Rainbow Cup Pro14, Round four - Teams and Predictions
MASSIVE MOVES: Several massive clashes await in the Rainbow Cup this weekend that will see teams edge closer to who will contest the final on June 19 against the South African winner.
Surprise frontrunners Benetton Treviso have been buoyed by the news that the final will take place at their home stadium and will hope to continue their winning streak for coach Kieran Crowley, who will be leaving to take over Italy in a few months’ time.
The Italians are four points clear at the top of the table after winning their opening three games – two against Zebre, but could find the going a lot tougher when they visit Connacht this weekend.
Connacht will head into the game knowing they still have a chance and buoyed after their shock win over Munster a fortnight ago, and know they have won the last seven meetings between the two sides.
That game will be a major focus for the chasing sides, of which Munster is one and with just two games left, this weekend’s games effectively become knockout matches. Munster’s forwards coach Graham Rowntree said as much this week when talking up his side’s chances against the Cardiff Blues – a must-win game for both sides.
“I said from the outset that we want to win this tournament, we took it very seriously,” Rowntree laid down the law this week.
“I think our selections have reflected that as well, and certainly our performances up until the disappointment against Connacht, and that last third of the game in particular. But we are taking it very seriously.”
The Blues are a point behind Munster after narrow 17-16 and 29-28 wins against the Dragons and Scarlets respectively, making the game a knock-out.
“Very much so,” agreed Rowntree. “That’s it, literally; it’s a knock-out game.
“We’ve played against them twice this year, they’re a good team. Dai [Young] has made a change there going in. They’re a physical team, good defensively, good in the breakdown, massive attacking threat as well, a running ‘10’ and running ‘9’ threat.
“We’ll have our hands full, which is exactly what we need. We’re ready for it. We’ve certainly trained with this in mind and our preparation has gone really well.”
The Munster-Blues game is the only match scheduled for Friday while Saturday sees Ulster take on Scarlets and Benetton face Connacht while the Dragons host Glasgow Warriors.
Ulster are on their worst league run since 2017 but their four straight defeats have included recent losses to Leinster and Munster, who contested the PRO14 Final in March. They have won their last four meetings against Saturday’s opposition and will have 500 fans in attendance. Scarlets would have been frustrated not to build on their derby delight against the Ospreys when they suffered a 29-28 reverse at home to Cardiff and have only tasted victory once on the road in 2021.
Dragons wing Jonah Holmes is experiencing some fine form with four tries thus far in the Rainbow Cup and will hopefully inspire his teammates.
Away from their Rodney Parade home for this match, the omens are not positive for the Newport-based club with defeats on the four previous occasions they have played at the Cardiff City Stadium. Glasgow Warriors have recovered well from an opening round loss to Benetton and could finish in first place if results were to go their way this weekend. Yet they have not won three consecutive games in the championship since February 2020.
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* The Pro14 teams and predictions
Friday, May 28
Munster v Cardiff Blues
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
A bonus-point victory for Munster would send them top of the northern hemisphere standings, even if it could only be for 24 hours, but they were shocked last time out at home to Connacht.
Conor Murray, their top try scorer in the new tournament, sustained a low-grade leg injury following the narrow defeat two weeks ago and will be absent for the visit of Blues as the Irish province attempt to avoid back-to-back PRO14 losses for the first time since January last year.
Cardiff head to Ireland with momentum after two one-point triumphs in their last two games but have not beaten Munster since September 2018.
@rugby365com: Munster by 10 points
Munster: 15 Mike Haley; 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly; 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Craig Casey; 8 CJ Stander (captain), 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Fineen Wycherley; 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer; 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin,
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Gavin Coombes, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Jack O’Sullivan.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Hallam Amos; 14 Jason Harries, 13 Willis Halaholo, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Josh Adams; 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams; 8 James Ratti, 7 James Botham, 6 Josh Turnbull (captain), 5 Cory Hill, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Corey Domachowski,
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Rhys Carré, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Harri Millard, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Mike Adamson
Assistant Referees: Rob O’Sullivan, Nigel Correll
TMO: Olly Hodges
Saturday, May 29
Ulster v Scarlets
PThe fixture between Ulster and Scarlets cannot go ahead due to positive COVID-19 cases in the Ulster squad.
Ulster is assisting four players who have tested positive for COVID-19 and, as a result, the fixture versus Scarlets, which was due to be played this Saturday at Kingspan Stadium, will not go ahead.
The latest round of PCR testing at Ulster Rugby, which was carried out yesterday, has returned four positive results. These individuals are currently asymptomatic and now self-isolating in line with public health protocols.
The Public Health Agency has been informed and Ulster Rugby is continuing to follow its internal contact tracing process. Further PCR testing of players and staff is due to take place tomorrow and all training at senior and Academy level has been suspended until further notice.
In making this decision both the league and Ulster followed the guidelines established by the PRO14 Rugby Medical Advisory and had the full support of the Public Health Agency.
With no available weekends remaining the game will not be rescheduled. As a result, PRO14 Rugby will use the protocol decided prior to the 2020/21 season whereby a game that could not be rescheduled would result in the fixture being deemed a 0-0 draw, but four match points would be awarded to the team who had not been the cause of the postponement.
In this case, Scarlets will receive four match points. This protocol ensures that no artificial scoring points were added to the tries/points for and against columns.
Benetton v Connacht
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 18.15; 17.15 GMT)
Surprise package Benetton are determined not to let slip their fantastic start and a win would make sure they remain on course to qualify for the Rainbow Cup final.
With Paolo Garbisi in fine form, the leaders will hope for more home comforts with triumphs in their last three matches at Stadio Monigo but they have lost their most recent seven battles with Connacht.
Indeed, the Irish province will provide a stern examination of Benetton’s title hopes after they sealed a hard-fought victory over Munster on May 14.
@rugby365com: Benneton by seven points
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Irné Herbst, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Marco Barbini, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Ratuva Tavuyara.
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Peter Sullivan, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Ultan Dillane, 4 Niall Murray, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Oisin Dowling, 20 Abraham Papali’i, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Referee: Ginaluca Gnecchi
Assistant Referees: Marius Mitrea, Federico Vedovelli
TMO: Stefano Penne
Dragons v Glasgow Warriors
(Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Wing Jonah Holmes has grabbed four tries in the Rainbow Cup so far and will aim to help the Dragon get back on track this weekend.
Away from their Rodney Parade home for this match, the omens are not positive for the Newport-based club with defeats on the four previous occasions they have played at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Glasgow Warriors have recovered well from an opening-round loss to Benetton and could finish in first place if results were to go their way this weekend. Yet they have not won three consecutive games in the championship since February 2020.
@rugby365com: Glasgow Warriors by seven points
Dragons: 15 Ioan Davies, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Jack Dixon, 12 Aneurin Owen, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Ollie Griffiths, 6 Ross Moriarty (captain), 5 Ben Carter, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Dan Babos, 22 Evan Lloyd, 23 Jamie Roberts.
Glasgow: 15 Adam Hastings, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Cole Forbes, 10 Ross Thompson, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Rob Harley, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Tom Lambert, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Fotu Lokotui, 21 George Horne, 22 Stafford McDowall, 23 Rufus McLean.
Referee: Chris Busby
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Craig Evans
TMO: Dan Jones (WRU)