Morgan, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Ryan Conbeer.
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Robert O’Sullivan (Ireland), Ben Blain (Scotland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
Munster v Edinburgh
(Irish Independent Park, Cork – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Munster’s only defeat in any competition this season was 16-40 away to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in Round Three of the Pro14. The Munstermen have not lost at home since Leinster beat them at Thomond Park in December 2017 whilst they have not been defeated in Cork since Cardiff Blues were the visitors in September 2016. Edinburgh’s only defeat in their last five matches in all tournaments was 16-18 at Benetton in Round Five of the Pro14. Edinburgh’s only victory over an Irish opponent in their last six meetings was 28-11 over Leinster at Murrayfield in March. The Scotsmen’s most recent victory away to an Irish province was on a visit to Connacht in March 2018. Munster have lost just once in their last nine encounters with Edinburgh in all competitions: 6-12 at Murrayfield in the Pro14 in March 2018. Edinburgh’s most recent victory in Munster was by a single point at Thomond Park in September 2014 whilst their only previous win in Cork was 28-17 in April 2004.
Munster: 15 Shane Daly, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Nick McCarthy, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Jack O’Donoghue (captain), 5 Darren O’Shea, 4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Liam O’Connor.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 James Cronin, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Rory Scannell.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Eroni Sau, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos (captain), 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Ally Miller, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 George Taylor
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Matteo Liperini (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)
Saturday, November 30:
Benetton v Cardiff Blues
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK & Ireland time; 15.00 GMT)
Benetton have won two of their last three Pro14 matches including their last two at Stadio Monigo in the Championship, against Southern Kings and Edinburgh. The Italians have won their last seven home games against Welsh regions in the Pro14, since the Blues themselves beat them there in November 2016. Cardiff Blues four game losing run in the Pro14 ended with their 30-17 home victory over Cheetahs in Round Six. The Blues have won just once away from home in the Championship since February: 31-27 at Southern Kings in the opening round this season. Blues have lost on their last two visits to Italy in the Pro14, although they did win away from
home at Calvisano in round 1 of this year’s European Challenge Cup. Benetton’s 27-25 victory at home to the Blues in September 2018 ended a four-game losing run to the Welsh region. Blues have won just once at Stadio Monigo in their last six visits:34-28 in November 2016.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Niccolò Cannone, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Luca Sperandio
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Garyn Smith, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Lloyd Williams (captain), 8 Will Boyde, 7 James Botham, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Macauley Cook, 4 James Ratti, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Brad Thyer
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Ben Thomas, 23 Jason Harries
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Dragons v Zebre
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT; 18.15 Italy time)
Dragons have won their last two matches, both in the European Challenge Cup, at home to Castres and away to Enisei but in the Guinness PRO14 their two victories this season were at today’s opponents Zebre in round 2 and at home to Glasgow Warriors in Round Four. Zebre’s most recent victory in any competition was 58-14 at home to Enisei in December 2018 although they were only defeated by a solitary point last weekend at home to Stade Francais in the European Challenge Cup. Zebre have not won outside of Italy in Pro14 since a trip to Connacht in February 2018, whilst their only previous victory in Wales was at Cardiff Blues in September 2013. Dragons have won their last two matches against Zebre and all six against them played at Rodney Parade.
Dragons: 15 Will Talbot-Davies, 14 Dafydd Howells, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Owen Jenkins, 10 Arwel Robson, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Harrison Keddie, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Huw Taylor, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Richard Hibbard (captain), 1 Brok Harris
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Max Williams, 20 Ben Fry, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Jacob Botica, 23 Tyler Morgan
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Giovanni Licata, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Giosuè Zilocchi, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 David Sisi, 20 Johan Meyer, 21 Joshua Renton, 22 Michelangelo Biondelli, 23 Pierre Bruno
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)
Connacht v Southern Kings
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT; 19.15 SA time)
Connacht’s four game-winning run in the Pro14 ended with their 11-42 home reversal to Leinster in Round Six. This represents their only home loss in any tournament since January 5. Connacht have met South African opponents in the Championship on seven previous occasions with their only defeat being by the narrowest of margins against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in March 2018. Southern Kings thirteen game winless run ended with their 16-14 victory at Ospreys in Round Six, their first-ever away win in the Championship. Kings have met Irish provinces on fourteen previous occasions in the Pro14 and have lost them all. The two sides have met twice before in the Championship with Connacht winning on both occasions.
Connacht: 15 Matt Healy, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 John Porch, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux (captain), 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Joe Maksymiw, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Peter Robb
Southern Kings: 15 Scott van Breda, 14 Christopher Hollis, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Howard Mnisi (captain), 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 JT Jackson, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Jerry Sexton, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Juan Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Xandre Vos, 18 De-Jay Terblanche, 19 Bobby de Wee, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Theo Marais, 22 Siya Masuku, 23 Sibusiso Sithole
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Aled Evans (Wales)
TMO: Wayne Davies (Wales)
Glasgow Warriors v Leinster
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors only defeat in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 5-18 at Dragons on October 26. The Warriors have lost only once in any competition at Scotstoun in 2019: 21-25 to Scarlets in Round Two of this year’s Championship. Leinster have won their last ten matches in all competitions since their loss to Saracens at Newcastle in last year’s European Champions Cup Final. Leinster’s most recent defeat to a Scottish opponent was 24-39 to Glasgow at the RDS Arena in April. This is the two side first meeting since they faced off in last year’s the Pro14 Final which Leinster won 18-15 at Celtic Park. Leinster have visited Scotstoun on seven previous occasions in the Championship, but have only won once, 6-0 on their first-ever visit in November 2012.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Pete Horne, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson (captain), 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 D’arcy Rae, 2 George Turner, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Stafford McDowall, 23 Kyle Steyn
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Jimmy O’Brien, 12 Conor O’Brien, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Will Connors, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Ross Molony (captain), 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Peter Dooley
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Scott Penny, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Fergus McFadden
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Adam Jones (Wales)
TMO: John Mason (Wales)
Ospreys v Cheetahs
(The Gnoll, Neath – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA time)
This is the Ospreys first visit to The Gnoll for a Pro14 match since they beat Edinburgh there 29-12 in March 2005. Ospreys only victory in any tournament this season is 24-20 at home to Benetton Rugby in Round Three of the Pro14. The Welshmen have played seven previous matches against South African opponents in the Championship with their two defeats being to Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in September 2017 and to Southern Kings at Liberty Stadium in the last round. Cheetahs last eight matches have all been won by the home side on the day. Cheetahs have won only three times outside South Africa since they joined the Pro14 in September 2017 – twice at Zebre and once at Dragons. The South African’s record in Wales is won one, lost eight. The two sides have met on four previous occasions in the Pro14 with Cheetahs only victory being 44-25 at the Free State Stadium in September 2017.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Luke Price, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Dan Lydiate (captain), 5 Lloyd Ashley, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Scott Otten, 1 Rhodri Jones
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Gheorghe Gajion, 19 Guido Volpi, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 James Hook, 23 Kieran Williams
Cheetahs: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Craig Barry, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 11 Clayton Blommetjies, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Chris Massyn, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Wilmar Arnoldi, 1 Boan Venter
Replacements: 16 Marnus van der Merwe 17 Reinach Venter 18 Erich de Jager 19 JP du Preez 20 Gerhard Olivier 21 Tian Meyer 22 George Whitehead 23 Chris Smith
Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mike English (Wales), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)