Thu 7 Jan 2021 | 05:25


Thu 7 Jan 2021 | 05:25

PREVIEW: After Leinster’s surprise defeat at the hands of Connacht last weekend they find themselves under what for them is rare pressure in the Pro14 as they prepare to host high flying Ulster at their home ground of RDS Arena in Dublin on Friday.


The first match of the weekend fare is the first of two particularly significant games in terms of the battle for supremacy in the respective conferences, with Saturday’s clash between Connacht and Munster in Galway also being a top of the table clash that could go a long way towards determining the likely winners of the respective sections in a shortened competition.

The pressure on Leinster is based on the fact that their opponents on Friday are now the only unbeaten team left in the competition and also enjoy a 10-point lead on them at the top of Conference A. Leinster have played two games less than Ulster, and those games in hand mean they are not out of it, but they will find themselves in a perilous position should they lose to their arch-rivals, who could then take a 13-to-15-point advantage into the next round.

Apart from the fact that Leinster are in the relatively unchartered territory of having a point to prove after their first defeat in the competition since early 2019 that ended a long winning sequence, they also have history on their side. For while Ulster have been in fine form and produced another solid performance to beat the previously unbeaten Munster last week, they have a rotten record away to Leinster, with just one win in 17 visits to RDS Arena.

Coupled with that, they have only prevailed once in the last eight games they have played against Leinster anywhere, so they are definitely up against a team that will feel it has the wood over them. Leinster have also never lost successive Pro14 matches at home so that is another record in their favour. Countering that, Ulster have displayed good away form recently, with their last loss on the road coming last August.

Munster meanwhile can almost assure themselves of Conference B honours, meaning qualification for the Final, if they keep up their good recent record against Connacht. They have won the last five games against the team coached by Andy Friend and after resting some key players when they suffered their first loss of the season to Ulster, Johan van Graan’s men should be fresh for the Galway challenge.

Connacht have only won once at home since October but of course their confidence would have been substantially boosted by last week’s shock away win at Leinster, something that could just grow them an extra arm and a leg for this clash against another highly rated fellow Irish team.


Fresh from their surprise win against Leinster, Connacht are faced with another Irish giant in the shape of Munster this weekend. Munster currently lead Connacht by eight points with both teams having played eight games and will stretch that advantage into double figures if they win.

It’s another big derby weekend in the Pro14, with Edinburgh having to travel on Friday to Scotstoun for the return clash against the Warriors team they beat last weekend. The Scarlets need to win away against Cardiff Blues to keep in touch with Munster in Conference B. They are currently one point behind second placed Connacht but have played one more game than both the teams ahead of them.

We take a closer look at each match!

Friday, January 8

Leinster v Ulster
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)

Leinster suffered their first PRO14 defeat since April 2019 last weekend, snapping a 26-game winning streak.

They have never lost successive home PRO14 matches at the RDS Arena but face an in-form Ulster side that remain the last unbeaten team this season.

Ulster beat Munster last weekend to make it ten wins from ten this season but they have only won one of their last eight matches against Leinster.


Their record at the RDS Arena is even worse, with just one win in 17 visits, but they have not lost an away PRO14 match since August.


@rugby365com: Leinster by 5 points

15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Ross Byrne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jimmy O’Brien.

Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Matt Faddes, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Greg Jones, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Warwick.
16 John Andrew, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Ben Moxham.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Eoghan Cross (both IRFU)
TMO: Joy Neville (IRFU) 

Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh
(Scotstoun, Glasgow) – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)

Hosts Glasgow Warriors have won just one of their last seven PRO14 matches, a 19-10 success against Cardiff Blues in Round 8, and just once at home in any competition since February.

After a slow start to the season, Edinburgh have picked up some form and have won the last two matches. However, they sit fifth in Conference B with just three league victories this season.

The overall head-to-head record lies at 19 wins each and one draw.


@rugby365com: Glasgow by 3 points


Glasgow Warriors: 15 Huw Jones, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Robbie Fergusson, 11 Rufus McLean, 10 Ross Thompson, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Tom Gordon, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Lewis Bean, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Jamie Dobie, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Glenn Bryce.

Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Eroni Sau, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Jack Blain, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist (co-captain), 4 Andrew Davidson, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally (co-captain), 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 WP Nel, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Nathan Chamberlain, 23 James Johnstone.

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Finlay Brown, Dunx McClement (both SRU)
TMO: Charles Samson (SRU)

Saturday, January 9

Zebre Rugby v Benetton Rugby
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off 14.00, 13.00 GMT)

Since losing 52-3 at Munster in Round 8 in November, Zebre Rugby are unbeaten in their last three matches, including Saturday’s 24-15 win at rivals Benetton.

That was only their sixth ever win against Benetton but this weekend’s visitors have won just once in all competitions this season, and not at all in the Guinness PRO14.

Zebre are seeking two derby wins in the same season for the first time since 2015/16 but Benetton have enjoyed recent trips to Parma, winning on each their last six visits.


@rugby365com: Zebre by 5 points


Zebre: 15 Michelangelo Biondelli, 14 Giovanni D’Onofrio, 13 Federico Mori, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Nicolò Casilio, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 David Sisi (captain), 3 Giosuè Zilocchi, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 Samuele Ortis, 20 Maxime Mbandà, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Jamie Elliott.

Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Michele Lamaro (captain), 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Riccardo Favretto, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Cherif Traoré.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Thomas Gallo, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Toa Halafihi, 21 Giovanni Pettinelli, 22 Luca Petrozzi, 23 Tommaso Allan.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)
Assistant Referees: Federico Vedovelli, Riccardo Angelucci (both FIR)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR) 

Dragons v Ospreys
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off 17.15, 17.15 GMT)

Dragons, who have not won at home since seeing off Zebre in October, have lost their last two derbies to Cardiff Blues and Scarlets but have not lost three in succession since November 2019.

Ospreys, in contrast, have lost just one of their last five matches and that came against Scarlets in Round 9 by only two points.

They beat the Blues 17-3 on New Year’s Day to snap a six-game winless streak against fellow Welsh regions but they have lost each of their last three visits to Rodney Parade – including to Cardiff Blues in August.


@rugby365com: Ospreys by 6 points


Dragons: 15 Owen Jenkins, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Harrison Keddie (captain), 6 Huw Taylor, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Ben Carter, 20 Lewis Evans, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Arwel Robson, 23 Jack Dixon.

Ospreys: 15 Mat Protheroe, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Stephen Myler (captain), 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Sam Cross, 6 Will Griffiths, 5 Rhys Davies, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Ifan Phillips, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Joe Hawkins, 23 Keelan Giles.

Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Adam Jones, Gareth John (both WRU)
TMO: Ian Davies (WRU)

Cardiff Blues v Scarlets
(Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff – Kick-off 19.35, 19.35 GMT)

Cardiff Blues are seeking a first win at Cardiff City Stadium since 2012 when they host Scarlets on Saturday night in a crucial Conference B clash.

Scarlets are six points clear of the Blues, who have won just one of their last four Guinness PRO14 matches – against Dragons on Boxing Day.

Scarlets, by contrast, have lost just one of their last five league matches – a 26-24 defeat at Ulster in Round 7 – and that is their only away loss in all competitions since October.


@rugby365com: Cardiff by 6 points


Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 James Botham, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Cory Hill (captain), 4 James Ratti, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Rhys Carré, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Ben Thomas, 23 Aled Summerhill.

Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies (captain), 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Tevita Ratuva, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Ed Kennedy, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Sam Costelow, 23 Paul Asquith.

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Mike English (both WRU)
TMO: Sean Brickell (WRU) 

Connacht v Munster

(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off 19:35 , 19.35 GMT)

Fresh from their surprise win against Leinster, Connacht are faced with another Irish giant in the shape of Munster this weekend.

Despite their success on Saturday, Andy Friend’s team have only won once at home since October and have lost each of their last five games against Munster.

Munster lost their 100 per cent winning record on Saturday to Ulster but have not lost successive away games in the Guinness PRO14 regular season since October 2018.

Even if they lose, Munster will remain top of Conference B after this weekend as they have an eight-point advantage over Connacht. 


@rugby365com: Connacht by 6 points


Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Ben O’Donnell, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Sean Masterson, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Quinn Roux (captain), 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Diarmuid Kilgallen, 23 Peter Sullivan.

Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Shane Daly, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 6 Gavin Coombes, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Billy Holland, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Rory Scannell.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Chris Busby, Peter Martin (both IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)


PV: 22