Pro14: Prediction and teams, Round 14
SOUTH AFRICAN FLAVOUR: Even without either of the South African teams in action, the competition’s resumption will leave fans in the Republic with plenty to salivate over.
Firstly some will measure the standard of the European teams to those SA Super Rugby outfits who may soon head north as well.
However, most importantly, the arrival of the Springbok World Cup-winning duo of Damian de Allende and Rudolph Snyman will give Munster hope that they can upset the odds when they meet defending Pro14 champions Leinster in Dublin on Saturday.
The Irish clash is the headline act in a mouth-watering weekend of matches in the tournament and the two Springboks are key players for South African coach Johann van Graan.
Snyman adds quality to a pack which already boats his fellow South African-born stars Jean Kleyn and CJ Stander, both of whom have naturalised for Ireland, while de Allende will bring power to the back division.
“We haven’t played a warm-up game yet, and Rudolph and Damian haven’t played a game with us yet,” Van Graan said.
“We have been together for four weeks, so like with all teams – and you would have seen with the New Zealand, Australian and Premiership games – all the games were stop-start affairs.
“Hopefully we hit the ground running but it will take time for those guys to get in properly.
“In terms of the squad, we are looking to improve our squad year on year. It is certainly very exciting to have players of their calibre coming in and I look forward to seeing them in a Munster jersey.”
The underdog tag sits well with Munster, who are looking to make a big impression when they take the field this weekend, but their preparations hit a snag when a junior squad member tested positive for COVID-19 last week, forcing the cancellation of two training sessions.
“We’re going to the Aviva stadium against Leinster and they have only lost one Pro14 game in the last 19 or 20 there. They are unbeaten the whole of last season. There are certainly no weaknesses in their squad, strong line-out and their continuity is excellent, as is their defence.
“We will have to be very good to beat them in the Aviva but our focus has been very much on ourselves and we give them the respect that they deserve. They are quite clearly the best team in Europe and this is the start of a new competition for us over the next four weekends, but the one thing we know for a fact now is that we have two games against Leinster and Connacht ahead of us.
“There is not anyway to judge it on, last week Tuesday was the last time that we trained and we only had four weeks of contact training. We put the health and safety of our players and staff first, and last week didn’t go to plan, we weren’t in a position to train on Thursday and Friday and in the context of a four week block of contact that isn’t ideal. But those are the cards that have been dealt to us but we are very excited to play.
“I’ve said before this is much more than a rugby game, it is very important that sport gets going again in Ireland, and a lot of people are very excited at this prospect. It is impossible to say where we are at. The fact that we play Leinster in the Aviva is something that all the players are looking forward to.”
The Pro14 returns after more than five months due to the COVID-19-enforced lockdown and, with an abbreviated finish to the 2019/20 season lying ahead, there is plenty at stake in the penultimate round of the regular season before the play-offs.
Games postponed prior to the suspension of play have been deemed 0-0 draws, leaving each team with two rounds of derby games left to play, with the results of Round 14 and 15 matches counting towards final positions.
While the confirmation of the top two teams in both Conferences might appear a foregone conclusion, don’t expect any drama to be missing from Round 14, with an 1872 Cup decider and the latest chapter in the race for Conference B top spot just a couple of things to keep an eye on.
(Continue below … )
This week’s predictions!
Friday, August 21
Benetton v Zebre
(Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 20.00; 18.00 GMT)
Fifth in Conference B, Benetton are unable to match their play-off exploits of last season but will be hoping to claim successive Pro14 wins for the first time since their double header success against fellow Italians Zebre at Christmas.
Kieran Crowley’s men were victorious 37-25 over Dragons in the most recent action in the Championship and will be confident of a strong finish to the season having won 14 of their 18 contests against this weekend’s opponents.
Conference A’s sixth-place side Zebre are vying for their best ever finish in the competition’s current format but have just two wins to their name this season, and are without a victory on the road since November.
@rugby365com: Benetton by 10 points
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Joaquin Riera, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Braam Steyn, 7 Michele Lamaro, 6 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Filippo Alongi, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Ivan Nemer.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Charly Trussardi, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Marco Zanon.
Zebre: 15 Michelangelo Biondelli, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Giovanni Licata, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 David Sisi, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Daniele Rimpelli.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Giosuè Zilocchi, 19 Cristian Stoian, 20 Jimmy Tuivati, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Federico Mori.
Referee: Andrea Piardi
Assistant referees: Gianluca Gnecchi, Manuel Bottino
TMO: Marius Mitrea
Saturday, August 22
Scarlets v Cardiff Blues
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Lying eight points behind Munster with two games to go, third-place Scarlets need something of a miracle if they are going to sneak into the top two and claim a play-off place for the first time since finishing runners-up two years ago.
The most recent Welsh champions – having claimed 2016/17 glory – Glenn Delaney’s team have lost just two of their last seven encounters with Blues, and ground out a dogged 16-14 win in the teams’ last meeting in January.
Cardiff have won just one of their previous four Pro14 matches – and haven’t won away since December – but John Mulvihill’s men will be eager to finish a disappointing campaign strongly, and boost their head-to-head record against Scarlets, whom they have beaten 12 times from 33 meetings as it stands.
@rugby365com: Scarlets by 12 points
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Steff Hughes (captain), 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger, 19, Jake Ball, 20 James Davies, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Paul Asquith.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Harri Millard, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Will Boyde, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Josh Turnbull (captain), 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Carré.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Kieron Assiratti, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse, Dan Jones
TMO: Wayne Davies
Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Expect sparks to fly in the Scottish capital this weekend, with last year’s beaten finalists Glasgow Warriors determined to prevent Edinburgh finishing top of Conference B, and seal 1872 Cup glory in the process.
Despite the fact the teams will meet for a fourth time in Round 15, it has been agreed the 1872 Cup will remain a three-legged affair, and new boss Danny Wilson will be seeking a reaction to Warriors’ most recent outing – a 55-19 drubbing at Leinster.
Each side won their respective home fixture in the rivals’ two meetings earlier this campaign, but title-chasing Edinburgh have won their last five Championship encounters, a run they are hoping to extend to six for only the second time since 2009.
@rugby365com: Edinburgh by five points
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Huw Jones, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Ratu Tagive, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Matt Fagerson, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown (captain), 1 Oliver Kebble.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Tom Gordon, 21 George Horne, 22 Niko Matawalu, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Eroni Sau, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Andrew Davidson, 3 WP Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Nick Haining, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Nathan Chamberlain, 23 George Taylor.
Referee: Mike Adamson
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White, Finlay Brown
TMO: Neil Patterson
Leinster v Munster
(Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Defending champions Leinster have looked unstoppable this season, without defeat in the Championship since April 2019.
A move of all Irish rugby to the national stadium stands them in good stead as they look to extend their 100 per cent record, with Leo Cullen’s side having won their last 14 games at the Aviva in all competitions.
Three-time champions Munster have endured an inconsistent season but are still in the hunt for first place in Conference B, and a first win against their rivals since December 2018 would clinch their spot in the semifinals.
@rugby365com: Leinster by nine points
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Ryan Baird, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Will Connors, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Max Deegan.
Munster: 15 Shane Daly, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Keith Earls, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Matt Gallagher.
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant referees: George Clancy, Joy Neville
TMO: Brian MacNeice
Sunday, August 23
Ospreys v Dragons
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 14.15; 13.15 GMT)
Conference A’s bottom side Ospreys have had a rough ride in 2018/19 and are desperate to move off the bottom before the season’s end despite only claiming two victories so far.
The omens don’t look good for new coach Toby Booth – with the Swansea-based side having lost each of their three matches against fellow Welsh regions this season – but the return of some of their key operators will certainly strengthen their cause.
The last three meetings between Ospreys and Dragons have been won by the home team, and the visitors – who have largely impressed under Dean Ryan this season – will be seeking only a second away win in the Championship in the last five years.
@rugby365com: Ospreys by seven points
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Kieran Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Nicky Thomas, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Will Griffiths, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Josh Thomas, 23 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.
Dragons: 15 Dafydd Howells, 14 Owen Jenkins, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies (captain), 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Ben Fry, 5 Joe Maksymiw, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Conor Maguire, 18 Chris Coleman, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Arwel Robson, 23 Adam Warren.
Referee: Adam Jones
Assistant referees: Craig Evans, Gwyn Morris
TMO: Sean Brickell
Connacht v Ulster
(Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 GMT)
Ulster has turned heads so far this season, and with a first Championship title since 2005/06 in their sights, Dan McFarland’s team will be hoping for the perfect restart in the Irish capital.
The Belfast-based side has lost just once in the last five rounds of the Pro14, and have got the better of Connacht in the team’s last two encounters.
But 2015/16 champions Connacht have won two of their three last matches in the competition and will be aiming to halt their rivals’ charge on their first visit to Irish Rugby headquarters since 1989.
@rugby365com: Ulster by 10 points
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Peter Sullivan, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Stephen Kerins, 22 Conor Dean, 23 Tom Daly.
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Billy Burns (captain), 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Nick Timoney, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Matthew Rea, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Michael Lowry.
Referee: Frank Murphy
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Chris Busby
TMO: Olly Hodges