PREVIEW: Pro14, Round Two
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: With nearly 400 points scored and 47 tries in Round One – the Pro14 returned to action in eye-catching style last weekend with games taking place across all five participating nations.
The Cheetahs, Munster, Ulster and Edinburgh all posted big scores as they opened up their campaigns while defending champions Leinster earned a valuable away win against Benetton while Cardiff Blues were pushed hard by the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth. Scarlets picked up their first win under new head coach Brad Mooar against Connacht and the New Zealander brings his squad up to Glasgow in Round Two where Dave Rennie’s Warriors’ team will be eager to bounce back from their heavy loss to the Cheetahs.
The South Africans welcome Ulster to Bloemfontein where Cheetahs’ scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar will face his old team – both sides will be eager to build their points tallies during the World Cup period and this promises to be a tight contest.
What’s at Stake
Glasgow Warriors v Scarlets
Scarlets have good form in Glasgow having won at Scotstoun en route to the Pro1414 Final in 2018. This is an intriguing match-up between two sides who have key contributors on duty at the World Cup. Warriors do not taste defeat at home very often and need to win to get off the board. Scarlets, on the other hand, have picked up their first win under Brad Mooar and a victory up north would be near priceless.
Leinster v Ospreys
The defending champions showed their mettle in Treviso in Round One with a determined showing against Benetton. Ospreys, however, return to Ireland a week after their heavy loss to Ulster but there is enough quality in the visiting squad to compete with the hosts if they can shore up their defence. Home defeats at the RDS are a rare occurrence and since 2015 only Glasgow Warriors, Benetton and Dragons have sneaked out of Dublin with a W in the kit van. Leinster’s young guns will be keen to ensure Ospreys don’t add themselves to this list.
Southern Kings v Munster
Encouraging signs were plentiful in the Kings’ loss to Cardiff Blues last weekend, but Munster will arrive in South Africa with a strong record in the southern hemisphere. Johann van Graan’s side had a bonus-point win against Dragons and although they have a contingent away with Ireland in Japan, there is a strong mix of young talent on this tour that will pose a real threat to the Kings. The home team have already spoken of their need to tighten up in defence and if they can do this then this game should be a close call where a home win would be a real coup
Zebre v Dragons
Two teams who will fancy taking points off each other, Michael Bradley’s Zebre will want to make home advantage count against a Dragons team who are rebuilding under Dean Ryan. Both of these coaches are keen to put their faith in youth but Bradley is more likely to take the reins off his side with Ryan ensuring structured play can deliver more consistency for the Welsh region. Sam Davies is one to watch for the visitors after his summer switch from Ospreys with Federico Mori on the radar after the 18-year-old scored a powerful debut try against Edinburgh last weekend.
Cheetahs v Ulster
First meets second in Bloemfontein with the Cheetahs hosting Ulster. Both teams posted high scores in Round One and the conditions on the High Veldt will encourage plenty of attacking rugby with the hard ground and high altitude. Ulster’s challenge is to cope with that altitude and keep their legs turning into the final 10 minutes and not suffer the late fade that the Cheetahs so often profit from. Both teams will have targeted the World Cup period to gain the upper hand on their rivals who are missing their international stars – with Leinster also sitting on five points in Conference A – this is a game neither team can afford to lose.
Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh
Mission accomplished for Cardiff Blues after their bonus-point win in South Africa against the Kings in Round One, now they will need to deny points from Conference B rivals Edinburgh in a very tricky group. John Mulvihill’s team have never won the Championship title but with the Pro14 Final taking place in Cardiff this season they want to be the home-town team on the big day. Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh are no pushovers and stealing a win in the Welsh capital is far from beyond them.
Connacht v Benetton
Neither of these teams will want to be left with zero wins from their opening two games, but that’s going to the reality for one of them by the final whistle. Connacht are pretty resolute at home and Benetton’s challenge to return to the knock-out stages will rely on improving their form on the road. Both teams will see themselves as contenders for this season’s title and this game should be evenly matched. Benetton’s ace card will be the inclusion of Ian Keatley – an Irishman learned his trade in Galway’s treacherous windy conditions and if this comes down to place-kicking the Italians will feel confident about their chances.
We take a closer look at all the matches in Round Two!
Friday, October 4:
Leinster v Ospreys
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Leinster have won their last three Pro14 matches since their single point reversal at Ulster in Round 21 last season. The Leinsterman have lost only once at home in any competition since April 2018: 24-39 to Glasgow Warriors at the RDS Arena in Round 20 last season. Leinster’s only defeat to a Welsh opponent last season was 21-23 to Scarlets in Llanelli on September 8. Ospreys’ five-game winning run in the Pro14 ended with their 14-38 defeat to Ulster in Belfast last Friday. The Welshmen have lost their last five fixtures against Irish provinces since beating Connacht in Bridgend last October, whilst they have not been victorious in Ireland since beating the same opponents in Galway in September 2016. Ospreys have won just one of their last eight encounters with Leinster: 32-18 at Liberty Stadium in March 2018. Ospreys most recent victory at the RDS Arena was by the narrowest of margins against Leinster in the 2012 Pro14 Final.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Joe Tomane, 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 Michael Bent, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Vakh Abdaladze, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Rowan Osborne, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Conor O’Brien.
Ospreys: 15 Cai Evans, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Luke Price, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Dan Baker, 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 Gheorghe Gajion, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Tom Williams, 23 Hanno Dirksen.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffkin (Ireland), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Glasgow Warriors v Scarlets
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors 14-48 defeat in Bloemfontein last Friday was the second-most points they have conceded in a Pro14 game, behind the 15-50 defeat to Bridgend in August 2001. The Warriors won all eight games they played against Welsh regions in all competitions last season. Glasgow have not lost their opening two fixtures of a Pro14 campaign since 2012/13. Scarlets’ 18-10 victory at home to Connacht last weekend ended a two-game losing run in the Pro14. Scarlets have won just once on the road in any competition since the end of the 2017/18 season: 41-34 at the Southern Kings on October 26, 2018. Scarlets lost all three matches they played against Scottish opponents last season. Warriors beat Scarlets 29-20 at Scotstoun last campaign to end a four-game losing run against the Welshmen.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Brandon Thomson, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Kiran McDonald, 3 D’arcy Rae, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Tom Gordon, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Jamie Dobie, 22 Paddy Kelly, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom James, 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 Steve Cummins, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 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.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Ben Blain (Scotland), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Saturday, October 5:
Southern Kings v Munster
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK & Ireland time; 14.00 GMT)
The Southern Kings have not won since beating Edinburgh 25-21 at Madibaz Stadium in January. The Kings most recent victory at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was 45-13 over Dragons in March 2018. The South Africans’ record against Irish opponents in the Pro14 is played twelve, lost twelve. Munster’s only defeat in their last seven Pro14 fixtures was 9-24 to Leinster at the RDS Arena in last season’s semifinal. Munster’s record against South African opponents in the Pro14 is played six, won six. The two side have met on two previous occasions with Munster winning them both, including a 39-22 victory against Kings in at Outeniqua Park, George, in April 2018.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Andell Loubser, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 JT Jackson, 11 Courtney Winnaar, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 Lusanda Badiyana (captain), 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Jerry Sexton, Pieter Scholtz, 2 Alandre van Rooyen, 1 Juan Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Bobby de Wee, 20 Elrigh Louw, 21 Josh Allderman, 22 Sibusiso Sithole, 23 Josiah Twum-Boafo
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Tommy O’Donnell (captain), 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Darren O’Shea, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 Liam O’Connor,
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 James Cronin, 18 Jeremy Loughman, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Billy Holland, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Chris Cloete
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Paul Mente (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Zebre v Dragons
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 18.00; 17.00 UK & Ireland time; 16.00 GMT)
Zebra have not won since beating Enisei in the European Challenge Cup in December 2018, whilst their most recent victory in the Pro14 was against Edinburgh in Parma last October. The Italians recorded just one victory over a Welsh Region last season, 26-24 at home to Cardiff Blues in Round Three. Dragons have won only once in 2019 in the Pro14: 34-32 over Scarlets at ‘Judgement Day’ in Round 21 last season, whilst they haven’t won on the road in the Championship since a trip to Italy to face Benetton in March 2015. The last eight encounters between the two side have been evenly shared with 4four wins apiece whilst Dragons only previous victory away at Zebre was at Stadio Lanfranchi in February 2013.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Will Talbot-Davies, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Owen Jenkins, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Harrison Keddie, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Lewis Evans, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Ryan Bevington
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Max Williams, 20 Huw Taylor, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jacob Botica, 23 Adam Warren
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Cheetahs v Ulster
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 18.15; 17.15 UK & Ireland time; 16.15 GMT)
The Cheetahs have now recorded their largest two victories since they joined the Pro14 in their last two fixtures, beating Kings 61-25 in April and Glasgow 48-14 last weekend. Cheetahs most recent defeat was 14-31 to Ospreys in Bloemfontein in April. The South Africans are winless in their last seven fixtures against Irish provinces since beating Connacht at the Free State Stadium in March 2018. Ulster have lost just one of their last five Pro14 matches: 20-50 at Glasgow in last season’s semifinal. The Ulstermen have won their opening two fixtures of a Pro14 campaign in each of the last three seasons. Ulster’s record against South African opponents in the Championship is won five, drawn one. The two teams have met twice before with Ulster victorious in Belfast in September 2017 with the two sides sharing a 39-all draw in Bloemfontein a year later.
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 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Sias Koen, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Louis Fouche
Ulster: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 James Hume, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Bill Johnston, 9 John Cooney, 8 Greg Jones 7 Sean Reidy, 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 Clive Ross, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Michael Lowry, 23 Louis Ludik
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Griffin Colby (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh
(Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Cardiff Blues’ three-game losing run in the Pro14 ended in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. The Blues have lost just once at the Arms Park in the Championship since the opening round of last season: 34-38 to Glasgow in February. The Welshmen beat Scottish opponents just once in any competition last season: 19-17 against Edinburgh
at Murrayfield in Round 16 of the Pro14. The Blues have not won their opening two matches of a new campaign since 2016/17. Edinburgh beat Zebre 50-15 at Murrayfield last weekend, only the second time they had clocked up a half century of points in a Championship encounter since 2011. Edinburgh’s only victory in their last four away games was at Scarlets in April. The Scotsmen have won on three of their last six visits to Wales. Blues only defeat in their last eight fixtures against Edinburgh in all competitions was 10-20 on Edinburgh’s most recent visit to the Arms Park in September 2017.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 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.
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 (c), 8 Nick Haining, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Lewis Carmichael, 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 Mesu Kunavula, 20 Ally Miller, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 George Taylor
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales), Robert O’Sullivan (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Connacht v Benetton
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 Italy time; 18.35 GMT)
Connacht have lost their last three Pro14 matches but have not lost four in a row in the Championship since April 2018. Connacht’s only home defeat in any competition in the last twelve months was 24-31 to Munster on January 5. The Irishmen have won their last four matches against Italian opponents. Benetton’s only victory in their last six Pro14 matches was 25-11 at Zebre in Round 21. The Italian’s only victory over an Irish province since April 2016 was 17-15 over Leinster at the RDS Arena in April 2018. Connacht have won their last four encounters with Benetton since the Italian’s single point victory at Stadio Monigo in April 2016. Benetton’s only previous victory in Galway was 15-13 in December 2011.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 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 Sean Masterson, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Stephen Fitzgerald
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Joaquin Riera, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Luca Petrozzi, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Michele Mancini Parri, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Derrick Appiah
Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Lodovico Manni, 21 Charly Trussardi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Ignacio Brex
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White, Ian Kenny (Scotland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Ireland)