PREVIEW: PRO14, ROUND TWO
PREVIEW: PRO14, ROUND TWOSHARE
The Cheetahs and the Southern Kings from South Africa made their bows in the championship and their attacking approach has already won them plenty of admirers.
With five clubs making their first appearances on home soil across Ireland, Scotland and Italy this weekend every country bar South Africa will have had its taste of Pro14 action – before the Cheetahs and Kings kick-off their home campaigns in Round Three.
The action begins on Friday when Leinster host Cardiff Blues in Dublin where the two teams played out a thrilling game at the RDS last season scoring three tries apiece.
The result went right to the wire with Leinster managing to claim a 22-21 victory after some incredible counter-attacking play from Cardiff Blues threatened an upset in the Irish capital.
Elsewhere on Friday, Richard Cockerill will get his first experience of championship action at Myreside fresh from Edinburgh's win over Cardiff Blues. Bernard Jackman's Dragons are the visitors to Edinburgh and the Welsh side will be looking to bounce back from their opening-round loss to Leinster.
Saturday's games sees both South African teams complete their initial mini-tours to the Northern Hemisphere – with Munster welcoming the Cheetahs to Thomond Park, while the Southern Kings visit the wild Atlantic coast to take on Connacht in Galway.
Benetton and Zebre make their first appearances on home soil this weekend – with Ulster and defending champions Scarlets travelling to Italy. Benetton will be eager to improve on their defeat to Munster, while Zebre put in a resolute display away to Ospreys in Round One and will want to back that up against Scarlets.
Pick of the round: Glasgow Warriors v Ospreys
On paper this looks like a fixture that could occur at the Pro14 Final with both of these teams boasting robust title credentials. Glasgow Warriors secured a durable win in Galway last weekend in their first game under new coach Dave Rennie and they will have the backing of a capacity crowd at Scotstoun.
Ospreys found life difficult at times against Zebre in Round One, but the keen finishing ability of Keelan Giles ensured that they claimed victory at Liberty Stadium. Giles is a superb young talent whose breakthrough into the first team last season was marked by seven tries in 13 starts. Steve Tandy's men have a reputation for growing stronger as the season progresses and a win in Scotland would send a clear signal about their intent to win a fifth championship title. However, the Warriors have title ambitions of their own and this promises to be a cracker in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Opta Top Performers – Round One
* Tackles made: 22 – John Hardie (Edinburgh)
* Carries: 23 – Sebastian Negri (Benetton)
* Defenders beaten: eight – Steffan Evans (Scarlets)
* Offloads: five – Steffan Evans (Scarlets)
* Breaks: four – Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets)
* Metres made: 209 – Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets)
* Turnovers won: three – James Davies (Scarlets)
* Line-out steals: two – Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors) / Ben Toolis (Edinburgh)
CONFERENCE A: Cardiff Blues, Cheetahs, Connacht, Glasgow Warriors, Munster, Ospreys, Zebre
CONFERENCE B: Benetton, Dragons, Edinburgh, Southern Kings, Leinster, Scarlets, Ulster
We look at all the Round Two matches!
Friday , September 8
EDINBURGH v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
(Myreside Stadium, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have won their last three Pro14 matches but have not won four in a row in the championship since the opening four rounds of the 205/16 season.
Edinburgh's most recent match at Myreside was also against Dragons, in Round 21 last season, with the Scotsmen's 24-20 victory being their first victory at the venue in the PRO14 since they beat Ospreys there in February 2015.
Dragons only victory in their last fourteen Pro14 matches was 26-8 at home to Benetton last January.
The Welshmen have not been victorious on the road in the tournament since a trip to Treviso in March 2015, whilst they have not won in Scotland since visiting Glasgow in November 2013.
Edinburgh have lost only two of their last nine encounters with Dragons in the championship, both at Rodney Parade, in May 2015 and November 2016.
Dragons most recent success on Edinburgh soil came at Murrayfield in March 2012.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Robbie Fruean, 11 Jason Harries, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements 16 Ross Ford, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 Simon Berghan 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Junior Rasolea.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Tyler Morgan 12, Sam Beard, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Gavin Henson, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Harrison Keddie, 7 James Benjamin, 6 James Thomas, 5 Cory Hill (captain), 4 Rynard Landman, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Phil Price, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Max Williams, 21 Owain Leonard, 22 Angus O'Brien, 23 Adam Hughes.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman, Cwengile Jadezweni (both South Africa)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
LEINSTER v CARDIFF BLUES
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Leinster's only defeat in their last 12 regular season Pro14 matches was 13-17 at Ulster in Round Two last season.
The Leinstermen were defeated 15-27 by Scarlets in the 2016/17 semifinal in their most recent game at the RDS Arena ending a run of 20 successive victories at the venue in all tournaments.
Cardiff Blues' 10-20 reversal at home to Edinburgh in Round One ended their four game unbeaten run in the Pro14.
The Blues have not been victorious outside of Wales since an 18-17 win in Edinburgh in February.
Blues have not begun a PRO14 campaign with a pair of defeats since season 2009/10.
Cardiff Blues only victory over an Irish province last season was 24-23 at Munster in Round Two.
Leinster have won their last twelve games against the Blues in the PRO14, although in each of the last three the Welshmen have gained a losing bonus point, and in two games were defeated by a single point.
Cardiff Blues only previous victory in Leinster since the region were formed in 2003 was 22-18 at Donnybrook in March 2004.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Isa Nacewa (captain), 11 Jordan Larmour, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Barry Daly.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhun Williams, 14 A Cuthbert, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Matthew Rees (captain), 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 James Down, 20 Sion Bennett, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy, Eddie Hagan-O'Connell (both Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Saturday, September 9
GLASGOW WARRIORS v OSPREYS
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 16.15; 15.15 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors beat Connacht 18-12 in Galway on Saturday and have lost just a single fixture in either Round One or Two since 2012: 10-16 at home to Scarlets in Round One of the 20145/16 campaign.
The Warriors lost their most recent game at Scotstoun 18-29 to their near neighbours, Edinburgh, in Round 22 last season.
Ospreys beat Zebre 22-13 in Round One, to record only their second victory in the Guinness PRO12 since early March.
Ospreys have not won away from home in the championship since beating Edinburgh at Myreside in Round 17 last season.
Ospreys only defeat to Warriors in their last five meetings was 19-31 at Scotstoun in November 2015.
The Welshmen have made five previous visits to Scotstoun, losing the first four but taking the most recent in November 2016, 22-5.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 D'arcy Rae, 19 Brian Alainu'uese, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Nick Grigg, 23 Leonardo Sarto.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Cory Allen, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Lloyd Ashley, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Jay Baker.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Manuel Bottino (Italy), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)
BENETTON v ULSTER
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 18.05; 16.05 GMT)
Benetton's last six matches in the Pro14 have been evenly shared with three wins and three defeats – the Italians have not lost successive fixtures since March.
Benetton have won two of their last three matches at Stadio Monigo but have not beaten an Irish province at any venue since Connacht visited Treviso in April 2016.
Ulster have won their last two Pro14 matches, against Leinster and Cheetahs, but both games were played in Belfast.
The Ulstermen have won just twice on the road since early December, at Zebre in February and at Dragons in March.
Benetton's only previous victory over Ulster in any competition was 23-12 in Belfast in the Pro14 in October 2011.
Treviso: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 12 Tommaso Allan, 11 Tommaso Benvenuti, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Sebastian Negri, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Engjel Makelara, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Barbini, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Marco Zanon.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Andrew Trimble (captain), 13 Tommy Bowe, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Robbie Diack, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Peter Browne, 20 Chris Henry, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Luke Marshall.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ian Davies (Wales), Claudio Blessano (Italy)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
MUNSTER v CHEETAHS
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Munster have lost just once in the regular season of the Pro14 since round 6 last year: 21-13 to champions Scarlets in Limerick in February.
The Munstermen have lost only once at home in any competition since Cardiff Blues won 24-23 in Cork exactly 12 months ago.
Cheetahs remain in Ireland following their 19-42 reversal to Ulster in Belfast last weekend.
The Cheetahs have not lost successive games since they visited New Zealand in Super in May.
The two teams have never met before.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O'Donoghue, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Sean O'Connor, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Liam O'Connor.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 James Hart, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Simon Zebo.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robbie Petzer, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Ali Mgijima, 23 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Davies (Wales), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
CONNACHT v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35; 17.35 GMT)
Connacht have now slipped to five successive Pro14 defeats since their 22-19 victory in Edinburgh in April.
Connacht have lost their last three fixtures at the Sportsground but have not lost four in succession in the venue in the championship since November 2013.
Southern Kings make their first ever visit to Ireland having lost their last two matches, at home to Cheetahs in Super Rugby on 14 July and in Llanelli last Saturday.
The two reams have never met before.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 James Cannon, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Eoin Griffin.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Victor Sekekete, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Dries van Schalkwyk, 4 Jurie van Vuuren, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Michael Willemse (captain), 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Luvuyo Pupuma, 18 Entienne Swanepoel/Martin Dreyer, 19 Bobby de Wee, 20 Siyabulela Mdaka, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Oliver Zono, 23 Jacques Nel.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Joy Neville (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
ZEBRE v SCARLETS
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 20.35; 18.35 GMT)
Zebre's most recent victory in the Pro14 was 29-14 at home to Dragons on 8 April.
Zebre have won two of their last three encounters at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma.
Scarlets have lost only once in the Pro14 in 2017: 9-45 to Leinster at the RDS Arena on 4 March, a run which has seen them score at least four tries in seven of their last eleven encounters.
The Welshmen have won their last fourteen fixtures against Italian opponents, with their most recent defeat to a team from Italy being at home to Benetton in May 2013.
Scarlets have not lost in Italy since a 20-22 reversal in Treviso in September 2012.
Scarlets have never lost to Zebre, but the two sides did play out a 16-all draw in Parma in October 2013.
Zebre: 15 Ciaran Gaffney, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 Giovanni D'Onofrio, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani 8 Giovanni Licata, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Jacopo Sarto, 5 Valerio Bernabò, 4 David Sisi, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Roberto Tenga, 19 George Biagi, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Marcello Violi, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Mattia Bellini.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny Mcnicholl, 14 Tom Grabham, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay (captain), 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 David Bulbring, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Tom Price, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Jones, 23 Paul Asquith.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Vincenzo Schipani (Italy)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)