Pro14, Round Eight - teams and predictions
TRICKY TEST: Ulster faces a tough challenge to the unbeaten run they have enjoyed in the early stages of the Pro14 season, when they travel to Edinburgh for a repeat of last year’s semifinal on Monday.
Memories of the play-off game should be fresh for both teams, perhaps even more so though for Edinburgh than for Ulster.
Richard Cockerill’s team, having made history by securing a home semi-final at Murrayfield, looked like they were on their way to a fairly comfortable win back in September when it all turned against them in the last quarter.
They ended up losing after the hooter.
It was a mortal blow to Edinburgh’s rise to become one of the top teams in the competition, as they have struggled ever since.
There were two successive wins before they were beaten 50-10 by champions Leinster two weeks ago, but generally it has been a poor season for Edinburgh, who will hope to return to action feeling re-energised after last week’s scheduled clash with the Dragons was postponed.
A win over the team that beat them in the semifinal to send them into something of a downward spiral will be a massive boost for a team that will start at Murrayfield desperate to gain revenge as a step towards obliterating that memory.
However, with South African loose forward Marcell Coetzee in such impressive form and very much the talisman, Ulster has started the new season as if they have a train to catch, and are one of three teams unbeaten.
While the Edinburgh team will be motivated by revenge and the need to halt their losing momentum, Ulster will go to Murrayfield with a different objective – they need to try and keep pace with Leinster, who are two points ahead of them in their conference.
The other unbeaten team at this point is Johan van Graan’s Munster, who have already opened up an 11 point lead at the top of Conference B and will rate their chances of holding on or extending that advantage as they host Italian team Zebre at the same time as the Edinburgh game will be played.
Leinster goes to Llanelli in the feature game on Sunday to face play-off challengers Scarlets and will consider it a potential banana peel as Scarlets have famously beaten them in play-off fixtures in the past.
Scarlets have won just one of their last five PRO14 meetings with Leinster but will be buoyed by the knowledge that they have lost just twice to Irish teams at Parc y Scarlets since September 2016 – by Ulster in the European Champions Cup in 2018 and Munster in the PRO14 earlier in the current campaign.
They also pushed unbeaten Ulster close, losing by just two points, in Belfast in their most recent game. Leinster though has scored seven consecutive bonus-point wins and are in imperious form.
The fixture between Connacht and Ospreys has been postponed.
The game was due to take place on Saturday, November 28, in Galway.
However, one Ospreys player has returned a positive case of COVID-19 and others identified as close contacts are now isolating.
Having considered all the available evidence, the Pro14 Rugby Medical Advisory Group has deemed that this fixture cannot go ahead.
Benetton, who played against Ospreys last Sunday, carried out routine squad testing this week and returned negative results all round.
All the Round Eight teams at predictions!
Saturday, November 28
Connacht v Ospreys: Postponed
Sunday, November 29
Benetton v Dragons
(Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 17.00; 16.00 UK time; 16.00 GMT)
Benetton is the only team left in the Pro14 without a win to their name this season but can take plenty of heart from their last-gasp defeat at the hands of Ospreys last time out, which featured a hat-trick for hooker Hame Faiva.
The Italians will be hoping their next opponents Dragons will be suitably rusty in their first match for four weeks due to COVID-19, as they bid to add to their two bonus points and start climbing the Conference B table.
The Welshmen will be looking to kick-start their campaign which features just one win from their four matches so far, coming against Benetton’s fellow countrymen Zebre 26-18 in Round Two.
That success represents their only victory in all competitions since February, while the Stadio Monigo is historically a less favourable destination for the Newport-based side, having won there just once before, in 2015.
@rugby365com: Benetton by five points
Dragons: 15 Josh Lewis, 14 Owen Jenkins, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Ollie Griffiths, 7 Harrison Keddie, 6 Ben Fry, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Conor Maguire, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Joe Maksymiw, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jack Dixon, 23 Jared Rosser.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Joaquin Riera, 12 Tommaso Benvenuti, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Riccardo Favretto, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Alberto Sgarbi, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Matteo Canali, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Cherif Traoré.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Thomas Gallo, 18 Zac Nearchou, 19 Davide Ruggeri, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Tommaso Menoncello, 23 Luca Petrozzi.
Referee: Sean Gallagher
Assistant Referees: Manuel Bottino, Clara Munarini
TMO: Alan Falzone
Scarlets v Leinster
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Leinster are without defeat in the Pro14 since April 2019, and the Dubliners have looked in no mood to slip up this season having claimed seven bonus-point wins on the spin.
A trip to Final Series hopefuls Scarlets represents a potential banana skin, but Leo Cullen’s men will be full of confidence having swept aside fellow Welsh opposition Cardiff Blues 40-5 in their last outing.
Scarlets have won just one of their last five Championship meetings with Leinster but will be confident back on home soil having run unbeaten Ulster close 26-24 in Belfast in Round Seven.
Indeed, only two Irish teams have been victorious at Parc y Scarlets since September 2016 – Ulster in the European Champions Cup in 2018 and Munster in the Pro14 earlier in the current campaign.
@rugby365com: Leinster by 16 points
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi
Assistant Referees: Dan Jones, Aled Evans
TMO: Jon Mason
Cardiff Blues v Glasgow Warriors
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors and Cardiff Blues both sit fourth in Conferences A and B respectively, but it is the latter who will be happier with their exploits so far in 2020/21.
John Mulvihill’s men have won just once in the last five rounds of the Pro14 but put up a stubborn showing in a 40-5 defeat last time out against Leinster and have three wins to their name.
The Welshmen have beaten Scottish opposition just once since 2018 but have only lost on one occasion at home since they started playing at Rodney Parade in August.
Warriors have won their last eight matches against Blues in all competitions and will be hoping history repeats itself having fallen to four defeats on the spin since beating Scarlets in Round 2.
@rugby365com: Cardiff by seven points
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 Gwilym Bradley, 6 James Ratti, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Ben Murphy, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Kristian Dacey (captain), 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 Alun Lawrence, 20 Sam Moore, 21 Jamie Hill, 22 Mason Grady, 23 Hallam Amos.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Robbie Fergusson, 11 Ratu Tagive, 10 Pete Horne, 9 Sean Kennedy, 8 Ryan Wilson (captain), 7 Tom Gordon, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Kiran McDonald, 4 Lewis Bean, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Fotu Lokotui, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Jamie Dobie, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Huw Jones.
Referee: Frank Murphy
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies, Mike English
TMO: Rhys Thomas
Monday, November 30
Munster v Zebre
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 20.15; 21.15 Italian time; 20.15 GMT)
Munster have stormed into an emphatic 11-point lead at the top of Conference B despite having only played six matches – and they will be confident of stretching their unbeaten start at home to a side they have beaten in each of the teams’ 15 previous meetings.
Johann van Graan’s men saw off Glasgow Warriors 27-13 on their travels last time out and return to home turf where they have not been defeated in any tournament in 2020.
Zebre impressed with 23-17 victory over Ospreys earlier in November, but two thumping defeats at the hands of Ulster and Connacht in their most recent outings has left them bottom of Conference A.
Michael Bradley will be hoping his men can upset the odds and earn what would be only their second victory away at an Irish province, their first coming against Connacht in 2018.
@rugby365com: Munster by 30 points
Munster: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Nick McCarthy, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Josh Wycherley.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Thomas Ahern, 20 Jack Daly, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Sean French.
Zebre: 15 Junior Laloifi, 14 Giovanni D’Onofrio, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Pierre Bruno, 10 Paolo Pescetto, 9 Alessandro Fusco, 8 Lorenzo Masselli, 7 Alessandro Mordacci, 6 Mick Kearney, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 Gabriele Venditti, 3 Alexandru Tarus, 2 Marco Manfredi, 1 Riccardo Brugnara.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Matteo Nocera, 19 Andrea Chianucci, 20 Oliviero Fabiani, 21 Simone Marinaro, 22 Alessandro Forcucci, 23 Jamie Elliott.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace, Eoghan Cross
TMO: Joy Neville
Edinburgh v Ulster
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 20.15; 20.15 GMT)
Last season’s semifinalists Edinburgh will be hoping to return to match action fit and re-energised after their Round Seven clash with Dragons was postponed, having been beaten 50-10 by Leinster a week earlier.
Though that result came after successive Championship victories, boss Richard Cockerill will be aware of the threats unbeaten Ulster pose, with the Belfast-based side having gotten the better of them in the 2019/20 last four.
That victory was Ulster’s fourth in a row against Edinburgh, while the Irishmen have also won on their last three visits to Scottish rugby HQ.
Just two points behind Leinster in the Conference A standings, Dan McFarland will be hoping Ulster can follow up a gutsy 26-24 win over Scarlets in Round Seven with an eighth successive win here, to keep the heat on their compatriots.
@rugby365com: Ulster by eight points
Edinburgh: 15 Jack Blain, 14 Eroni Sau, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Jamie Farndale, 10 Nathan Chamblerain, 9 Henry Pyrgos (captain), 8 Ally Miller, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Andrew Davidson, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Lee-Roy Atalifo, 2 David Cherry, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Sam Grahamslaw, 18 Dan Gamble, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Viliame Mata, 21 Connor Boyle, 22 Charlie Shiel, 23 Alec Coombes.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Matt Faddes, 13 James Hume, 12 Stewart Moore, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 John Andrew, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 David O’Connor, 20 David McCann, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Aaron Sexton.
Referee: Craig Evans
Assistant Referees: Hollie Davidson, David Sutherland
TMO: Charles Samson