PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 10
Almost every team in the Championship is still vying for either knock-out berths or a shot at the Champions Cup Play-Off game and this weekend presents a great opportunity for rivals to take points off each other.
Round Nine provided plenty of drama and action with 48 tries and three games going right to the wire in Belfast, Port Elizabeth and Cardiff. There was also some unique appearances with 17-year-old Dan Babos becoming the first player born in the millennium (March, 2000) when he came on for Dragons during their loss to Leinster.
In addition, Ruaridh Jackson put in an incredible double shift by first appearing as a late replacement in Scotland's victory over Australia on Saturday before then making his way to Swansea to feature for Glasgow Warriors as they grabbed a bonus-point win over Ospreys.
What's at Stake:
On Friday the Southern Kings host Edinburgh in Port Elizabeth and the visitors will be on their guard given that Deon David's side have picked up four bonus points in their last two outings. Edinburgh came up short to the Cheetahs and will be out to ensure their South African tour returns some valuable points as they aim to stay in the hunt for a Champions Cup Play-Off berth.
Glasgow Warriors face Cardiff Blues in Scotstoun knowing that a win sets them up for a cracking pre-Christmas derby with Edinburgh. Glasgow have won nine games to start the season and two more victories would see them equal Ulster's record of 11 – the best-ever start to a Championship season in 2012/13.
On Saturday, Zebre host Connacht in Parma and with access to their returning Italian internationals they will be hopeful of securing a win that will put them back in contention for a Champions Cup Play-Off spot. Leinster will also travel to Italy to take on Benetton, who will share the same ambitions as Zebre and this could prove to be a very challenging weekend for the travelling Irish provinces.
Munster meet Ospreys at Irish Independent Park and the home team need to collect maximum points in order to keep up with Glasgow Warriors who are now 12 points clear at the top of Conference A. Ospreys come into this one off the back of a record defeat at home to Warriors and a shock result in Cork could re-invigorate their season.
Finally, in the only inter-Conference fixture of the round the Scarlets finish their tour to South Africa where they face the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein looking to add to their bonus-point win over the Southern Kings. Both teams know how valuable these points are with Cheetahs looking to solidify their hold on 3rd place in Conference A while Edinburgh have a firm grip on the Champions Cup Play-Off berth in Conference B.
Pick of the Round – Dragons v Ulster:
Dragons welcome Ulster to Rodney Parade buoyed by the news that Welsh international Ross Moriarty will join the region next season. Ulster have been pushed close lately by the Kings and Benetton and this fixture could be another tight affair where the visitors need the points to ensure Leinster do not usurp them for 2nd place in Conference A.
Top Performers – Round 9:
* Tackles made: 25 Aaron Hall (Ulster)
* Carries: 19 Olly Cracknell (Ospreys) / Matthew Screech (Dragons)
* Defenders beaten: 9 Jordan Larmour (Leinster)
* Offloads: 3 Multiple Players
* Breaks: 3 Multiple Players
* Metres made: 170 Leonardo Sarto (Glasgow Warriors)
* Turnovers won: 3 Dougie Fife (Edinburgh)
* Line-out steals: 2 Lewis Rawlins (Scarlets)
We look at all the Round 10 mtaches!
Friday, December 1:
Dragons v Ulster
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Dragons have lost their last four matches in the Pro14 (all away from home) since beating Southern Kings at Rodney Parade on September 30.
Dragons have won their last three matches in Newport in all tournaments since their reversal there to Leinster on the opening weekend of the new season.
Ulster's only defeat in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 10-25 at home to Leinster on October 28.
Ulster have won twice away from home in the Championship this season, in Treviso in Round two and in Port Elizabeth in Round Eight.
Ulster have won their last five fixtures with Dragons, including a 52-25 victory in Belfast in September.
The Ulstermen have won on their last two visits to Rodney Parade.
Dragons: 15 Angus O’Brien, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Gavin Henson, 9 Dan Babos, 8 James Benjamin, 7 Ollie Griffiths (captain), 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Gerard Ellis, 18 Sam Hobbs, 19 Rynard Landman, 20 Ben Roach, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Arwel Robson, 23 Pat Howard.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Tommy Bowe, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Greg Jones, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Ross Kane, 2 John Andrew, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Callum Black, 18 Andrew Warwick, 19 Matthew Dalton, 20 Chris Henry, 21 John Cooney, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Andrew Trimble.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Mike English (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Glasgow Warriors v Cardiff Blues
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors made it nine wins out of nine in the Pr14 this season with their 47-6 eclipsing of Ospreys in Swansea on Sunday.
The Scotsmen's only defeat at Scotstoun in the Championship since February came in Round 22 against their fiercest rivals, Edinburgh.
Cardiff Blues have won their last two Pro14 encounters, both at home, to Zebre and Connacht.
Blues only away victory in the Championship this season came on a trip to Connacht in Round Two.
The Warriors have lost just once to the Blues in their last thirteen meetings in the Pro14: 19-23 at Cardiff Arms Park in September 2016, whilst the Welsh Region's most recent success on Glasgow home soil came on a visit to Firhill in February 2011.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Matt Smith, 6 Callum Gibbins (captain), 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Kiran McDonald, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 George Turner, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 James Malcolm, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Brian Alainu’uese, 20 Samu Vunisa, 21 George Horne, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Niko Matawalu.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe (captain), 14 Owen Lane, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Macauley Cook, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 James Down, 20 Damian Welch, 21 Dane Blacker, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 Tom James.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Keith Allen (Scotland)
TMO: Andrew Cymene (Scotland)
Southern Kings v Edinburgh
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth – Kick-off: 19.30; 17.30 UK time; 17.30 GMT)
Southern Kings are still without a victory in the Pro14 but in the last two rounds they have picked up two losing bonus points and two try bonus points.
The Kings most recent home victory was 35-32 against Sharks in Super Rugby on May 13.
Edinburgh's five-game winning run in all competitions ended in Bloemfontein on Friday, whilst their record on the road in the Championship this season is now won two lost three.
The two teams have never met before.
Southern Kings: 15 Yaw Penxe/Masixole Banda, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Harlon Klassen, 12 Berton Klaasen, 11 Anthony Volmink/Alshaun Bock, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 Schalk Ferreira (captain).
Replacements: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Luvuyo Pupuma, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Dries van Schalkwyk, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Barend Janse van Rensburg, 23 Jacques Nel.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Fraser McKenzie (captain), 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Neil Cochrane, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Fenton, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Chris Dean, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa), Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Saturday, December 2:
Benetton v Leinster
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 UK time; 15.30 GMT)
Benetton have slipped to three straight defeats in the Pro14 since beating Southern Kings 31-3 in Treviso in early October, although they only lost last weekend by a single point thanks to a 79th-minute conversion of Andrew Trimble's 50th Pro14 try against Ulster in Belfast.
Leinster’s only defeat in any competition since September was 21-31 in Glasgow in Round Eight of the Pro14.
The Leinstermen have only once been defeated by an Italian opponent in the Championship: 13-29 to Benetton in Treviso in their very first such encounter, in September 2010.
Leinster have won their last five matches against Benetton Rugby since their 24-all draw at Stadio Monigo in November 2014.
Benetton: 15 Marty Banks, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Nasi Manu, 6 Whetu Douglas, 5 Irné Herbst, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Cherif Traore.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Alberto De Marchi, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Sebastian Negri, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Luca Morisi.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Noel Reid, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Ian Nagle, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Vakh Abdaladze, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Fergus McFadden, 23 Rory O’Loughlin.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Manuel Bottino (Italy)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Munster v Ospreys
(Irish Independent Park, Cork – Kick-off: 17.30; 17.30 GMT)
Munster have won their last two matches in the Pro14, both with a try bonus point, at home to Dragons and away to Zebre.
The Munstermen's only home defeat in any tournament since September 2016 was to Scarlets at Thomond Park in the Pro14 in February 2017.
Munster have not been defeated in Cork since Cardiff Blues won there by a single point in Round Two last season.
Ospreys have won just once in the last eight rounds of the Pro14: 28-14 at home to Dragons in Round Seven, whilst they haven't won away from home in the Championship since a trip to Edinburgh on March 3.
Munster's only defeat in their last seven fixtures with Ospreys was 17-21 in Cork in February 2016.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sam Arnold, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 James Hart, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Liam O’Connor.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Brian Scott, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Sean O’Connor, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Calvin Nash.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 James Hook, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 James King, 7 Will Jones, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Bradley Davies (captain), 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Gareth Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rowan Jenkins, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Rob McCusker, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Price, 23 Joe Thomas.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ian Davies (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
Cheetahs v Scarlets
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 19.30; 17.30 UK time; 17.30 GMT)
Cheetahs beat Edinburgh 33-13 in Bloemfontein on Friday but have not won successive matches in the Pro14 since September.
Cheetahs only previous encounter with a Welsh opponent was a 44-25 home win over Ospreys in Round Five.
Scarlets have won their last six Pro14 encounters, whilst their only defeat in the Championship since early March was to Ulster in Belfast on September 15.
Scarlets have already beaten Southern Kings home and away this campaign, including a 34-30 victory in Port Elizabeth last weekend, this is their first encounter with the Cheetahs.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Craig Barry, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Makazola Mapimpi, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Junior Pokomela, 7 Rynier Bernardo, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld (captain), 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Jasper Wiese, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Tertius Kruger, 23 Sibhale Maxwane.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny Mcnicholl, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Steff Hughes ©, 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Will Boyde, 7 James Davies, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Dylan Evans.
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Rhys Fawcett, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Steven Cummins, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Ioan Hughes, 23 Morgan Williams.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stephen Geldenhuys (South Africa), Jaco Kotze (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Zebre v Connacht
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 14.15; 12.15 UK time. 12.15 GMT)
Zebre have slipped to four straight defeats in the Pro14 since beating Ulster 27-23 in Parma at the end of September.
Zebre have scored at least one try in all matches they have played this season, but their only two try bonus points both came on their mini-tour to South Africa in September.
Connacht's four-game winning run in all competitions came to an end in Cardiff last weekend.
Connacht have lost their last five away games in the Pro14 since beating Edinburgh 22-19 at Myreside in April.
Zebre achieved their first ever victory over Connacht in Parma in April – a game which was replayed after the original encounter in September had been abandoned at half-time due to lightning, with Zebre 22-10 ahead.
Zebre: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 David Sisi, 20 Jacopo Sarto, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Ciaran Gaffney.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Steve Crosbie, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 James Connolly, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Cillian Gallagher, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Eoin Griffin.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Gianluca Gnecchi
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)