Preview: Pro14, Round Five
ONLY TWO UNDEFEATED: Round Four of the Pro14 saw the championship at its unpredictable best with wins for Benetton, the Cheetahs and Cardiff Blues standing out in a cracking weekend.
With Round Five approaching, only Ulster and Glasgow Warriors remain undefeated with the Scottish team sending out a serious message of intent after their resounding win over Munster.
The Cheetahs' win over Leinster produced one of the weekend's most exciting games and now sees the South Africans step up into the top three of Conference A, while in Conference B, Scarlets and Ulster are also setting the tone in the race to reach the Pro14 play-offs.
Benetton visit Scotstoun after back-to-back championship victories and good away form (two wins from their last three), however, Glasgow Warriors have won 23 in a row against Italian opposition and it would take an incredible effort to upset them at home.
Edinburgh are another team with two wins from three on the road, but the RDS Arena is a fortress for Leinster who will aim to put things right after their tour to South Africa.
Scarlets and Connacht meet in a clash of the two most recent title winners at Parc y Scarlets where the hosts are unbeaten in 12 games.
Both of these teams like to play with flair and this promises to be a fast-paced match-up. At Thomond Park, Munster will prepare for their trip to Leinster by taking on Cardiff Blues who have a decent record against the men in red in Ireland, while they also boast the best tackling success in the championship (92 percent).
Finally, Zebre, having won two try-scoring bonus points in a row for the first time, host Ulster as their visitors look to remain unbeaten while Dragons face the Southern Kings aiming to earn their second home win of the season.
Pick of the Round Cheetahs v Ospreys
Four-time championship winners Ospreys are the third European team to visit Bloemfontein in succession and all signs are pointing to another electric Pro14 clash involving the Cheetahs - fixtures involving the South African newcomers are averaging 10 tries and 70 points.
Ospreys have travelled south with key players such as Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar and are fully aware of the threat posed by the hosts. In the Cheetahs last seven wins at Stadium they have scored at least four tries and although Ospreys arrive off the back of two defeats they held one of the tightest defences in the championship last season and return to form would serve them well here.
Opta Top Performers - Round Four
* Tackles made: Twenty-eight -Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues)
* Carries: Twenty-seven - Dave Heffernan (Connacht)
* Defenders beaten: Eight - Willis Halaholo (Cardiff Blues); Jeff Hassler (Ospreys), Renato Giammarioli (Zebre)
* Offloads: Five - Tommaso Castello (Zebre)
* Breaks: Three - Five players
* Metres made: Hundred-and-fifty-five - Matteo Minozzi (Zebre)
* Turnovers won: Four - Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets)
* line-out steals: Two - Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors)
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 Five matches!
Friday, September 29
CHEETAHS v OSPREYS
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.00; 15.00 GMT; 16.00 UK time)
Cheetahs have secured successive maximum point victories over Zebre and Leinster in their last two games, and have not won three in a row since 2013 in Super.
The Cheetahs last seven victories at Stadium have all been occasions when they have scored at least four tries.
Ospreys have lost their last three Pro14 matches and have only once before lost four in a row in the championship in the same season - during the region's inaugural campaign in 2003/04.
The Welshmen have been defeated in their last six away games since beating Edinburgh 13-9 at Myreside in March.
The two sides have never met before.
Cheetahs: 15 Sergeal Petersen, 14 Raymond Rhule, 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.
Replacement: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Nico Lee, 23 Rosco Specman.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Ben John, 12 James Hook, 11 Jay Baker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 James King, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v BENETTON
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors are the only side left in Conference A of the Pro14 with a 100 percent winning record after four rounds.
Warriors only defeat in their last six matches at Scotstoun was to Edinburgh in the second leg of the 1872 Cup in May.
The Scotsmen have won their last twenty-three matches against Italian opponents since Benetton beat them at Firhill in September 2011.
Benetton have won their last two matches, against Edinburgh and Ospreys, but have not won three in a row in the championship since December 2012.
The Italians have won two of their last three away games, including a victory on their most recent visit to Scotland - two weeks ago in Edinburgh.
The Warriors have won their last eleven encounters with Benetton, whilst the Italians only victory on Glasgow soil was 15-13 at Firhill in round four, 2011/12.
Glasgow: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ryan Wilson (captain), 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Robert Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Brian Alainu'uese, 3 D'Arcy Rae, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Niko Matawalu.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Marco Barbini, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Cherif Traore.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Robert Barbieri, 22 Giorgio Bronzini, 23 Ian McKinley.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Cammy Rudkin (Scotland)
LEINSTER v EDINBURGH
(RDS Arena, Dublin - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Leinster's maximum point start to the new season came to a grinding halt with their 19-38 loss in Bloemfontein last weekend; it was the first time that Leinster had failed to gain a league point in a Pro14 encounter since their visit to Munster on 26 December 2016.
The Leinstermen have not lost a regular season Pro14 encounter at the RDS Arena since Dragons visited in February 2015, whilst no Scottish side has won at the venue since Glasgow in September 2011.
Edinburgh have slipped to back-to-back defeats, at home to Benetton and away to Scarlets.
The Scotsmen have won two of their last three away games, at Glasgow in round 22 last season and at Cardiff Blues on the opening weekend of this campaign.
Edinburgh's only victory over an Irish province since October 2015 was against Ulster at Murrayfield in November 2016, whilst they have not triumphed at the home of an Irish province since a trip to Connacht in January 2015.
Leinster have lost just one of their last seven fixtures with Edinburgh: 9-16 at Meggetland in round one 2015, whilst they have not beaten Leinster on their own soil since a visit to Donnybrook in November 2005.
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Seán O'Brien, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Tom Brown, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Dougie Fife, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Fraser McKenzie (captain), 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Darryl Marfo.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Murray McCallum, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Anton Bresler, 20 John Hardie, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Robbie Fruean.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Kieran Barry (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
SCARLETS v CONNACHT
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Scarlets have lost only one Pro14 encounter since early March: 20-27 to Ulster in Belfast in round 3 this season.
Scarlets have won their last twelve matches at Parc y Scarlets in the championship since Munster beat them there on the opening round last season.
Connacht have won just once in the last seven rounds of the Pro14: 32-10 at home to Southern Kings on 9 September.
That was their only victory at the Sportsground since they beat Zebre there 33-3 on 3 March.
Scarlets have lost only two of their last eleven meetings with Connacht, both in Galway, in November 2014 and January 2016, whilst Connacht's most recent victory on Scarlets soil came at the old Stradey Park in October 2004.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Josh Macleod, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Lewis Rawlins, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Tom Prydie.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Tiernan O’Halloran, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jake Heenan, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney (captain), 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Eoin Griffin.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse, John Hardy (both Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
Saturday, September 30
MUNSTER v CARDIFF BLUES
(Thomond Park, Limerick - Kick-off: 13.30; 12.30 GMT)
Munster's 100 per cent winning start to the Pro14 ended in Glasgow on Friday.
The Munstermen have lost only one home game in any tournament since the Blues visited Cork in September 2016: 21-30 to Scarlets at Thomond Park in February 2017.
Cardiff Blues gained their first victory of the new season with a 17-15 win over Connacht in Galway on Saturday.
The Welshmen have lost only one of their last four away games in the championship: 9-37 in Leinster in round 2 this season.
Last season when the two sides met each team won its respective away game.
The Blues have beaten Munster four times on their own soil, but all those victories have been in Cork.
Blues record at Thomond Park in all competitions since the region were formed in 2003 is played seven, lost seven.
Cardiff Blues: TBC
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Gary Conway (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
ZEBRE v ULSTER
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma - Kick-off: 19.35; 17.35 GMT)
Zebre gained their first victory of the 2017/18 campaign with a 43-17 win over Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth, the first time they have ever tallied a try bonus in two successive matches having also gained one in the loss to Cheetahs the week before.
Zebre won their most recent match against an Irish province: 25-22 over Connacht in Parma in April; their only other victory over such an opponent coming against Ulster at the same venue in September 2014.
Ulster are the only side left in Conference B of the Pro14 with a 100 per cent record after four rounds - their most recent defeat in the championship being on a trip to Ospreys in round 21 last season.
The Ulstermen have won their last eleven encounters with Italian opponents, whilst their only previous defeat in twenty visits to Italy in all competitions was to Zebre in round four, 2014/15.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi, Manuel Bottino (FIR)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
DRAGONS v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Rodney Parade, Newport - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Dragons solitary victory in the last thirteen rounds of the Pro14 was 21-8 in their most recent home game against Connacht.
The Welshmen have not won successive Pro14 matches at Rodney Parade since last November.
Southern Kings are the only side to have lost all four encounters in the Pro14.
This will be their second visit to Wales, having lost in Llanelli on the opening weekend.
The two sides have not met before.
Newport Gwent Dragons: TBC
Southern Kings: TBC
Referee: Andy Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Gareth John (Wales)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)