Pro14, Round Nine - teams and predictions
DERBY WEEKEND: The expected humdinger and standout match in this weekend’s Pro14 fixtures, between Munster and defending champions Leinster at Limerick on Saturday has been postponed.
Both these side are so far unbeaten in the 2020-21 PRO14 campaign, and Munster was no doubt looking at revenge for last season’s semi-final loss. The two sides between them boast 14 wins and 11 bonus points in two so-far perfect campaigns.
The remaining fixtures of the PRO14 derby weekend also promise to be appetising.
The Dragons will be seeking their third straight win in the PRO14 Championship, but face tough opposition in the Welsh derby with Cardiff Blues traditionally having the better of the derbies in recent times.
The Blues have not lost to Dragons in six years though, winning each of their last ten games against the Men of Gwent, and lead the overall head-to-head 25-8.
Both sides sit fourth in their respective conferences but it’s the Blues who can still dream of a top-two finish. They are just six points behind Connacht in Conference B, while Dragons are 22 points adrift of high-flying Leinster in Conference A.
Scarlets are looking to make it five wins in a row as they face the Ospreys in the other Welsh derby, with their opposition looking for the first win against Welsh opposition in five encounters.
Ulster head up to Galway for the other Irish derby and a cracker of a game is expected with both teams in fine form.
Both sides have been excellent this season, with Ulster winning all eight of their Guinness PRO14 matches so far to sit top of Conference A. Connacht are also sitting pretty, with four wins from six placing them second in Conference B, while they have lost just once since Round 2.
The 1872 Cup contest between Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh has also been postponed, leaving Connacht and Ulster as Sunday’s sole game.
All the Round Nine teams and predictions!
Saturday 26 December
Dragons v Cardiff Blues
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Cardiff Blues dominates their head-to-head record with Dragons but face a tall task at Rodney Parade on Saturday afternoon.
Dragons is seeking a third straight Guinness PRO14 win for the first time since 2014/15, while the Blues has only won one of their last six league matches.
The Blues has not lost to Dragons in six years though, winning each of their last ten games against the Men of Gwent, and lead the overall head-to-head 25-8.
Both sides sit fourth in their respective conferences but it’s the Blues who can still dream of a top-two finish. They are just six points behind Connacht in Conference B, while Dragons is 22 points adrift of high-flying Leinster in Conference A.
Cardiff Blues will be without head coach John Mulvihill for the Boxing Day derby. He is self-isolating after coming into contact with a player who has tested positive for Covid-19.
@rugby365.com: Dragons by 3 points
Dragons: 15 Jonah Holmes, 14 Owen Jenkins, 13 Jack Dixon, 12 Jamie Roberts (capt), 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Josh Lewis, 9 Tavis Knoyle; 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Harrison Keddie, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Ben Carter, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Brok Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Lewis Evans, 20 Huw Taylor, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Aneurin Owen, 23 Evan Lloyd
Cardiff Blues: 15 Hallam Amos, 14Aled Summerhill, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Max Llewellyn, 11 Josh Adams; 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Turnbul, 7. James Botham, 6 Cory Hill (capt.), 5 Seb Davies, 4 Ben Murphy, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Kristian Dacey, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Rhys Carré, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Rey Lee-Lo
Referee: Craig Evans (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens and Dan Jones (both WRU)
TMO: Sean Brickell (WRU)
Ospreys v Scarlets
(Parc y Scarlets – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Ospreys was informed very recently that their home ground at Liberty Stadium is unavailable for use due to urgent works required on the playing surface. The game has thus been moved to Parc y Scarlets, although the effective away match on Saturday will still be regarded as a home fixture for Ospreys. The kick-off remains at 17.15
The match looks set for a Christmas cracker. Ospreys is seeking a first win against Welsh opposition in five encounters, while Scarlets has won their last four.
The last five fixtures between the two has been won by the home side on the day, with Scarlets cruising to a comfortable 44-0 win the last time these two met on December 26 last year.
Both teams are third in their respective conferences having won three of their seven matches so far this season.
@rugby365.com: Scarlets by 11 points
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 George North, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Rhys Davies, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Dewi Lake, 1 Gareth Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Josh Thomas, 23 Keiran Williams.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Steff Hughes (capt), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Ed Kennedy, 5 Morgan Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Phil Price, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Costelow, Tyler Morgan
Referee: Adam Jones (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse and Aled Evans (both WRU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)
Sunday 27 December
Connacht v Ulster
(The Sportground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
A second Irish derby completes Round 9 as Ulster packs up and heads west to Galway for a clash with Connacht.
Both sides have been excellent this season, with Ulster winning all eight of their Guinness PRO14 matches so far to sit top of Conference A.
Connacht is also sitting pretty, with four wins from six placing them second in Conference B, while they have lost just once since Round 2.
Connacht’s record against Irish teams is not for a faint-hearted supporter, however, as they have won just one of their last nine derby games.
That came against Ulster in August, one of three straight derby defeats for Dan McFarland’s side.
Ulster has not won at The Sportsground in five years, with the home side on the day winning each of the last four fixtures between these two teams.
@rugby365.com: Connacht by 5 points
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Chris Busby and Eoghan Cross (both IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)