Preview: Pro12, Round Four
CELTIC SPOTLIGHT: Just three teams remain unbeaten heading into Round Four of the Pro12 with Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and
Ulster setting the pace at the top of the Championship table.
Scarlets will be aiming to come good on the pre-season expectations when they take on defending champions Connacht on Saturday and surprisingly both teams will be battling for their first win of the season.
Scarlets will also look to avoid losing four Pro12 games in succession at Parc y Scarlets for the first time ever.
Benetton Treviso and Zebre are also yet to register a first win of the campaign and both teams will have home advantage as they take on Newport-Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues, respectively.
However, one of the ties of the round will be seen at Scotstoun, where Glasgow Warriors and Ulster will resume their rivalry on the fast artificial surface which should suit Opta Top Performers such as Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg, Craig Gilroy and Charles Piutau.
The hosts will also be looking to extend their unbeaten run on home turf to 10 Championship games.
Ospreys continue to set new records in the Championship and their most recent victory over Benetton Treviso at Liberty Stadium ensured that they became the first club to win their first three games of the Pro12 season with try-bonus points.
In addition, they stretched Championship record of consecutive try bonus-points to seven games.
Cardiff Blues continued their strong start by earning a victory over Glasgow Warriors in front of a vocal home crowd.
Danny Wilson's men may have taken some by surprise, but with 13 wins from their last 17 Pro12 games they are worthy contenders as all clubs set their focus on reaching the Final on May 27 at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.
The meeting of Leinster and Ospreys in Dublin brings together the two most successful clubs in the Championship as they share eight titles between them.
Ospreys are in superb form with three bonus-point wins from three, however, Leinster have only lost two Pro12 games at the RDS since 2012.
The visitors won just once in their last nine games against Leinster, the last win in the Championship coming in the 2012 Pro12 Final in Dublin.
Top Performers in Round Three (Powered by Opta Statistics)
Metres gained: Craig Gilroy (Ulster) - 164
Carries: Olly Cracknell (Ospreys) - 23
Clean Breaks: Craig Gilroy (Ulster) - five
Defenders Beaten: Tom James (Cardiff Blues) - eight
Tackles Made: Billy Holland (Munster) - 21
Offloads: Reynold Lee-Lo (Cardiff Blues) & Josh Matavesi (Ospreys) - five
We look at all the Round Four action!
Friday, September 23
BENETTON TREVISO v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
(Stadio Monigo - Kick-off: 20.05; 19.05 UK & Ireland time; 18.05 GMT).
Benetton Treviso's most recent victory in the Pro12 was 22-21 at home to Connacht in round 21 last season.
Treviso have scored at least one try in every first team game they have played since last November.
Newport Gwent Dragons have won just once in the Pro12 since the end of January: 11-6 at home to Zebre on 9 September, whilst they have not been victorious on the road in the Championship since their trip to Treviso in March 2015.
The two sides each won their respective home game when they met last season.
Dragons have triumphed just twice before at Stadio Monigo: in the European Champions Cup in December 2007 and in the Pro12 on 28 March 2015.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Luke McLean, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Dean Budd, 7 Marco Lazzaroni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Cherif Traore, 19 Filippo Gerosa, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 David Odiete.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Hallam Amos (captain), 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 James Thomas, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Rhys Buckley, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Harri Keddie, 21 Luc Jones, 22 Sam Beard, 23 Geraint Rhys Jones.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Filippo Bertelli (Italy)
GLASGOW v ULSTER
(Scotstoun Stadium - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have won their last nine home games at Scotstoun in the Pro12 since Scarlets won there on the opening round last season.
This represents their only defeat at the venue in the Championship since November 2013.
Ulster's only loss in their last eight Pro12 encounters came in last season's semifinal to Leinster at the RDS Arena.
The Ulstermen have not lost a regular season away game in the Championship since they last visited Scotstoun on 25 March.
Warriors have lost just one of their last four fixtures with Ulster: 10-13 in Belfast last February, whilst Ulster's most recent victory in Glasgow in the Pro12 was at Firhill in March 2011.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Henry Pyrgos (captain), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Lewis Wynne, 6 Tjiuee Uanivi, 5 Jonny Gray (captain), 4 Greg Peterson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Sam Thomson, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Nick Grigg, 23 Rory Hughes.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Pete Browne, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Cammy Rudkin (Scotland)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
LEINSTER v OSPREYS
(RDS Arena - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Leinster are unbeaten in their last 16 Pro12 home games since Newport Gwent Dragons 16-14 victory at the RDS Arena in February 2015.
Ospreys became the first side to record maximum league points after three rounds of the Pro12 with their 64-10 demolition of Benetton Treviso on Saturday.
The Welshmen have now recorded a try bonus point in each of their last seven matches in the Championship, including their defeat at home to Ulster in round 22.
Leinster's only defeat to the Ospreys in their last nine encounters in all competitions was 19-25 at Liberty Stadium in the Pro12 in April 2014.
Ospreys most recent victory at the RDS Arena came in the 2012 Pro12 Final.
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Isa Nacewa (captain), 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Dan Leavy, 22 Jamison Gibson-Park, 23 Joey Carbery.
Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Ben John, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Dafydd Howells, 23 Dan Evans.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Saturday, September 24
MUNSTER v EDINBURGH
(Thomond Park - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Munster have lost only one of their last five Pro12 matches: 23-24 to Cardiff Blues in Cork in round two.
The Munstermen have not been defeated at Thomond Park in 2016, the last visiting side to win there being Leinster on 27 December.
Edinburgh's solitary victory in their last six Pro12 fixtures was 20-9 over Scarlets at Murrayfield in round two.
Edinburgh have not beaten an Irish province on their own soil since a trip to Connacht in January 2015.
Munster have lost just one of their last nine Pro12 clashes with Edinburgh: 13-14 at Thomond Park in September 2014 - the last time the two met at the venue.
Munster: 15 Ian Keatley, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Cian Bohane, 11 Ronan O'Mahony, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christian Stander, 7 Jack O'Donoghue, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Dan Goggin, 23 Alex Wootton.
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Michael Allen, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Kevin Bryce, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Jack Cosgrove, 18 Allan Dell, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 John Hardie, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Rory Scholes.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
SCARLETS v CONNACHT
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Scarlets have failed to register a single league point from any of their last four fixtures in the Guinness Pro12.
The Welshmen have lost their last three games at Parc y Scarlets but have never lost four in a row at the venue since moving there in 2008.
Connacht's match at Zebre on Saturday was abandoned at half-time. The defending Pro12 Champions have also yet to record a league point this season.
Each side has won its respective home game when the two teams have met in the past two seasons.
Scarlets have won their last eleven home games against Connacht, at three different venues, with Connacht's most recent success on Scarlets soil being at Stradey Park in the Pro12 in October 2004.
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Luke Garrett, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Morgan Allen, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Scott Williams, 23 Will Boyde.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Ultan Dillane, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Shane O'Leary, 23 Cian Kelleher.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
ZEBRE v CARDIFF BLUES
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi - Kick-off: 17.05; 16.05 Ireland & UK time; 15.05 GMT)
Following the abandonment of their clash with Connacht on Saturday, Zebre are still the only side in the Pro12 yet to have played at home this season.
Zebre won their most recent game in Parma 47-22 against Dragons in round 22 last season but have not won successive matches at the venue since last October.
Cardiff Blues only reversal in their last nine Pro12 fixtures was 27-40 to Ospreys at 'Judgement Day' in April.
Blues have won on just one of their last seven visits to Italy in the Pro12: 41-26 over Zebre in Parma in September 2014.
The two sides have met on eight previous occasions with Zebre recording three victories to equal their best record against one opponent in the Championship, shared with Edinburgh and Treviso.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (captain), 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Jacopo Sarto, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Tommaso Castello, 23 Kayle Van Zyl.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Blaine Scully, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James; Steven Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees, Scott Andrews, George Earle, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Sam Warburton (captain), Nick Williams.
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Gethin Jenkins, Taufa'ao Filise, Macauley Cook, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Garyn Smith.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Luca Trentin (Italy)