PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 16
PREVIEW: Pro14, Round 16SHARE
Glasgow Warriors have secured their place in the Pro14 Final Series thanks to their record-setting pace which has returned 65 points in their first 15 games – beating the previous mark of 58 after 15 rounds.
Edinburgh have now put themselves in the mix after their late win over Ulster while it was a terrific weekend for the Italians who both won away from home in the same round – a first-ever for Benetton and Zebre.
What's at Stake
In a move to reach out across the Gwent region Dragons will welcome Edinburgh to Ebbw Vale's Eugene Cross Park on Friday. Bernard Jackman's team are looking to reclaim some form, but Richard Cockerill's Edinburgh team have been incredibly resolute of late and Dragons will need a vocal support here.
Leinster were one of the first sides to visit the Southern Kings in September and now the South Africans make their first appearance in the RDS Arena. Leinster came out on top in a tight contest against Scarlets last weekend while Kings came close to their first win against Ospreys. Both teams like to spread the ball and the visitors will bring plenty of confidence from their last outing.
On Saturday Benetton take on Connacht in Treviso. Connacht were undone at home last weekend by Zebre, while Benetton come into this game in their best-ever run of form in the Championship after five consecutive wins.
Ospreys play their final fixture of the season against South African opposition as the Cheetahs come to Swansea. The Cheetahs are in need of a win after two consecutive defeats but Ospreys have won three of their last four Championship fixtures which will provide a renewed confidence for the men in black.
Scarlets aim to get back on track against Ulster after back-to-back losses to Benetton and Leinster. The visitors were rocked by Edinburgh's late drop-goal victory last weekend and a trip to Llanelli is hardly ideal for Ulster who needs to keep up with the Scottish side who hold third place in Conference B.
Sunday's only fixture sees Zebre face Cardiff Blues with both teams buoyed by recent results. Michael Bradley's team won convincingly against Connacht last week while Cardiff Blues have stitched impressive wins together against Cheetahs and Munster as they set a late charge for the Final Series.
Pick of the Round – Munster v Glasgow Warriors
Munster have to take their chance to close the gap on Glasgow Warriors who are 12 points ahead of them in Conference A. If the three-time Championship winners are to have any chance of reeling in Dave Rennie's team they must win here in Cork. However, Warriors have been playing scintillating rugby in the Pro14 this season and this appears to be a fascinating encounter.
Top Performers – Round 16:
Most tackles: 28 Nick Timoney (Ulster)
Most carries:20 James Lowe (Leinster)
Defenders beaten: 8 Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors)
Offloads: 4 Johan Meyer (Zebre)
Breaks: 4 Gabriele di Guilio (Zebre)
Metres made: 128 James Lowe (Leinster)
Turnovers won: 5 Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets) / Josh Murphy (Leinster)
Line-outs won: 10 Ross Molony (Leinster)
We take a look at all the Round 16 action!
Friday, February 23:
DRAGONS v EDINBURGH
(Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale – Kick-off: 19.30; 19.30 GMT)
This is the first Pro14 encounter to be played at Eugene Cross Park since Edinburgh beat Ebbw Vale there on October 5, 2002.
Dragons are without a victory in the Championship since beating Southern Kings at Rodney Parade at the end of September.
Edinburgh have won their last three matches in the Pro14, whilst their only defeat in the last six rounds was at Glasgow in the 1872 Cup game at Christmas.
Edinburgh are the equal second-best team in the Championship on current form having gleaned 23 points from their last six encounters.
The Scotsmen's only loss in their last five fixtures with Dragons was 19-27 at Rodney Parade in November 2016.
Edinburgh have made five previous visits to Ebbw Vale in all tournaments, winning twice, in the European Cup October 1998 and Pro14 four years later.
Dragons: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Rio Dyer, 13 Zane Kirchner, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Dorian Jones, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Lewis Evans (captain), 7 James Benjamin, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Gerard Ellis, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Harri Keddie, 20 Ollie Griffiths, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Connor Edwards, 23 Jarryd Sage.
Edinburgh: 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Jason Harries, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Bill Mata, 7 John Hardie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Lewis Carmichael, 4 Fraser McKenzie (captain), 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Neil Cochrane, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Fenton, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Elliot Millar-Mills, 19 Cornell du Preez, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Junior Rasolea.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Kieran Barry (Ireland), Simon Rees (Wales)
LEINSTER v SOUTHERN KINGS
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA Time)
Leinster's only defeat in any tournament since early November was 24-29 at Edinburgh in Round 14 of the Pro14.
The Leinstermen have not been defeated at home in a regular season Championship fixture for over three years, when Dragons were the visitors.
Southern Kings have not been victorious since beating the Bulls 31-30 in Pretoria in Super Rugby last July.
This is the South African's third visit to an Irish Province, having lost at Connacht in September and at Ulster earlier this month.
The two sides' only previous meeting was at Port Elizabeth in September with Leinster winning 31-10.
Leinster: 15 Dave Kearney, 14 Barry Daly, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Isa Nacewa (captain), 11 James Lowe, 10 Ciarán Frawley, 9 Nick McCarthy, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Will Connors, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Adam Coyle, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Peadar Timmins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Kings: 15 Yaw Penxe, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Martin Du Toit, 9 Rowan Gouws, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tienie Burger, 6 Eital Bredenkamp, 5 Arthur de Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Johan Smith, 18 Luvuyo Pupuma, 19 Lindokuhle Welemu, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Juan-Philip Smith, 22 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 23 Jacques Nel.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Ken Imbusch (Ireland) (Wales)
TMO: Wayne Davies (Wales)
MUNSTER v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Irish Independent Park, Cork – Kick-off: 19.00; 19.00 GMT)
Munster's only two victories in the last five rounds of the Pro14, both came in their last two home games at Thomond Park, against Connacht and Zebre.
The Munstermen have won their last six matches in Cork since their single point reversal there to Cardiff Blues in September 2016.
Glasgow Warriors only defeat in the Pro14 this campaign was by the narrowest of margins to Edinburgh at Murrayfield on December 23.
The Warriors have been victorious just once on visits to Irish provinces since the opening round last season, 18-12 at Connacht in Round One this season.
Glasgow beat Munster 37-10 at Scotstoun in Round Four but have not achieved a Pro14 regular season double over the Irishmen since 2005/06.
The Scotsmen have not beaten Munster on their own soil since a 22-5 win at Thomond Park in April 2014, whilst their only previous victory in Cork was 21-18 in May 2008.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 James Hart, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Brian Scott, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Calvin Nash.
Glasgow: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Sam Johnson, 12 Brandon Thomson, 11 Ratu Tagive, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Matt Smith, 6 Rob Harley (captain), 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Kiran McDonald, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 James Malcolm, 1 Oli Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Lewis Wynne, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Richie Vernon, 23 Niko Matawalu.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Manuel Bottino (Italy)
Saturday, February 24:
BENETTON v CONNACHT
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 13.00; 12.00 UK & Ireland Time; 12.00 GMT)
Benetton have set a new Italian record with five straight Pro14 victories, and are the equal second-best team in the Championship on current form having tallied 23 league points from their last six encounters.
Benetton have won their last three home games in the Pro14 since their defeat to Leinster in Round 10.
The Italians have not beaten an Irish province since a home win by a single point over Saturday's opponents, Connacht, in April 2016.
Connacht's two victories in the last seven rounds of the Pro14 were both at home, to Ulster in Round 11 and Ospreys in Round 14.
The Irishmen have not won on the road in the Pro14 since a trip to Edinburgh in April.
Connacht have lost just once to Benetton since October 2013: 21-22 in Treviso in Round 21 of the 2015/16 campaign.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Andrea Bronzini, 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 Herbst, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Matteo Zanusso, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Cherif Traore, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Marco Zanon, 23 Michael Tagicakibau.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 James Cannon, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Niyi Adeolokun.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
OSPREYS v CHEETAHS
(Liberty Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 17.30; 17.30 GMT; 19.30 SA Time)
Ospreys' only loss in the last four rounds of the Pro14 was 15-26 at Connacht in Round 14.
Just one South African side has visited Liberty Stadium in the Pro14 with Southern Kings going down 12-26 last weekend.
Cheetahs have lost their last two matches, both away from home, at Cardiff and at Glasgow. Their two away wins this campaign came against Zebre in Parma in Round Seven and Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.
The two sides met in Round Five in Bloemfontein with Cheetahs victorious 44-25.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Habberfield (Captain), 10 Sam Davies, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 8 Sam Cross, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 James King, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Alex Jeffries, 20 James Hook, 21 Luke Price, 22 Owen Watkin, 23 Hanno Dirksen
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 Henco Venter, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 Renier Bernardo, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Luther Obi.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Dewi Phillips (Wales)
SCARLETS v ULSTER
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Scarlets have lost their last two Pro14 matches but have not lost three in a row in the tournament since the start of last season.
The Welshmen have won their last seventeen home games in the Championship at Parc y Scarlets since Munster beat them there on September 3, 2016.
Ulster have won just two of their last six Pro14 fixtures, both at home, to Munster in Round 12 and Southern Kings in Round 14.
The Ulstermen's only away win in the Championship since September was 43-36 over Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth in Round Eight.
The last six matches between the two sides have been evenly split with three wins apiece and 14 league points each.
The Ulstermen have not won at Parc y Scarlets since December 2012.
Scarlets: 15 Tom Williams, 14 Corey Baldwin, 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 Steven 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 Ioan Hughes, 23 Ryan Conbeer.
Ulster: Louis Ludik, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Tommy Bowe; Johnny McPhillips, John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Nicholas Timoney, 6 Matt Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O'Connor (captain), 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 John Andrew, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Mtthew Dalton, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Darren Cave.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Elgan Williams (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
Sunday, February 25:
ZEBRE v CARDIFF BLUES
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 UK & Ireland Time; 13.00 GMT)
Zebre beat Connacht 19-11 at the Sportsground last weekend, the first time they have achieved two away wins in the same season.
The Italians only victory over a Welsh region since the start of last season was: 29-14 at home to Dragons on April 8.
Cardiff Blues have won their last two Pro14 matches but have not won three in a row in the Championship since the end of last season.
Blues have won twice away from home in the Championship this season, at Connacht in Round Four and Dragons in Round 11.
Cardiff Blues have won their last six matches against Italian opponents since their 7-13 reversal in Treviso in February 2016.
Cardiff have lost just one of their last seven encounters with Zebre: 15-26 in Parma in October 2015.
Zebre: 15 Rory Parata, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Faialaga Afamasaga, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani (captain), 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 James Tucker, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 David Sisi, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau.
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Roberto Tenga, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Jacopo Sarto, 21 Riccardo Raffaele, 22 Maicol Azzolini, 23 Matteo Pratichetti.
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 Josh Turnbull, 7 Ellis Jenkins (captain), 6 Olly Robinson, 5 Damian Welch, 4 George Earle, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Down, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Blaine Scully.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland), Clara Munarini (Italy)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)