Preview: Pro14, Round Three
SPOTLIGHT ON SOUTH AFRICA: History will be made once again this weekend when South Africa hosts its first-ever Pro14 matches.
The Southern Kings entertain Leinster in Port Elizabeth, before the Cheetahs host Zebre in Bloemfontein.
Both South African teams will be looking to make a promising start as they play their first home games of the campaign after their opening tours of the United Kingdom and Ireland in Rounds One and Two.
Six teams enter in Round Three with undefeated records with champions Scarlets joined by Leinster and Munster as on the only sides with maximum points from the first two rounds.
Four teams who have won two from two reside in Conference B (Scarlets, Leinster, Ulster and Edinburgh) as the new Championship format begins to take shape.
Leinster look to maintain their hot start to the season after wins against Dragons and Cardiff Blues, but they will be up against a Southern Kings team eager to rebound from their losses in the opening rounds. Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will become the 40th venue to host a Championship fixture and a big crowd is expected to witness this first cross-hemisphere clash on South African soil.
Zebre will be the second European team to taste the action in South Africa when they take on the Cheetahs with both sides looking to pick their first wins of the season. The Scottish teams, Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh, will put their unbeaten records on the line when they face Cardiff Blues and Benetton, respectively.
It's a debut campaign for coaches at both clubs - Dave Rennie at Glasgow Warriors and Richard Cockerill at Edinburgh - and already they have shown that their playing philosophies can work in the Pro14.
In Wales, Ospreys will be keen to strike back against Munster after their loss in Glasgow last weekend. These teams last met in the Pro12 semifinal last May and Steve Tandy's men will be to ensure they claw back some ground on their Conference A rivals. Bernard Jackman's Dragons will host Connacht, one of his former clubs, as he aims to deliver a first win of the season at Rodney Parade were both teams should be able to take advantage of the fantastic new surface which was laid during the off season.
Pick of the Round: Ulster v Scarlets
One team is certain to lose their unbeaten record when Scarlets visit Kingspan Stadium with the champions going up against Les Kiss' Ulster who have started strongly. Scarlets will arrive with some of the Pro14's most impressive attacking players with Steff Evans, Johnny McNicholl and Gareth Davies all continuing on their sharp form that helped win the title in May.
But the home-team dressing room contains the likes of Charles Piutau, Christian Lealiifano, Tommy Bowe, Jean Deysel and Marcell Coetzee so this promises to be an explosive affair from the off.
Opta Top Performers - Round Two
* Tackles made: Twenty-one - Callum Gibbins (Glasgow Warriors)
* Carries: Twenty-five - Olly Cracknell (Ospreys)
* Defenders beaten: Nine - Ashton Hewitt (Dragons)
* Offloads: Four - Masixole Banda (Southern Kings)
* Breaks: Four - John Cooney (Ulster)
* Metres made: Hundred-and-forty - Jacob Stockdale (Munster)
* Turnovers won: Four - Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh)
* Line-out steals: Two - Quinn Roux (Connacht)
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 Three action!
Friday, September 15
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS v CONNACHT
(Rodney Parade, Newport - Kick-off: 19.30; 18.30 GMT)
Dragons only victory in their last fifteen Pro14 matches was 26-8 at home to Benetton last January.
The Welsh Region's most recent victory at Rodney Parade was 34-10 over Russian outfit Enisei in Round Five of last season's European Challenge Cup in January.
Dragons last win over an Irish province was against this week's opponents, Connacht, in Newport in Round Eight last season.
Connacht's triumph over Southern Kings on Friday ended a run of five straight defeats in the Pro14.
The Irishmen's only away victory in the last four rounds was in Edinburgh on 7 April.
Connacht won on their most recent visit to Wales, beating the Blues 19-13 in Cardiff in February.
Connacht's only loss in their last nine encounters with Dragons was at Rodney Parade on 4 November 2016.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Gavin Henson, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 James Benjamin, 7 Ollie Griffiths, 6 Harrison Keddie, 5 Cory Hill (captain), 4 Rynard Landman, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Robson Blake, 21 Owain Leonard, 22 Dorian Jones, 23 Jared Rosser.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Coulson.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Eoin Griffin.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans, Rhys Thomas (both Wales)
EDINBURGH v BENETTON TREVISO
(Myreside Stadium, Edinburgh - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have won their last four Pro14 matches but have not won five in a row in the competition since 2009.
The Scotsmen have lost two of their last three fixtures against Italian opponents.
Benetton's two victories in the last five rounds of the Pro14 were at home to Edinburgh in April and away at Zebre in round 22 last season.
The Italians only victory outside of Italy since 2013 came on a visit to Bayonne in the European Challenge Cup in December 2016.
Benetton's 21-6 victory over Edinburgh in round 20 last season ended a run of five successive defeats to the Scottish side.
The Italian outfit's most recent victory in Scotland was 27-22 against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in October 2012.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Robbie Fruean, 11 Jason Harries, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 John Hardie, 6 Magnus Bradbury (captain), 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Simon Berghan, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 WP Nel, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Junior Rasolea.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Alberto Sgarbi, 12 Tommaso Allan, 11 Tommaso Benvenuti, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Dean Budd (captain), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Engjel Makelara, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Luca Sperandio, 23 Marco Zanon.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton, Dunx McClement (both Scotland)
ULSTER v SCARLETS
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ulster have won their last three Pro14 encounters since slipping up at Ospreys at the end of April.
The Ulstermen have lost just once at Kingspan Stadium in the Championship since Scarlets beat them there by a single point in February 2016: 14-15 to Munster in Round Seven last season.
Scarlets have won their last nine Pro14 encounters, whilst another victory would equal their best ever sequence in the competition, set in 2015.
Scarlets have lost only one of their last eight encounters with Irish provinces: 9-45 to Leinster at the RDS Arena in March.
When the two sides met last season the home team were triumphant on both occasions whilst Scarlets only victory in Belfast since September 2008 was 21-20 in February 2016.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Chris Henry (captain), 5 Alan O'Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Matthew Rea, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny Mcnicholl, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Rhys Jones, 23 Jonathan Davies.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Vincenzo Schipani (Italy), Kieran Barry (Ireland)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Saturday, September 16
SOUTHERN KINGS v LEINSTER
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - Kick-off: 14.15; 12.15 GMT)
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth becomes the 40th different venue to host a Pro14 encounter, and the first in South Africa.
Southern Kings have lost their last three matches since beating the Bulls 31-30 in Pretoria in Super in July.
Kings most recent victory in Port Elizabeth was 35-32 against The Sharks on 13 May.
Leinster have begun their Pro14 campaign with maximum points but have not started a Championship season with wins in their first three matches since 2001/02.
The Leinsterman's only defeat in their last six away games in the Championship was 13-17 to Ulster in Belfast in round 22 last season.
The two sides have never met before.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Victor Sekekete, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Dries van Schalkwyk, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Luvuyo Pupuma, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Petrus Strauss, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Bobby de Wee, 20 Siyabulela Mdaka, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Ntabeni Dukisa/Oliver Zono, 23 Jacques Nel.
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 James Ryan, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
OSPREYS v MUNSTER
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea - Kick-off: 15.15; 14.15 GMT)
Ospreys only victory in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 22-13 against Zebre in Round One in the only home game in that sequence.
Ospreys have won just two of their last eight matches at Liberty Stadium against Irish provinces - over Connacht in January and Ulster in April.
Munster's solitary defeat in their last 10 Pro14 fixtures was 22-46 in last year's final to Scarlets at Aviva Stadium.
Munster are in the midst of their best ever away record in the Championship having won on each of their last eight trips away from home since losing in Leinster in Round Six last season.
Munster have lost just one of their last six fixtures against Ospreys: 17-21 in Cork in February 2016 whilst the Munstermen have been victorious on three of their last four visits to Liberty Stadium.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Cory Allen, 12 James Hook, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 James King, 5 Lloyd Ashley, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal (captain), 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Sean O’Connor, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Liam O’Connor.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 James Hart, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Simon Zebo
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones, Adam Jones (both Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
CHEETAHS v ZEBRE
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 19.30' 18.30 GMT)
The Stadium in Bloemfontein becomes the 41st different venue to host a Pro14 encounter.
Cheetahs most recent victory was 21-20 against Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth in July, whilst they have not been victorious in Bloemfontein since beating Japanese outfit, Sunwolves, in Super in early March.
Zebre's most recent victory in the Pro14 was 29-14 at home to Dragons on 8 April, whilst they have not won away from home since beating Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round Seven last season.
This is the two sides first ever meeting.
Cheetahs: 15 Sergeal Petersen, 14 Luther Obi, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Ernst Stapelberg, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Junior Pokomela, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Chris Dry, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Nico Lee, 23 Cecil Afrika.
Zebre: 15 Ciaran Gaffney, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Mattia Bellini, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 Gabriele Di Giulio, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Giovanni Licata, 6 Johan Meyer, 5 George Biagi, 4 David Sisi, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Sami Panico, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Roberto Tenga, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Faialaga Afamasaga.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
CARDIFF BLUES v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Cardiff Blues have begun the season with a pair of defeats, at home to Edinburgh and away to Leinster, but have not started a Pro14 campaign with three successive reversals since 2009-10.
The Blues last five matches at the Arms Park in the Championship have resulted in two wins and three defeats.
Glasgow Warriors have beaten Connacht and Ospreys in rounds 1 and 2, but have not started a Pro14 campaign with three successive wins since 2014/15, when they went on to take the title.
The Scotsmen's 18-12 victory in Connacht in round 1 was their first on the road in the Championship since they visited Treviso on New Year's Eve, whilst their only win in Wales last season was against Dragons in Round Five.
The Warriors only defeat to Blues in their last dozen PRO14 fixtures was 19-23 at the Arms Park in Round Three last year.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhun Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Matthew Rees (captain), 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 George Earle, 20 Macauley Cook, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Henry Pyrgos (captain), 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D'arcy Rae, 19 Brian Alainu'uese, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 George Horne, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Niko Matawalu.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Mike English (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)