'Munster are a benchmark team'
URC ROUND FIVE – TEAMS AND PREDICTIONS: Most of Saturday’s spotlight will be on Ulster and Munster and whether they can keep their unbeaten records intact with some tricky away fixtures.
Ulster put their perfect record in the United Rugby Championship on the line in an Irish derby with Connacht.
Dan McFarland’s side have reeled off four successive bonus-point wins, but they have failed to win on their previous five visits to the Aviva Stadium and have also lost their last five games against fellow Irish provinces.
Connacht suffered a late 18-20 defeat to Munster last week but will have been buoyed by their performance and beat Ulster 26-20 at the Aviva last August.
While Connacht have triumphed in just nine of their 37 meetings with Ulster, the last six have been shared with three wins apiece.
“We’ve been looking forward to tomorrow for a long time,” said Connacht head coach Andy Friend.
“The opportunity to return to the Aviva Stadium, but this time with thousands of Connacht supporters behind us, is something we’re all incredibly excited about.
“The importance of this fixture is not lost on us either. So far this season the performances have been good, but the results haven’t matched up to that, so now we have to give absolutely everything to make sure we end this block of fixtures on a winning note.”
Munster will head to Wales to face Ospreys with their tails up after a late win over Connacht maintained their 100 percent winning start to the season.
Beaten finalists last term, Munster have triumphed in their last 11 matches against the Ospreys in all competitions since defeat in Cork in February 2016.
The Ospreys survived a Benetton fightback to claim a third victory in four matches but have won only twice in eight meetings against Irish provinces.
They have also beaten an Irish opponent just once at this stadium since April 2018 while Munster have prevailed on their last five visits.
“Munster are a benchmark team of the league, we know how good they are,” said Ospreys head coach Toby Booth.
“You just have to look at where the Irish provinces are in the league every year. Every side wants to benchmark themselves against the Irish provinces and Munster are always there or thereabouts.
“They are four from four, played exceptionally well, put teams to the sword and full of confidence and it’s going to be a very tough ask for us. We are confident and clear on what we want to do and confident in our own ability, we have learnt a lot of lessons across the last two weeks and that is a psychological thing rather than a rugby thing.”
Meanwhile, Both the Cardiff Blues and the Dragons will be aiming to secure themselves places in the top eight heading into the international break when they meet in a derby at Arms Park on Saturday, while Zebre are still in search of a first win in the competition and thus will be supremely motivated to make the most of their home ground advantage against Edinburgh.
*Saturday teams and predictions follow below …
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23:
Zebre Parma v Edinburgh
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 IRE & UK; 12.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Edinburgh by 11 points.
Zebre: 15 Junior Laloifi, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Erich Cronjé, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Alessandro Fusco, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Luca Andreani, 6 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 David Sisi, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Paolo Buonfiglio, 18 Ion Neculai, 19 Andrea Zambonin, 20 Potu Junior Leavasa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Michelangelo Biondelli.
Edinburgh: 15 Henry Immelman, 14 Jack Blain, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Cammy Hutchison, 11 Damien Hoyland, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Charlie Shiel, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Pierce Phillips, 4 Jamie Hodgson, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Dave Cherry, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19 Magnus Bradbury, 20 Mesu Kunavula, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Charlie Savala, 23 Chris Dean.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Federico Vedovelli (Italy)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Connacht v Ulster
(Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
@rugby365com: Ulster by seven points.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Ultan Dillane, 4 Niall Murray, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Matthew Burke.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Diarmuid Kilgallen.
Ulster: 15 Ethan McIlroy, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 David McCann, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Brad Roberts, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Greg Jones, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Mike Lowry, 23 Ben Moxham.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Cardiff v Dragons
(Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
@rugy365com: Cardiff by 12 points.
Cardiff: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Jason Harries, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Max Llewellyn, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 James Ratti, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Josh Turnbull (captain), 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Will Davies-King, 19 Teddy Williams, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Ellis Bevan, 22 Dan Fish, 23 Garyn Smith.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Jack Dixon, 12 Aneurin Owen, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ollie Griffiths, 7 Ben Fry, 6 Harrison Keddie (captain), 5 Joe Maksymiw, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Mesake Doge, 2 Taylor Davies, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Chris Coleman, 19 Huw Taylor, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Jared Rosser.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Ben Breakspear (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
Ospreys v Munster
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
@rugby365com: Munster by seven points.
Ospreys: 15 Max Nagy, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Mat Protheroe, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 Ethan Roots, 7 Jac Morgan, 6 Sam Cross, 5 Rhys Davies, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Rhys Henry, 19 Jack Regan, 20 Morgan Morris, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Joe Hawkins, 23 Dan Evans.
Munster: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Liam Coombes, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Gavin Coombes, 20 John Hodnett, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Dewi Phillips (Wales)
TMO: Mike Adamson (Scotland)