PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 14
With only eight rounds left in the regular season, the competition is heating up right across both Conferences as teams fight it out for Final Series places and Champions Cup qualification.
Clubs will also be eager to secure home advantage in the knock-out stages but Scarlets proved last year that away teams can still claim the title as the Championship becomes more unpredictable.
The Pro14 Final takes place in Dublin's Aviva Stadium on May 26.
What's at Stake
Connacht pick up their campaign against Ospreys eager to take advantage of the result between Cardiff Blues and Cheetahs – two of their closest rivals in Conference A. Connacht will be buoyed by their success in the Challenge Cup while Ospreys will have a new coach at the helm, forwards coach Allen Clarke has taken charge of the team after the departure of Steve Tandy.
The crowds have been up at Rodney Parade this season and Dragons will be hoping for a vocal support when high-flying Glasgow Warriors come to town. The 2015 champions have only suffered one defeat this season but with Bernard Jackman instilling a new attitude at Dragons this fixture could provide an upset.
Edinburgh's recent record in all competitions is strong and Leinster will have to be at their best to match the physical intensity that has become the hallmark of Richard Cockerill's team. The game takes place at Myreside marking a year since the ground become Edinburgh's regular home. A positive result for the hosts would keep the pressure on Ulster for the third Final Series place in Conference B.
The final game on Friday sees Ulster entertain Southern Kings as the home team begin life after the departure of Director of Rugby, Les Kiss. The fans at Kingspan Stadium will be in for a treat if this fixture is anything like the teams' first meeting in November that produced 12 tries in a 43-36 thriller in Port Elizabeth.
Zebre are the visitors to Thomond Park on Saturday to take on Munster. Munster will feel the need to ensure they keep a distance between themselves and the Cheetahs in Conference B, but also take advantage of any slip-up by Glasgow Warriors in order to cut down the 15-point lead the Scots currently hold at the top of the Conference.
Sunday's only fixture sees Benetton host defending champions Scarlets. With both teams looking at changed starting XVs this promises to be a lively affair. However, Benetton have proven tough to beat in Treviso this season so the men from Llanelli are sure to be in for a tough afternoon's work.
Pick of the Round: Cardiff Blues v Cheetahs
Both of these teams like to throw the ball about and play an expansive game – perfect for the artificial surface at Cardiff Arms Park. There’s a lot at stake, too, Cardiff Blues may trail the Cheetahs by 15 points in Conference A but this represents a chance to eat into that lead before they travel to Bloemfontein later in the season. Rory Duncan's Cheetahs have won away from South Africa just once this season and their performance in the Welsh capital should give us a greater insight into how much they can improve their road form.
Opta Top Performers – Round 13
Most tackles: 21 Tienie Burger (Southern Kings)
Most carries: 19 Braam Steyn (Benetton)
Defenders beaten: 11 Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh)
Offloads: 3 Aled Davies / Ken Owens (both Scarlets)
Breaks: 5 Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh)
Metres made: 143 Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh)
Turnovers won: 4 Nick Williams (Cardiff Blues)
Line-out steals: 2 Ben Toolis (Edinburgh)
We take a look at all the Round 14 matches!
Friday, February 9:
CONNACHT RUGBY v OSPREYS
(Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Connacht's only victory in their last five Pro14 fixtures was 44-16 at home to Ulster in Round 11.
Connacht have won their last six matches at the Sportsground in all tournaments since their 15-17 reversal there to Blues in the Pro14 on September 23.
Connacht have lost all four games they have played against Welsh opposition this season.
Ospreys play their first game for almost exactly five years without Steve Tandy at the helm.
The Welshmen have won their last two Pro14 matches, against Dragons and Blues, but have not been victorious outside of Wales in the Championship since a trip to Edinburgh last March.
Ospreys have lost their last three encounters with Irish provinces and have not won in Ireland since a visit to Galway in September 2016.
Connacht's only two wins in their last eight encounters with Ospreys were both in their Championship winning season of 2015/16.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Craig Ronaldson, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Naulia Dawai, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Andrew Browne, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Coulson.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Dominic Robertson McCoy, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 James Connolly, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Pita Ahki.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 Will Jones, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 James King, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Otten, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Guy Mercer, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Price, 23 Joe Thomas.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
DRAGONS v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Dragons are winless in the Pro14 since they beat Southern Kings 29-13 at Rodney Parade on September 30, although they did draw 32-all at home to Ulster in Round 10.
The Welshmen have won their last two matches at Rodney Parade, against Bordeaux in the European Challenge Cup and Worcester in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Dragons have won only once of their last nine contests with Scottish opponents: 27-19 at home to Edinburgh in November 2016.
Glasgow Warriors have lost just once in the Pro14 this season, and that by a single point to Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round 11.
The Scotsmen have won all four encounters they have played against Welsh regions this season
Warriors have won their last six fixtures with Dragons since the Welshmen's 24-23 victory at Rodney Parade in February 2014.
Dragons: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Adam Warren, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Zane Kirchner, 9 Dan Babos, 8 Harri Keddie (captain), 7 James Benjamin, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Gerard Ellis, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Henri Williams, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Jarryd Sage.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Brandon Thomson, 11 Ratu Tagive, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Greg Peterson, 4 Rob Harley (captain), 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 James Malcolm, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Matt Smith, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Paddy Kelly, 23 Niko Matawalu.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Correll (Ireland), Dewi Phillips (Wales)
EDINBURGH v LEINSTER
(Myreside Stadium, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have lost just twice in the Pro14 since Round Five, both away from home, at Cheetahs in November and at Glasgow in December.
Edinburgh's only home defeat in any tournament this season was 17-20 to Benetton in the Pro14 in September.
Edinburgh have won only one of their last fifteen fixtures against Irish provinces: 28-17 over Ulster at Murrayfield in November 2016.
Leinster have won their last nine matches in all tournaments since they were defeated on their most recent visit to Scotland, against Glasgow at Scotstoun in the Pro14 on November 3.
Leinster have lost just once to Edinburgh since December 2013: 9-16 at Meggetland in the opening game of the 2015/16 season.
Leinster have not played at Myreside since a visit in the European Champions Cup in October 2000, with Edinburgh winning 29-21.
Paul Williams becomes only the 2nd New Zealand referee to take charge of a Pro14 game, following test referee Kelvin Deaker who refereed Scarlets v Munster in November 2006.
Edinburgh: 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Bill Mata, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Lewis Carmichael, 4 Fraser McKenzie (captain), 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Cameron Fenton, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Matt Shields, 19 Magnus Bradbury, 20 John Hardie, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Junior Rasolea, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Leinster: 15 Dave Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Will Connors, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Richardt Strauss (captain), 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Óisín Heffernan, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Peadar Timmins, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Adam Byrne.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
ULSTER v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Ulster's last six matches in all competitions have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst their only win in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was at home to Munster on New Year's Day.
Ulster's only defeat in Belfast in the Pro14 since October 2016 was to Leinster in Round Seven this season.
Southern Kings are still without a victory in the Pro14 this season, their four league points came in successive encounters at home in November, two of those in their defeat by Ulster.
Kings lost 10-32 against Connacht in Galway in Round Two on their only previous visit to an Irish Province.
The two sides have met just once before with Ulster winning 43-36 in a twelve-try thriller at the Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth on November 4.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 John Andrew, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Matthew Dalton, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Louis Ludik.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Anthonie Volmink, 10 Martin Du Toit, 9 Rowan Gouws, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Bobby De Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Michael Willemse (captain), 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Johan Smith, 18 Dayan Van der Westhuizen, 19 Jurie Van Vuuren, 20 Eital Bredenkamp, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Barend Janse van Rensburg, 23 Harlon Klaasen.
Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Kieran Barry (Ireland), Shane Kierans (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Saturday, February 10:
CARDIFF BLUES v CHEETAHS
(Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Cardiff Blues only victory in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 22-17 at Dragons on Boxing Day.
The Welshmen's three game-winning run at the Arms Park in the Pro14 ended when Scarlets beat them there on New Year's Eve.
Cheetahs' only loss in their last five fixtures was 21-27 to Benetton in Treviso on January 6.
The Cheetahs have won just once outside of South Africa this season, by a single point over Zebre in Parma at the end of October.
Cheetahs have won both of their previous matches against Welsh regions.
The two sides have never met before and this is the Cardiff Blues region’s first ever fixture against a South African opponent.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhun Williams, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Owen Lane, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Seb Davies, 4 George Earle, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins (captain).
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Fish, 23 Ryan Edwards.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Craig Barry, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Sibhale Maxwano, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Malcolm Jaer.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Rob Price (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
MUNSTER v ZEBRE
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 19.35, 19.35 GMT; 20.35 Italy Time)
Munster have lost twice in the last six rounds of the Pro14, at home to Leinster on St Stephen's Day and away to Ulster on New Year's Day.
The Munstermen have lost only once in their last fifteen home games in all competitions, 24-34 to Leinster on December 26.
Munster have not lost to an Italian opponent since they visited Treviso in September 2013.
Zebre won their most recent encounter 38-30 at home to Agen in Round Six of the Challenge Cup, but have not been victorious in the Pro14 since Connacht visited Parma on December 2.
Zebre have lost on all 23 previous visits to an Irish province in all tournaments.
The two sides have met on 11 previous occasions with Munster winning them all.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Brian Scott, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 John Ryan, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Dave O’Callaghan, 21 John Poland, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Rory Scannell.
Zebre: 15 Ciaran Gaffney, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Faialaga Afamasaga, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Renato Giammarioli, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 David Sisi, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Tommaso D’Apice, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau.
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Roberto Tenga, 19 Leonard Krumow, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Riccardo Raffaele, 22 Maicol Azzolini, 23 Rory Parata.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
Sunday, February 11:
BENETTON v SCARLETS
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso Kick-off: 14.05; 13.05 UK Time; 13.05 GMT)
Benetton have won their last three matches in the Pro14, another victory would equal their best ever run in the Championship set in 2011.
The Italians have won their last two home games in the Pro14, both with maximum points.
Scarlets only defeat in the last ten rounds of the Pro14 was 21-28 at Toyota Cheetahs in early December.
The Welshmen have not lost to an Italian opponent since Benetton visited Parc y Scarlets in the Pro14 in May 2013.
The two side have already met three times this season (twice in the European Champions Cup) with Scarlets victorious on each occasion. Scarlets have actually won their last eleven fixtures against the Italians.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Andrea Bronzini, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Marco Barbini, 6 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 5 Irné Hebst, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Matteo Zanusso, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Marco Zanon, 23 Simone Rossi
Scarlets: 15 Johnny Mcnicholl, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Paul Asquith, 12 Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans, 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 Steve Cummins, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Declan Smith, 22 Corey Baldwin, 23 Tom Williams.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)