Preview: Pro12, Round 14
After yet another fixture fell foul of the weather last weekend, players and spectators alike must be hoping that Round 14 of the Pro12 fares better.
After a round of games played in dreadful conditions during which yet another fixture fell foul of the weather, players and spectators alike must be hoping that Round 14 of the Pro12 fares better.
The round kicks off with two games in the Irish capitals on Friday night, one in Belfast and one in Dublin, both featuring Welsh opposition.
Reigning champions Leinster welcome Newport Gwent Dragons to the RDS, a ground where the Welshmen have never tasted victory, whilst Scarlets are the visitors to Ravenhill where Ulster will be defending their impressive home record.
There are three games on Saturday – table-topping Munster hosting Zebre for the first time at Musgrave Park, Cardiff Blues welcoming Glasgow Warriors to the Arms Park whilst Edinburgh travel to Connacht.
Thanks to the weather both of the Scottish teams now have two games in hand, and with Glasgow sitting in fifth place just outside the play-off zone, those outstanding points could become vital later in the season.
The round wraps up on Sunday afternoon when Ospreys host Italian outfit Treviso at the Liberty Stadium. Ospreys' loss at Ulster last weekend saw the Irish province climb above them in the table, and if the Welsh side are to break the Irish stranglehold on the play-off zone, they need to garner every point available.
We look at all the Round 14 matches!
Friday, February 14:
Ulster v Scarlets
(Ravenhill - Kick-off: 19.05; 19.05 GMT)
Ulster’s only defeat in their last 10 matches in all tournaments was to Leinster at the RDS in the Pro12 on 28 December. The Ulstermen have lost just once at Ravenhill in the past 12 months: 12-13 to Glasgow in the Pro12 in September.
Scarlets’ 41-33 victory in Treviso on Saturday ended a four-game losing run in the Pro12 whilst the Welshmen’s only victory against an Irish province on their home soil in their last seven visits came against Connacht in Galway in November.
The Scarlets won 17-9 when Ulster visited Parc y Scarlets in Round Seven this season to end a four-game winning sequence by the Ulstermen against the Scarlets. Scarlets’ only previous victory at Ravenhill in the Pro12 was on September 5, 2008.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Roger Wilson, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Johann Muller (captain), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17Callum Black, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Rory Scholes, 23 Ricky Andrew.
Scarlets: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Adam Warren, 11Frazier Climo, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 John Barclay, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Johan Snyman, 4 George Earle, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Richard Kelly, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Olly Barkley, 23 Gareth Owen.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Gary Glennon (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Leinster v Newport Gwent Dragons
(RDS - Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Leinster are the best side in the Pro12 on current form, having tallied 23 league points from their last six matches, whilst their only defeat in the competition in their last eight encounters came at Murrayfield on December 20. Leinster’s most recent defeat by a Welsh region came at the Ospreys in November 2012.
Newport Gwent Dragons’ home game with Edinburgh was postponed at the weekend due to inclement weather, whilst they have won just one of their last four matches in the Pro12. Dragons’ only away victory in the tournament in almost 12 months came on a trip to Glasgow in November. Dragons have not beaten an Irish province on their own turf since they visited Ulster in the Pro12 in September 2008.
Leinster have won their last seven fixtures against the Welshmen since the Dragons 30-14 victory at Rodney Parade in December 2009, whilst the Men from Gwent have never beaten Leinster in Dublin.
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Darragh Fanning, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Leo Cullen (captain), 3 Martin Moore, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Michael Bent, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Tom Denton, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Issac Boss, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Darren Hudson.
Newport Gwent Dragons:15 Hallam Amos, 14 Matthew Pewtner, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Ashley Smith, 11 Will Harries, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Richie Rees, 9 Netani Talei, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans, 5 Rob Sidoli (captain), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Nathan Buck, 2 T.Rhys Thomas, 1 Owen Evans.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Aaron Coundley, 18 Francisco Chaparro, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Jevon Groves, 21 Wayne Evans, 22 Steffan Jones, 23 Ross Wardle.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Marc Patton (Ireland), Barrie O'Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Saturday, February 15:
Munster v Zebre
(Musgrave Park: Kick-off: 18.45; 18.45 GMT)
Munster’s only defeat in their last 13 games was to Ulster at Ravenhill in the Pro12 on January3. The Munstermen are the only side left in the competition with a 100 percent home winning record this season.
Zebre’s 14 league points so far this season have been evenly split with seven points gained in home games and seven more on the road, including three losing bonus points in their last four away games.
Munster have won all three previous matches they have played against Zebre - this will be the Italian’s first visit to Musgrave Park.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Johne Murphy, 12 Ian Keatley, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Cathal Sheridan, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Duncan Casey, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Ger Slattery, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Sean Dougall, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Denis Hurley, 23 Andrew Conway.
Zebre: 15 Guglielmo Palazzani, 14 David Odiete, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Roberto Quartaroli, 11 Dion Berryman, 10 Ruggero Trevisan, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Andries van Schalkwyk (captain), 6 Filippo Cristiano, 5 George Biagi, 4 Michael van Vuren, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Andrea De Marchi.
Replacements:16 Lorenzo Giovanchelli, 17 Luciano Leibson, 18 David Ryan, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Nicola Cattina, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Giulio Bisegni, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Nigel Correll (Ireland), Dermot Blake (Ireland)
TMO: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Cardiff Blues v Glasgow Warriors
(Cardiff Arms Park - Kick-off: 18.30; 18.30 GMT)
Cardiff Blues’ only victory in their last six Pro12 fixtures was 21-13 at home to the Dragons on New Year’s Day. The Blues have won their last three fixtures against Scottish opponents in all tournaments.
Glasgow Warriors have won their last three matches in the Pro12 since their 8-23 home defeat by the Dragons on November 22. The Warriors have won all six away games thy have played in the tournament this season.
The Blues have won both their recent meetings with the Warriors, home and away in the European Cup in December; however in the Pro12 it is a different story with Glasgow taking the last five encounters since their 15-26 defeat at Firhill in February 2011.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Richard Smith, 13 Isaia Tuifua, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Simon Humberstone, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins (captain).
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Patrick Palmer, 19 James Down, 20 Rory Watts-Jones, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Tom Williams.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Niko Matawalu, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Mark Bennett, 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Henry Prygos, 8 Josh Strauss (captain), 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Tom Ryder, 4 Leone Nakawara, 3 Ed Kalman, 2 Pat Macarthur, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 James Eddie, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Folau Niua.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Martyn Lewis (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Connacht v Edinburgh
(The Sportsground - Kick-off: 17.00; 17.00 GMT)
Connacht have won just one of their last 12 Pro12 matches: 14-11 at home to the Dragons on December 21. The Irishmen have lost their last four contests with Scottish opponents since beating Edinburgh at Murrayfield last April.
Edinburgh have not played in the tournament since Boxing Day having suffered two postponements in away games due to waterlogged pitches. The Scotsmen have won just once on the road this season: 16-10 at Gloucester in the European Cup in December.
Edinburgh’s only victory in Ireland since September 2009 was at Connacht in December 2012. The last eight fixtures between the two sides have been evenly split with four wins apiece, with Edinburgh winning by the narrowest of margins on their last visit to Galway in Round 10 last season.
Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Tiernan O'Halloran, 10 Craig Ronaldson, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Michael Swift, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughneym. 18 JP Cooney, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Dan Parks, 23 Darragh Leader.
Edinburgh: 15 Jack Cuthbert, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Carl Bezuidenhout, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Mike Coman (captain), 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 James Hilterbrand, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Tomas Leonardi, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Sam Beard, 23 Harry Leonard.
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy)
Assistant referees: Olly Hodges (Ireland), Mark Connolly (Ireland)
Sunday, February 16:
Ospreys v Treviso
(Liberty Stadium - Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00 GMT)
Ospreys’ three-game winning run in the Pro12 came to a halt at Ulster on Friday evening, whilst the Welshmen’s only defeat in the competition by an Italian opponent came in Treviso in August 2012.
Treviso have slipped to back-to-back defeats in the tournament against Zebre and Scarlets and have won only once away from home in any tournament since December 2012: 41-17 at the Scarlets in the Pro12 in May 2013.
Treviso have won just two of their 13 previous encounters with Ospreys in all competitions, but have been defeated on all six of their previous visits to Liberty Stadium, failing to pick up a single bonus point in those games and conceding five try bonus points in the process.
Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Jeff Hassler , 13 Jonathan Spratt (captain), 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Aisea Natoga, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Tyler Ardron, 5 James King, 4 Lloyd Peers, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dwyer, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Dan Suter, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Matthew Morgan, 23 Hanno Dirksen.
Treviso: 15 Mat Berquist, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Andrea Pratichetti, 12 Enrico Bacchin, 11 Brendan Williams, 10 James Ambrosini, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Marco Filippucci, 7 Meyer Swanepoel, 6 Christian Loamanu, 5 Corniel Van Zyl, 4 Valerio Bernabò (captain), 3 Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, 2 Franco Sbaraglini, 1 Matteo Muccignat.
Replacements: 16 Enrico Ceccato, 17 Romulo Acosta, 18 Pedro Di Santo, 19 Giovanni Maistri, 20 Mantvydas Tveraga, 21 Jacopo Sarto, 22 Andrea Menniti-Ippolito, 23 Alberto Di Bernardo.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Jon Mason (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)