PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 15
PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 15SHARE
The top four teams across both Conference A and Conference B will face off with precious points at stake for those clubs eager to stay on track to reach the Pro14 Final Series.
As the South African and Italian clubs are playing away from home this weekend all games will take place within the UK & Ireland.
It’s a big weekend for Glasgow Warriors, Cheetahs, Munster, Edinburgh, Ulster, Cardiff Blues, Leinster and Scarlets who can reach the Pro14 Final at Aviva Stadium on May 26.
What's at Stake
Connacht host Zebre on Friday as they aim to keep building momentum after last weekend's win against Ospreys. With the Cheetahs ineligible for Europe, Connacht are battling it out with Cardiff Blues to grab the final automatic Champions Cup place in Conference A and all three sides could yet reach the Pro14 Final Series – from that perspective Connacht cannot afford to slip up against the Italians, coached by the province’s one-time boss, Michael Bradley.
Glasgow Warriors welcome the Cheetahs to Scotstoun where there is plenty at stake. Cheetahs need a win to keep the distance between themselves and Cardiff Blues in third place while also keeping in touch with second-placed Munster in Conference A. Glasgow have a firm hold on a home semifinal and will not want to let that slip during a busy four-game period.
Ospreys take on the Southern Kings at Liberty Stadium. Mathematically, Ospreys can still reach the knock-out stages of the Championship and this game must mark the starting point for any resurgence in form.
On Saturday Cardiff Blues are looking to down another Conference A rival for the second week in a row with Munster coming to the Welsh capital. Blues can keep Connacht below them in terms of Champions Cup qualification and possibly close the gap on Cheetahs, but Munster need every win possible in order to keep up hopes of catching first-placed Warriors.
Sunday's only fixture sees Dragons host Benetton and the Italians arrive in red-hot form with four consecutive wins under their belt looking to set a new record of five wins in a row. Benetton are also closing in on their most wins ever in a season (10) but Bernard Jackman is likely to have some of his Welsh internationals back for what promises to be a very competitive encounter.
Pick of the Round: Leinster v Scarlets
Leinster and Scarlets meet at the RDS for the first time since the Champions stunned the Irish province in last season’s semifinal. The sides meet level on points at the top of Conference B, with Leinster first by virtue of their attacking record, and both will be fully focused on ensuring they have home advantage come the Pro1414 Final Series. Returning internationals will mix in with some of the Championship's hottest rising talent and with Leinster and Scarlets committed to playing fast, entertaining rugby this should prove to be a really eye-catching game.
Top Performers – Round 14:
Most tackles: 21 Eoghan Masterson (Connacht) / Viliame Mata (Edinburgh)
Most carries: 18 Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors)
Defenders beaten: 9 Craig Gilroy (Ulster)
Offloads: 3 Multiple Players
Breaks: 4 Craig Gilroy (Ulster)
Metres made: 120 Rob Lyttle (Ulster)
Turnovers won: 4 Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets) / Robin Copeland (Munster)
Lineouts won: 10 Alan O’Connor (Ulster)
We take a look at all the Round 15 action!
Friday, February 16:
CONNACHT v ZEBRE
(Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 20.35 Italy Time)
Connacht are unbeaten in their last three fixtures in all competitions since losing in Munster in the Pro14 on January 6.
Connacht have won their last seven matches at the Sportsground in all tournaments since their 15-17 reversal there to Cardiff Blues in the Pro14 Round Four.
Zebre's only victory since Round Five of the Pro14 was at home to Connacht on December 2.
The Italians have won just once away from home since October 2016, 43-17 at Southern Kings in September.
Zebre's only two victories over Connacht have come in their last two encounters although they have lost on all eight previous occasions they have visited the Sportsground in all tournaments.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Craig Ronaldson, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Sean O’Brien (captain), 7 Naulia Dawai, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Coulson.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 John Muldoon, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Pita Ahki.
Zebre: 15 Ciaran Gaffney, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Faialaga Afamasaga, 11 Rory Parata, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Johan Meyer, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 James Tucker, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 David Sisi, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Riccardo Raffaele, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Andrew Cymene (Scotland)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v CHEETAHS
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA Time)
Glasgow Warriors have lost just once in the Pro14 this season, to Edinburgh at Murrayfield over Christmas, although they did draw 15-all with Dragons in Newport last weekend.
Glasgow have won all seven home games they have played in the Pro14 this season.
Cheetahs suffered their sixth defeat of the season in Cardiff last weekend, with five of those coming in their seven away games so far.
This is Cheetahs first and only visit to Scotland this season.
The two sides met in Bloemfontein in Round Six with Glasgow handing Cheetahs their only home defeat of the campaign so far.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 James Malcolm, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Matt Smith, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Ratu Tagive.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Craig Barry, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Mthokozisi Mkhabela, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Luther Obi.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
OSPREYS v SOUTHERN KINGS
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA Time)
Ospreys tripped up in Galway last weekend, unable to win a third successive game in the Pro14.
Ospreys record at Liberty Stadium in the Championship this campaign is won three, lost three.
Southern Kings have not managed to tally a league point in the Pro14 since their defeat to Scarlets in Port Elizabeth at the end of November.
Kings have lost on both previous visits to Wales, 10-57 to Scarlets and 13-29 to Dragons, both games being played in September.
The two sides have never met before in the Championship.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Dewi Cross, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 James King, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Guy Mercer, 20 Will Jones, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Price, 23 Hanno Dirksen.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Michael Makase, 10 Martin du Toit, 9 Rowan Gouws, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Michael Willemse (captain), 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Johan Smith, 18 Luvuyo Pupuma, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Eital Bredenkamp, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Barend Janse van Rensburg, 23 Harlon Klaasen.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffkin (Ireland), Richard Kerr (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
ULSTER v EDINBURGH
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Ulster's last five matches in the Pro14 have been evenly split, with two wins, two defeats plus a draw.
Ulster's only defeat in Belfast in the Pro14 since October 2016 was to Leinster in Round Seven this season.
No Scottish team has beaten Ulster in Belfast since Glasgow did so by a single point in September 2013.
Edinburgh have lost just once in the last five rounds of the Pro14: 0-17 to Glasgow at Scotstoun on December 30.
Edinburgh's most recent victory away to an Irish province was 16-13 over Connacht in Galway in January 2015.
The last four encounters between the two sides have all been won by the home team on the day whilst Edinburgh have not been victorious in Belfast since September 2009.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O'Connor (captain), 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Matthew Dalton, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Darren Cave, 23 David Busby.
Edinburgh: 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Jason Harries, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 John Hardie, 6 Bill Mata, 5 Lewis Carmichael 4 Fraser McKenzie (captain), 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Neil Cochrane, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Fenton, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Eliot Millar Mills, 19 Magnus Bradbury, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Andy Brace (Ireland), Adam Jones (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Saturday, February 17:
CARDIFF BLUES v MUNSTER
(Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off: 17.30; 17.30 GMT)
Cardiff Blues record in the last five rounds of the Pro14 is won two, lost three.
The Blues have been defeated just once at home in the Championship since September: 11-14 by Scarlets on New Year’s Eve.
Munster have won their last two Pro14 encounters, both at home, to Connacht and Zebre, however away from home Munster have recorded only one win in the Championship since mid-September – on a trip to Zebre in Round Nine.
The Munstermen have been victorious on their last five trips to Wales.
The Blues only two wins in their last nine fixtures with Munster both came in the calendar year 2016.
Munster have won on six of their last seven visits to Cardiff Blues.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhun Williams, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Owen Lane, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Seb Davies, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins (captain).
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Ryan Edwards.
Munster: 15 Stephen Fitzgerald, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Jack O’Donoghue (captain), 5 Darren O’Shea, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Dave O’Callaghan, 21 James Hart, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Simon Zebo.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Rhys Thomas (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
LEINSTER v SCARLETS
(RDS Arena, Dubliin – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Leinster’s nine game winning run in all competitions came to an end in Edinburgh last weekend, although they did pickup two bonus points in the process.
Leinster have won all nine home games they have played in all tournaments this season, with their only home defeat since December 2015 being to Scarlets in last season's Pro14 semifinal.
Scarlets have lost just twice in the Pro14 since Round Three, both away from home, at Cheetahs in December and at Benetton last weekend.
Scarlets only visit to an Irish province this season ended in defeat to Ulster in Belfast on September 15.
Leinster are ranked ahead of Scarlets at the top of conference B on points difference. The two have not yet met this season but in 2016/17 each side won its respective home game in the regular season, Scarlets took the semifinal at the RDS Arena in May.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Max Deegan, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Scott Fardy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Oisín Heffernan, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Will Connors, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Barry Daly.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Paul Asquith, 12 Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 Josh Macleod, 7 James Davies, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Dylan Evans.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Phil Price, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Declan Smith, 22 Corey Baldwin, 23 Tom Williams.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Jonathan Peak (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Sunday, February 18:
DRAGONS v BENETTON
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 15.30; 15.30 GMT; 16.30 Italy Time)
Dragons are winless in the Pro14 since September, although since then they have managed two draws, both at home, to Ulster in December and Glasgow last weekend.
Dragons are unbeaten in their last three matches at Rodney Parade in all tournaments.
Benetton Rugby's victory at home to Scarlets in Round 14 was their fourth in succession in the Championship, tying the record they previously set in 2011.
Benetton have won just twice away from home this season, in Edinburgh in Round Three and at Zebre in Round 12.
The Italians are without a win in Wales since their victory at Scarlets in May 2013.
Dragons’ two defeats in their last six encounters with Benetton were both at Stadio Monigo in the calendar year 2016. The Italians have not won at Rodney Parade since April 2012.
Dragons: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Rio Dyer, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Zane Kirchner, 9 Dan Babos, 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Aaron Wainwright, 6 Harri Keddie (captain), 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Gerard Ellis, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Henri Williams, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Arwel Robson, 23 Connor Edwards.
Benetton: 15 Ian McKinley, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Marco Barbini, 6 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 5 Irné Hebst, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Matteo Zanusso.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Cherif Traore, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Marco Zanon, 23 Andrea Bronzini.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Ian Davies (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)