Preview: Pro14, Round Four
THE UNBEATEN QUARTET: Four teams remain unbeaten as the Pro14 season begins to take shape after three rounds of championship action.
Two of those sides, Glasgow Warriors and Munster meet on Friday while, Leinster and Ulster will try to maintain their unblemished records against the Cheetahs and Dragons, respectively.
Three sides claimed their first victories of the Pro14 season with Benetton Treviso coming from behind to win away to Edinburgh, while the Cheetahs won their first-ever Championship match coming out on the right side of the 13-try thriller against Zebre in Bloemfontein.
The Dragons also saw off Connacht for their first win under coach Bernard Jackman.
Scarlets suffered their first defeat as defending champions away to Ulster in Round Three, but they have the opportunity to return to winning ways when Richard Cockerill takes his Edinburgh team to Parc Y Scarlets. Both teams have won two games each and have caught the eye in attack, but Scarlets have not been beaten in Llanelli since Round One of last season.
Ulster will continue to push Leinster in Conference B aiming for four wins out of four when they welcome Dragons to Kingspan Stadium while the other game hosted in Ireland sees Cardiff Blues travel to the Sportsground aiming to pick up their first win of the season as they face Connacht.
In Treviso, Benetton will want to pick up back to back wins but they will face a serious test as Ospreys come to town eager to ensure they do not repeat last year's slip-up at the Stadio Monigo.
Leinster and Zebre Club will complete their tours of South Africa in Round Four. The Irish province earned a bonus-point victory over the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday and take on the Cheetahs fresh from their win over Zebre.
Meanwhile, the Italian side will attempt to rebound at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium when they take on the Southern Kings with both sides looking for their first win in the Pro14.
Pick of the Round Glasgow Warriors v Munster
These two former champions are leading the way have won three from three In Conference A and the result of this early-season fixture will have an influence come the final rounds of the campaign. Warriors have made an impressive start to the season beating Connacht and Ospreys, both former title winners, while they edged a close affair in Cardiff against the Blues last weekend.
Munster enter into this game after wins against Benetton, Cheetahs and Ospreys and a confident Warriors team will no doubt present their toughest challenge yet, however, the visitors arrive having won on their last two visits to Scotstoun.
Opta Top Performers - Round Three
* Tackles made: Twenty-three - Jack Dixon (Dragons)
* Carries: Twenty-seven - Bundee Aki (Connacht)
* Defenders beaten: Seven - Rhun Williams (Cardiff Blues)
* Offloads: Four - Steff Evans (Scarlets) / Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff Blues)
* Breaks: Four - Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)
* Metres made: Hundred-and-thirty-five - 135 Louis Ludik (Munster)
* Turnovers won: Four - Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets)
* line-out steals: Two - George Biagi (Zebre)
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 Four matches!
Friday, September 22
CHEETAHS v LEINSTER
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 20.00; 19.00 UK time; 18.00 GMT)
Cheetahs grabbed a maiden Pro14 victory in a 93 point, 13 try thriller against Zebre in Bloemfontein last weekend.
Cheetahs victory last weekend ended a five-game losing run at Stadium, all in Super matches.
Leinster have made a perfect start to the 2017/18 campaign with three maximum point victories - this is already their best ever beginning to a Pro14 season since the league went home and away in 2003/04.
Ospreys are the only other team to start a Pro14 season with maximum points after three rounds, doing so last year.
Leinster have lost only one regular season encounter in the Championship since St Stephen's day last year: 13-17 in Ulster in round 22.
The two sides have never met before.
Cheetahs: 15 Sergeal Petersen, 14 Rosco Specman, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Ernst Stapelberg, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Teboho Mohoje, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Nico Lee, 23 Luther Obi.
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Noel Reid, 12 Isa Nacewa (captain), 11 Barry Daly, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Rory O'Loughlin.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
BENETTON v OSPREYS
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso - Kick-off: 20.35; 18.35 GMT)
Benetton won in Edinburgh on Friday and have now won 50 percent of their last eight Pro14, however, they have not won back-to-back encounters since beating Blues and Dragons in February 2016.
Ospreys have recorded just one victory in their last five Pro14 fixtures: 22-13 at home to Zebre in Round One this season.
Ospreys have not won away from home in the Championship since a visit to Edinburgh in early March.
Benetton won the most recent encounter between the two sides 13-5 at Stadio Monigo in Round 18 last season, whilst Ospreys overall record at the venue in the Championship is won five lost two, with the Italians gaining a losing bonus point in three of those fixtures.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Dean Budd (captain), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Robert Barbieri, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Martin Banks, 23 Ignacio Brex.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Ben John, 12 James Hook, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Bradley Davies, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 James King, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Joy Neville (Ireland), Claudio Blessano (Italy)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v MUNSTER
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Something will have to give in this encounter as Glasgow Warriors and Munster are the only two sides left in Conference A with a 100 percent winning record after three rounds of the Pro14.
Warriors only defeat in their last five matches at Scotstoun was to Edinburgh in round 22 last season.
Munster's only defeat in their last seven Pro14 matches was to Scarlets in last season's final in Dublin.
The Munstermen have not lost away from home in any competition since they visited Leicester in the European Champions Cup in December.
The two sides met on four occasions last season in all competitions with Munster taking the spoils on each occasion, although in each of the last three Glasgow secured a losing bonus point.
Munster have won on their last two visits to Scotstoun.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 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 Rob Harley, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Sam Johnson, 23 Leonardo Sarto.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal (captain), 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Liam O'Connor, 7 Rhys Marshall, 6 Stephen Archer, 5 Jean Kleyn, 4 Billy Holland, 3 Sean O'Connor, 2 Tommy O'Donnell, 1 Jack O'Donoghue.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 James Hart, 22 Jaco Taute, 23 Simon Zebo.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen, Lloyd Linton (both Scotland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
ULSTER v DRAGONS
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ulster is one of only four sides in the Pro14 who have begun the season with three straight victories.
The Ulstermen have not lost in the Championship since a visit to Ospreys in late April.
Ulster is unbeaten in their last nine Pro14 fixtures played in Belfast - a sequence that includes a 24-all draw with Cardiff Blues in Round 19 last season.
Dragons were the only Welsh region to emerge victorious during round 3 when they beat Connacht 21-8 in Newport to end a 14-match losing streak in all competitions.
Dragons have not won away from home since a visit to Gloucester in the quarterfinal of the European Challenge Cup in April 2016, whilst their most recent triumph on the road in the Pro14 was in Treviso in March 2015.
Ulster has won their last four fixtures against Dragons since the Welsh regions' 26-22 victory at Rodney Parade in March 2015.
Dragons have not beaten Ulster in Belfast since September 2008.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Dave Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Peter Nelson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Chris Henry (captain), 6 Clive Ross, 5 Alan O'Connor, 4 Robbie Diack, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Matthew Rea, 21 D Shanahan, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Thretton Palamo, 12 Pat Howard, 11 George Gasson, 10 Dorian Jones, 9 Owain Leonard, 1 Tom Davies, 2 Gerard Ellis, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 4 Matthew Screech, 5 Rynard Landman, 6 Max Williams, 7 Ollie Griffiths (captain), 8 Robson Blake.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Phil Price, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Joseph Davies, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Dane Blacker, 22 Angus O'Brien, 23 Will Talbot-Davies.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ian Davies, Adam Jones (both Wales)
TMO: John Mason (Wales)
Saturday, September 23
CONNACHT v CARDIFF BLUES
(Sportsground, Galway - Kick-off: 15.15; 14.15 GMT)
Connacht's only victory in the last six rounds of the Pro14 was 32-10 at home to Southern Kings on 9 September.
Cardiff Blues are one of only three sides in the Pro14 to have lost their first three matches.
Blues have not won outside of Wales in the Pro14 since a single point victory over Edinburgh at Myreside in February.
Connacht achieved a season's double over the Blues for the first time last year, and have now won three of their last four encounters against the Welsh region.
Cardiff Blues have not been victorious at the Sportsground since May 2014.
Cardiff Blues: TBC
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)
SOUTHERN KINGS v ZEBRE
(Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth - Kick-off: 19.30; 18.30 GMT)
Southern Kings have slipped to three straight defeats in the Guinness PRO12, scoring ten points on each occasion.
The Kings have not beaten a team in Port Elizabeth from outside of South Africa since Melbourne Rebels were the visitors in Super Rugby in April.
Zebre has lost their last six Pro14 matches since they beat Dragons in Parma in April.
Zebre's most recent away victory in the Championship was on a visit to Edinburgh last October.
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 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Victor Sekekete, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Dries van Schalkwyk, 4 Stephen Greeff, 3 Luvuyo Pupuma, 2 Michael Willemse (captain), 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Bobby de Wee, 20 Freddy Ngoza, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Oliver Zono, 23 Jacques Nel.
Zebre: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Giovanni Licata, 6 Johan Meyer, 5 George Biagi, 4 David Sisi, 3 Roberto Tenga, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements 16 Sami Panico, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Jacopo Sarto, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Ciaran Gaffney
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland) Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
SCARLETS v EDINBURGH
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Scarlets nine-game winning run in the Pro14 ended with their defeat to Ulster in Belfast last Friday.
The reigning champions have not lost successive encounters in the Championship since the start of last season.
The Welsh regions have lost only once at Parc y Scarlets in any competition since Munster beat them there in the Pro14 in Round One last year: 17-32 to Saracens in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in January.
Edinburgh's four-game winning run in the Pro14 came to a halt at home to Benetton Rugby in Round Three.
The Scotsmen have won their last two away games, against Warriors and Blues, but have not won three successive games on the road in the Pro14 since September 2009.
The Scotsmen have won their last three matches against Welsh regions and have not recorded four in a row against Welsh opponents since season 2009/10.
The last four meetings between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day whilst Edinburgh's only victory in the last seven visits to Llanelli was 26-15 in March 2015.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland, 64th competition game)
Assistant referees: Jonny Erskine (Ireland), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)