PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 20
PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 20SHARE
Munster and Cardiff Blues continue their travels in South Africa, Munster's victory over Southern Kings last weekend confirming the Irish Province a place in the Final Series alongside Glasgow Warriors from Conference A.
Two of the top three teams in Conference B go head to head when Edinburgh face Scarlets at Murrayfield. A second consecutive loss for Edinburgh could leave the door open for Ulster, who have a game in hand, to qualify for the Final Series at the expense of the Scotsmen, leaders Leinster having already qualified.
The final stretch of the season has never promised so much and all of these teams have their minds set on reaching the Pro14 Final at Dublin's Aviva Stadium on May 26.
What's at Stake
Two former champions Glasgow Warriors and Connacht face each other at Scotstoun on Friday, Warriors are still trying to secure home advantage in the Final Series, a win here could do just that.
Munster continue their travels in South Africa with a first visit to Cheetahs. With only seven points separating them in Conference A, this game could be classed as a real '10-pointer' with a win for either side having the benefits of denying their direct opponents the points, with home advantage in the semifinal qualifier at stake.
Finally, on Friday Ulster face Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium. Victory over rivals, Edinburgh last weekend, and with a game still in hand, Ulster are making a late challenge for the Final Series, and another home win would help that cause whilst the focus for Ospreys, also with a game in hand, must be European qualification.
On Saturday Zebre host Dragons at Stadio Frattori in L’Aquila only the second game Zebre have taken away from Stadio Lanfranchi. Zebre are still searching for the win that would give them their best ever return in the Championship.
Leinster face a second Italian opponent in as many weeks when Benetton are the guests at the RDS Arena. Having secured a place in the Final Series last round, Leinster will be trying to earn a home qualifier with the right result here whilst Benetton could set themselves a new record for wins in the Championship.
Southern Kings revert to their usual home ground, Nelson Mandela Bay, for the fixture against Cardiff Blues. Whilst Kings cannot make the top three themselves, victory here would help their compatriots, Cheetahs, ease their way into the Final Series, conversely Blues will be looking to keep ahead of Ospreys, who have a game in hand, in the race for European qualification.
Pick of the Round: Edinburgh v Scarlets
Edinburgh face Scarlets at Murrayfield in a game where neither team can afford to slip up.
A week after losing to another of their close rivals, Ulster, a loss here would have Edinburgh looking over their shoulders whilst victory would put pressure on the team ahead of them, Scarlets, in the race for a home qualifier.
Opta Top Performers – Round 18:
Most tackles: 20 Scott Otten (Ospreys)/Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues)
Most carries: 18 Jean Deysel (Ulster)/Francois Venter (Cheetahs)
Defenders beaten: 12 Willis Halaholo (Cardiff Blues)
Offloads: 4 Jayden Hayward (Benetton)
Breaks: 4 Darren Cave (Ulster)
Metres made: 181 Darren Cave (Ulster)
Turnovers won: 4 Jean Deysel (Ulster)
Line-outs stolen: 2 Ben Toolis (Edinburgh)/Dave O’Callaghan (Munster)
We look ahead to all the Round 20 action!
Friday, April 13
CHEETAHS v MUNSTER
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35; 17.35 GMT)
Cheetahs have won their last three matches, against Connacht, Dragons and Blues, but have not won four in a row since the 2013 Super Rugby campaign. The South Africans' only defeat in Bloemfontein this season was at the hands of Glasgow in Round Six. Munster's only loss in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 6-12 in Edinburgh on March 16. The Munstermen's 39-22 victory over Southern Kings in George last weekend ended a run of four successive away defeats in all competitions. The two sides have met just once before with Munster winning 51-18 in Limerick in Round Two.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Niel Marais, 11 Sibahle Maxwane, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Mthokozisi Mkhabela, 22 Clinton Swart, 23 Adriaan Coertzen.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 James Hart, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Jack O'Donoghue, 6 Peter O'Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Brian Scott.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave O'Callaghan, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Rory Scannell.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Ben Crouse (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v CONNACHT
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have suffered only three defeats in the Pro14 this campaign, although two of those have come in their last three matches. Warriors only two home defeats this season were both in the European Champions Cup, to Leinster and Montpellier. They have a 100 percent nine wins from nine record in the Championship, gaining 44 league points at Scotstoun themselves whilst allowing their opponents zero. Connacht have lost their last three Pro14 fixtures since their 22-19 victory in Treviso in Round 16; Connacht's only away victory in the Championship this season. The Irishmen have lost both matches they have played against Scottish opposition this campaign. Connacht's only two victories over Warriors since 2011 both came in their Championship winning season of 2015/16. Connacht's most recent victory on Glasgow soil came at Firhill on September 2010.
Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Siua Halanukonuka, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Ali Price, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Niko Matawalu.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 John Muldoon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Stacey Ili.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
ULSTER v OSPREYS
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ulster's 32-20 victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round 19 ended their three-game losing streak. The Ulstermen have lost just twice in Belfast in any competition this season, both in the Pro14, to Leinster in Round Seven and Edinburgh in Round 15. Just one Welsh region has been victorious at Kingspan Stadium in the last five years: Scarlets by a single point in February 2016. Ospreys are the best side in the Pro14 on current form having picked up 24 league points from
their last six matches. Ospreys only defeat in the last seven rounds of the Championship was to Connacht in Galway in Round 14. Ospreys have not beaten an Irish province on their own turf since a trip to Connacht in September 2016. The Welshmen’s 24-10 victory at Liberty Stadium the last time the two teams met ended a three-game losing run to the Ulstermen. Ospreys only win in their last seven visits to Belfast since 2010 was 16-12 on 8 February 2013.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonny McPhillips, 9 John Cooney, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Tommy O'Toole, 19 Alan O'Connor, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Hanno Dirksen, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 James King, 7 Sam Cross, 6 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 5 Adam Beard, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Otten, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Sam Davies, 23 James Hook.
Referee: Andy Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Joy Neville (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Saturday, April 14:
EDINBURGH v SCARLETS
(Murrayfield, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 15.15; 14.15 GMT)
Edinburgh's 20-32 reversal at home to Ulster last weekend ended a six-game winning run in the Pro14 and was their first Championship defeat of 2018. The Scotsmen have lost their last two games at Murrayfield, to Cardiff Blues in the quarterfinal of the European Challenge Cup, and to Ulster. Scarlets have picked up only twelve league points from their last six matches, only five other sides have tallied fewer in that period. Four of those points were gained last weekend with their home victory over Glasgow. Scarlets have lost their last three away games in the Pro14 but have not lost four in a row in the Championship since season 2014/15. The last five encounters between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day whilst Scarlets most recent victory at Murrayfield was in September 2013.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Luke Crosbi, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett.
Scarlets: 15 Rhys Jones, 14 Tom Varndell, 13 Ioan Nicholas, 12 Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Will Boyde, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Lewis Rawlins, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Dylan Evans.
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Phil Price, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Shaun Evans, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Corey Baldwin, 23 Tom Rogers.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: David Sutherland (Scotland), Dunx McClement (Scotland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
ZEBRE v DRAGONS
(Stadio Fattori, L’Aquila – Kick-off: 17.00; 16.00 UK & Ireland time; 15.00 GMT)
Stadio Fattori in L'Aquila becomes the 44th different venue to be used for a PRO14 encounter. This is only the second occasion that Zebre have moved a game away from Parma, losing 22-41 to Leinster at Reggio Nell'Emilia in April 2013. Zebre have won only once since Round 10 of the Championship: 19-11 in Connacht on February 16. Dragons are without a win in the Pro14 since beating Southern Kings in Newport on September 30, although they have drawn two fixtures since, both at home, to Ulster in Round 10 and Glasgow in Round 14. The Welshmen have not won on the road in the Pro14 since a trip to Treviso in March 2015. The last six matches between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day whilst Dragons only victory away to Zebre came in February 2013 in Parma.
Zebre: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 David Sisi, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Jacopo Sarto, 5 George Biagi, 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Luhandre Luus, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Roberto Tenga, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Andrea De Marchi, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Gabriele Di Giulio.
Dragons: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Connor Edwards, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Arwel Robson, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Lewis Evans 7 Aaron Wainwright, 6 Rynard Landman, 5 Cory Hill (captain), 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Luke Garrett.
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Dan Suter, 19 Max Williams, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Owain Leonard, 22 Adam Warren, 23 Joe Goodchild.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Correll (Ireland), Manuel Bottino (Italy)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
SOUTHERN KINGS v CARDIFF BLUES
(Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 UK & Ireland time; 17.35 GMT)
Southern Kings' solitary victory in the Pro14 was 45-13 at home to Dragons in Round 17. All of the Kings 11 league points this season have come in home games. Cardiff Blues five game-winning run in the Pro14 ended with a last-minute penalty try defeat to Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last weekend. The Blues have won three times on the road this season in the Championship, against Connacht in Round Four, Dragons in Round 11 and Zebre in Round 16. The two sides have never met before in the Championship.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Ntabeni Dukisa, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Lusanda Badiyana, 5 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 4 Bobby de Wee, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 Schalk Ferreira (captain).
Replacements: 16 Tango Balekile, 17 Justin Forwood, 18 Luvuyo Pupuma, 19 Lindo Welemu, 20 Khaya Majola, 21 Rudi Van Rooyen, 22 Alshaun Bock, 23 Heinrich Klaasen.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins (captain), 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Ruhan Meiring (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
LEINSTER v BENETTON
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 Italy time; 18.35 GMT)
Leinster's only defeat in the last five rounds of the Pro14 was 18-32 at Ospreys on March 24. The Leinsterman's only home defeat in any competition in their last 37 games since December 2015 was to Scarlets in last season's Pro12 semifinal. Benetton have lost just twice in the last nine rounds of the Pro14, at home to Connacht in Round 16 and away in Cardiff in Round 17. The Italians have already won ten of their Championship matches this season equalling their best ever tally set in season 2012/13. Leinster's only defeat to Benetton in 15 previous encounters in the Pro14 was on their very first meeting in the Championship in September 2010. Italian sides have faced Leinster in Dublin on 17 previous occasions in all competitions but never won.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Seán O’Brien, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath (captain).
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Peadar Timmins, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Adam Byrne.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Andrea Bronzini, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Sebastian Negri, 6 Federico Ruzza, 5 Alessandro Zanni, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Irné Herbst, 20 Marco Fuser, 21 Dean Budd, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Aled Evans (Wales), Jonathan Peak (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)