Pro14, Round Six - Teams and predictions
SOUTH AFRICAN FACTOR: Munster coach Johann van Graan will be hoping his team can shake off the rust after last week’s postponement.
Munster hosts Ospreys in Sunday’s game in Limerick.
The Irish province has been one of the in-form teams in the Pro14 and one of three unbeaten teams.
However, the other unbeaten teams – Leinster and Ulster – have played five games.
Munster have played just four, following the postponement of last week’s away clash against Benetton – the result of positive COVID-19 tests in the home camp.
Should Munster win on Sunday, it will represent their best start in the Pro14 in the last 11 years – five successive victories at the start.
Van Graan’s men will probably be refreshed and should be expected to easily beat the visiting Welsh team and strengthen their position at the top of Conference B.
In the other conference, an interesting tussle is developing between current leaders and defending champions Leinster and Ulster.
While Leinster has just kept rolling along like they usually do, Ulster has become incrementally stronger with each game they have played, and their trip to Parma to play Italian side Zebre on Monday will be an opportunity to build further on the momentum.
They were excellent in dispatching Glasgow Warriors 40-15 earlier in this week and although Zebre have shown flashes of form recently, the Irish side, with Springbok loose forward Marcel Coetzee very much their talisman, should be expected to win.
If you look at recent history, Leinster have a tougher assignment this week even though they are at home.
Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh, with several players with South African roots in his mix, started this season poorly and were perhaps suffering from the hangover of having unexpectedly lost their first home Pro14 semi-final against Ulster at the end of the 2019/2020 season.
However, they have won two on the bounce now and go to Dublin to play Leinster in Dublin in the late Monday game – with the confidence that comes with having been one of the more recent conquerors of Leinster on their home ground.
That was some time ago, but the memory of Edinburgh’s away win over another Irish team, Munster, in last year’s competition should still be relatively fresh and they will go to the RDS Arena feeling they have a chance.
The last time Leinster lost at home in the Pro14 was against Glasgow Warriors in 2018 and a bonus-point win in this game will put them just one short of the all-time record of seven successive bonus-point wins.
Benetton, who travel to Newport to play Cardiff Blues, and Connacht, who host Scarlets in the first game of the weekend on Saturday, will just be pleased to get back onto the field again after COVID-19 kept them off the field for the past two weeks, making this their respective first games in three weeks.
All the Round Six teams and predictions!
Saturday, November 14
Connacht v Scarlets
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35, 19.35 GMT)
It wasn’t pretty but Scarlets won’t care after they secured their second Pro14 win of the season with a nervy 18-17 win against Zebre last Sunday.
Angus O’Brien’s last-gasp penalty got the hosts out of jail and prevented a first-ever defeat to the Italian side. However, it’s just the sort of result that can spark some momentum and change the tide of a campaign.
Coach Glenn Delaney will hope that’s the case and his side visit Connacht in good spirits, having lost just one of their last five encounters with the Galway outfit.
This will mark Connacht’s first game since the end of October, with the Covid pandemic postponing their last two matches. But Andy Friend’s team have made a steady start, with two wins from three games.
They are also unbeaten at the Sportsground since Christmas, when Munster claimed the spoils, while they have also won their last six home games with Welsh teams, going all the way back to September 2017.
@rugby365com: Connacht by 10 points
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Alex Wootton, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Colm Reilly, 8 Abraham Papali’i, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Paul Boyle, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Conor Kenny, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Eoghan Masterson, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Peter Sullivan.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Ryan Conbeer, 13 Steff Hughes (captain), 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Jac Morgan, 6 Ed Kennedy, 5 Morgan Jones, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Taylor Davies, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Daf Hughes, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Danny Drake, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Will Homer, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Sunday, November 15
Munster v Ospreys
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 14.45, 14.45 GMT)
Munster have been so consistent for so long that it’s almost a surprise they haven’t won their opening five games of a season in 11 years.
That’s what they are chasing against Ospreys on Sunday, a side they have beaten in each of their last ten encounters.
Ospreys have not won away at an Irish province since overcoming Connacht in September 2016, while they have won just one Pro14 game on their travels in the last 18 months.
The Welsh side has already picked up two impressive wins this season, beating both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors.
They’ll need to be at their best again to turn the tide against an in-form Munster.
@rugby365com: Munster by 18 points
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Rory Scannell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Matt Gallagher, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Jack O’Donoghue (captain), 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 John Ryan, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Jack O’Sullivan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Dan Goggin.
Ospreys: 15 Mat Protheroe, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Hanno Dirksen, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Dan Lydiate (captain), 6 Will Griffiths, 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Ifan Phillips, 1 Gareth Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Rhys Davies, 20 Olly Cracknell, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Josh Thomas, 23 Scott Williams.
Monday, November 16
Zebre v Ulster
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 20.00; 19.00 UK time; 19.00 GMT)
After a shaky start to the season, Zebre has started to show flashes of form in their last two games as they beat Ospreys at home and pushed Scarlets to the brink in Llanelli.
Ulster will test them even more though and Dan McFarland’s side takes their perfect record to Parma for Round 6, one of three teams to remain unbeaten along with Leinster and Munster.
The Kingspan outfit looked in fine fettle during their 40-15 win against Glasgow Warriors on Monday Night Rugby and appear set for another strong campaign.
Zebre has not won successive home games in the Pro14 in just over two years, while they have not succeeded against an Irish province since beating Connacht in February 2018.
This will be a slightly unusual game for Ulster though, with this marking their first trip to Italy since November 2018.
@rugby365com: Ulster by 14 points
Zebre: 15 Michelangelo Biondelli, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Gabriele Di Giulio, 10 Antonio Rizzi, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 Lorenzo Masselli, 7 Renato Giammarioli, 6 Nardo Casolari, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Marco Manfredi. 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Alexandru Tarus, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Antoine Koffi, 21 Nicolò Casilio, 22 Paolo Pescetto, 23 Junior Laloifi.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stewart Moore, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Bill Johnston, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Greg Jones, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 John Andrew, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 David O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Cardiff Blues v Benetton
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 19.45; 20.45 Italian time; `19.45 GMT)
It’s time to dig deep for Cardiff Blues now their early-season optimism has vanished with three straight defeats.
The Blues made a great start by winning their first two games and will be confident of getting back in the winners’ circle against a Benetton side that has not played in three weeks.
Benetton has won two of their last three away games, including one at Rodney Parade in March when they saw off Dragons, but have emerged victorious in just one of their last seven contests with Monday’s opponents.
The Blues have not lost successive home games in a year, while they have also won their last six matches with Italian opposition.
They also lead the overall head-to-head record 13-4, with one draw.
@rugby365com: Cardiff Blues by 11 points
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Jamie Hill, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 James Botham, 6 Olly Robinson, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Ben Murphy, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey (captain), 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 James Ratti, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Ben Thomas, 23 Aled Summerhill.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Joaquin Riera, 12 Nacho Brex, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Giovanni Pettinelli (captain), 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Filippo Alongi, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Irné Herbst, 20 Michele Lamaro, 21 Marco Barbini, Luca Petrozzi, 23 Angelo Esposito.
Leinster v Edinburgh
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 20.15; 20.15 GMT)
Edinburgh’s sluggish start to the new season appears to be behind them but a trip to the RDS Arena is enough to make anyone wince.
Leinster have lost just one Pro14 match on their own patch since April 2018, when Glasgow Warriors emerged with the points 18 months ago.
Leinster are also chasing a sixth straight bonus-point win, which would them to within one of the all-time record.
Edinburgh can point to recent success against Leinster. Each of their last five meetings has been won by the home side on the day, with Edinburgh claiming the spoils in two of those.
They also know how to win at tough away grounds, seeing off Munster at Irish Independent Park last season.
@rugby365com: Leinster by 25 points
Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Liam Turner, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 7 Scott Penny, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Ciarán Parker, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Josh Murphy, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 David Hawkshaw, 23 Ryan Baird.
Edinburgh: 15 Jack Blain, 14 Eroni Sau, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Jamie Farndale, 10 Nathan Chamberlain, 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 Rory Darge, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Charlie Shiel, 23 James Johnstone.