Preview: Pro14, Round 13
Preview: Pro14, Round 13SHARE
At the same time, the South African teams return to action after their mid-season break.
The festive derbies drew bumper crowds with close to 150,000 attending during Rounds 11 and 12 across Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Round 12 also saw a number of nail-biting finishes with Cardiff Blues v Scarlets, Leinster v Connacht and Zebre v Benetton going
right down to the final play of the game.
This weekend the northern teams will look to cement their places before returning to European action while the Cheetahs and Southern Kings will face each other in back-to-back games after their trips Italy & Scotland.
What's at Stake
The Southern Kings return to Pro14 action with a trip to Scotland to face Edinburgh.
Edinburgh will be buoyed by their Derby win over Glasgow Warriors in Round 11 and the Conference B side will be keenly aware that they could close the gap on third-placed Ulster. Although the Kings have been improving, Richard Cockerill's men are in form and chasing their 10th win out of 12 games in all competitions.
Champions Scarlets entertain Dragons, having shown some serious grit in the previous Derby games with Ospreys and Cardiff Blues to stay on top of Conference B. Scarlets are just two points ahead of 2nd-placed Leinster and have not lost in their last 16 home games in the Championship. Dragons, however, will provide plenty of muscle in this contest having performed well in their past two Derbies despite those losses and if Wayne Pivac's team take their eye off the ball then the visitors may well spring a shock.
On Saturday, Benetton takes on the Cheetahs, after two wins over Zebre. This out of Conference fixture will have an impact on both teams with the hosts trying to stay in touch with Edinburgh, who currently occupy the Champions Cup play-off place in Conference B, while the South Africans have some ground to make up on Munster who is second in Conference A. If Benetton can get a win here it will be their third consecutive Championship victory, a feat they last achieved in 2012.
Munster takes on Connacht at Thomond Park and the home team need to regain momentum after losses to both Leinster and Ulster in recent rounds. The men in red have lost all four interprovincial Derbies in the Pro14 this season, including away to Connacht in the reverse fixture. History is against the Westerners with Connacht having won just two away Derby games in the history of the Championship, but Kieran Keane's team have improved over the past six weeks and they will draw inspiration from their 2015 victory at the Limerick ground.
Ospreys face Cardiff Blues in Swansea and this will an intense match-up between two sides will plenty to play for. Despite a slow start to the season, Ospreys can still make up ground to get into the Champions Cup play-off position. The Blues will be keen to qualify automatically and their current hold on fourth place would be enough to make it into the Champions Cup if the Cheetahs finish above them.
Pick of the Round Leinster v Ulster
This Conference B clash will have a bearing on the title ambitions of both teams with Leinster in second looking to stretch the gap between Ulster in third. After a record defeat to Connacht in Round 11, Ulster produced a record comeback against Munster in Round 12 and the stakes are high going into this game in Dublin.
Leinster have back-to-back wins over Munster and Connacht and need another victory here to keep on the heels of 1st-placed Scarlets. This promises to be a fiery affair with so much at stake for both teams and their players, who are eager to impress ahead of Europe and the Six Nations.
Top Performers – Round 12
* Tackles made: 34 Josh van der Flier (Leinster)
* Carries: 21 Bundee Aki (Connacht)
* Defenders beaten: 8 Charles Piutau (Ulster) / Bundee Aki (Connacht)
* Offloads: 7 James Lowe (Leinster)
* Breaks: 3 Multiple Players
* Metres made: 167 Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues)
* Turnovers won: 3 Max Deegan (Leinster)
* line-out steals: 1 Multiple Players
We look at all the Round 13 matches!
Friday, January 5
EDINBURGH v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Myreside Stadium, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 21.35 SA time; 19.35 GMT)
Edinburgh's four-game winning run in all competitions ended with their 0-17 defeat to Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun on 30 December – the first time Edinburgh had been nilled in the Pro14 for over three years.
The Scotsmen's only defeat at home this season was when Benetton were the visitors in Round Three of the Pro14.
The Southern Kings have gleaned just four league points this season, gaining both a try bonus and a losing bonus in successive matches, at home to Ulster and Scarlets in November.
The Kings were defeated on their only previous visit to Scotland: 13-43 to Glasgow at Scotstoun in Round Seven.
The two sides have met once before, on 1 December in Port Elizabeth with Edinburgh victorious 48-21.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Fenton, 17 Elliot Millar-Mills, 18 Matt Shields, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Viliame Mata, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Chris Dean, 23 Damien Hoyland.
Southern Kings: 15 Ntabeni Dukisa, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Martin du Toit, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Eitel Bredenkamp, 5 Dries van Schalkwyk, 4 Jurie van Vuuren, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 Schalk Ferreira (captain).
Replacements: 16 Tango Balekile, 17 Njabulo Gumede, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Lindokuhle Welemu, 20 Freddy Ngoza, 21 Gouws Rowan/Godlen Masimla, 22 Harlon Klaasen, 23 Masixole Banda.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson, Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
SCARLETS v DRAGONS
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kickoff: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Scarlets only loss since Round 3 of the Pro14 was 21-28 to Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on 2 December.
Scarlets have won their last sixteen home games in the Championship since Munster beat them at there in September 2016.
Dragons are without a win in the last seven rounds of the Pro14, although they did draw 32-all at home to Ulster on 1 December.
Dragons have not won away from home in the Championship since a trip to Treviso in March 2015.
Dragons only success over a fellow Welsh region in the Pro14 since 2013 was on a visit to Cardiff Blues on Boxing Day 2014.
Scarlets have lost only one of their last eighteen fixtures with Dragons in the Championship: 16-23 at Rodney Parade in September 2013 whilst Dragons only previous success on Scarlets soil since the regions were formed in 2003 was on their final visit to Stradey Park in September 2007.
Scarlets: 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Aled Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Rhys Jones, 23 Morgan Williams.
Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Pat Howard, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Arwel Robson, 9 Dan Babos, 8 James Benjamin, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Cory Hill (captain), 4 Joe Davies, 3 Nicky Thomas, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Luke Garrett.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Rynard Landman, 20 Robson Blake, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Jarryd Sage.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Saturday, January 6
BENETTON v CHEETAHS
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 14.15; 15.15 SA time; 13.15 GMT)
Benetton won both of their festive fixtures against near-neighbours Zebre but have not won three in a row in the Pro14 since December 2012.
The Italian's three home wins in the Championship this season were against Ospreys in Round 4, Southern Kings in Round Six and Zebre in Round 11.
Cheetahs have lost just twice since Round 2 in the Pro14, at home to Glasgow on 6 October and away to Connacht on 4 November.
Cheetahs beat Zebre 24-23 on their only previous visit to Italy in Round 7.
This is the two sides' first meeting.
Benetton: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Marco Barbini, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Whetu Douglas, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Cherif Traore, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Fuser, 21 Sebastian Negri, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Ian McKinley.
Cheetahs: 15 Craig Barry, 14 William Small Smith, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Makazola Mapimpi, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Botha Tom, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Mthokozisi Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Adriaan Coertzen.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
OSPREYS v CARDIFF BLUES
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 15.15; 15.15 GMT)
Ospreys' 22-9 victory at Dragons on New Year's Eve ended a four-game losing run in the Pro14; in fact, Ospreys have won just twice in the Championship since the opening weekend and both were against Dragons.
Ospreys two Pro14 victories this season at Liberty Stadium were against Zebre in Round One and Dragons in Round Seven.
Cardiff Blues record in the last ten rounds of the Pro14 is an even won five, lost five.
Blues have won just twice away from home in the Championship this season, at Connacht in Round 4 and at Dragons in Round 11.
Blues won their most recent fixture against Ospreys 35-17 at Principality Stadium on 'Judgement Day V' in April to end an 11-game losing run to Ospreys in the Pro14.
Cardiff Blues only previous victory at Liberty Stadium in the Championship was on their very first visit in December 2005.
Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Dan Evans, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Will Jones, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 James Hook, 23 Dafydd Howells.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Owen Lane, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 Damian Welch, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Kristian Dacey (captain), 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 George Earle, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones, Adam Jones (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
ZEBRE v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 GMT)
Zebre's only victory since the end of September was 24-10 at home to Connacht in Round 10 in the Pro14.
The Italians have beaten a Scottish opponent just once since 2015: 19-14 against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in October 2016.
Glasgow Warriors only defeat in the Pro14 this season was by a single point to Edinburgh at Murrayfield on 23 December.
The Warriors have lost three of their last four away games in all competitions, but have not lost to an Italian opponent since Benetton visited Firhill in September 2011.
The two sides have met on ten previous occasions with Glasgow victorious in each instance.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Rory Parata, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 George Biagi, 4 David Sisi, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Tommaso D’Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Roberto Tenga, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Maicol Azzolini, 23 Ciaran Gaffney.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Nick Grigg, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Finn Russell, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Greg Peterson, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 James Malcolm, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Kiran McDonald, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Brandon Thomson.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland), Manuel Bottino (Italy)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
LEINSTER v ULSTER
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 17.35; 17.35 GMT)
Leinster have lost only once in any tournament since the end of September: 21-31 at Glasgow in Round Eight of the Pro14.
The Leinstermen have lost just once at home in the Pro14 since February 2015: 15-27 at the RDS Arena to Scarlets in last season's semifinal.
Ulster has lost just one of their last seven matches in all competitions: 16-44 to Connacht in Galway on 23 December, whilst their only victory away to a fellow Irish province since April 2015 was on a trip to Connacht in December 2015.
Leinster have lost only one of their last four fixtures with Ulster: 13-17 in Belfast last May.
The Ulstermen have won just once in fourteen previous visits to the RDS Arena: 22-18 in March 2013.
Overall the two provinces have met on 153 previous occasions with Leinster having the edge by 78 wins to 60 with 15 draws.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath (captain).
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Noel Reid.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Johnny Stewart, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Alan O'Connor, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 John Cooney, 22 Johnny McPhillips, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Joy Neville, Shane Kierans (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
MUNSTER v CONNACHT
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Munster have lost their last two matches, both in the Pro14, at home to Leinster and away to Ulster. They have not lost three in a row in the Championship since December 2015.
Munster have lost all four matches they have played against fellow Irish provinces this season.
Connacht's 18-21 defeat to Leinster in Dublin on New Year's Day ended a three-game winning run in all competitions.
Connacht has not won away from home in the Pro14 since beating Edinburgh at Myreside on 7 April, whilst their only two wins away from home against a fellow Irish province in the history of the Championship were against Leinster in 2002 and Munster 2015.
Connacht has the slight edge in meetings between the two provinces leading by four wins to three in fixtures since the New Year 2015, prior to this Connacht had only beaten Munster five times in eighty years.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander (captain), 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Darren O’Shea, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Robin Copeland, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Cillian Gallagher, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Peter McCabe.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Conan O’Donnell, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Darragh Leader.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)