The festive season brings with it a second helping of derby fixtures right across the GUINNESS PRO14 after round 11 delivered tension and drama throughout last weekend.
Five of the six games produced losing bonus points and some last-gasp winning scores as the local rivalries in the Championship delivered when it came to intense competition. With 2019 fast approaching, the GUINNESS PRO14 final on Saturday, May 25, which will take place at Glasgow’s Celtic Park, is coming firmly into focus – fans can book their tickets now by clicking here.
Connacht’s resurgence under head coach Andy Friend was strongly tested at the RDS last Saturday, and with Ulster arriving to the Sportsground, the 2016 champions will believe they can return to winning ways. Jack Carty was man-of-the-match in the loss to Leinster and if he can repeat his stellar performance then Ulster will have a serious challenge to overcome.
The men from the north will arrive with confidence after their 19-12 interpvoincial win over Munster, but Connacht swept away all three of their provincial rivals in Galway last season proving what a difficult venue the Sportsground is for visiting teams.
Benetton take on Zebre in for the second time in six days after Kieran Crowley’s men ground out a tense 10-8 win in Parma. Now in his third year as head coach, Crowley has asserted dominance over Benetton’s Italian rivals, winning five of the six fixtures between the teams.
After a winning a record number of games last season Benetton will be aiming to reach the PRO14 final series for the first time, and a victory here in Treviso would tee up their next home game with Glasgow Warriors very nicely. Benetton trail the third-placed Scarlets by just three points and their results at the refurbished Stadio di Monigo will prove crucial in terms of their play-off hopes.
The second leg of the 1872 Cup takes place at Scotstoun Stadium where Glasgow Warriors have to up their game against Edinburgh after the Scottish capital club won the sides’ first meeting at BT Murrayfield in round 11. Dave Rennie’s Warriors are still top of Conference A by nine points, but their momentum has been slowed of late, and this represents the perfect opportunity to get their title tilt back at full steam.
Nonetheless, his opposite number Richard Cockerill has got Edinburgh close to the form that saw them qualify for the final series last season and their progression would be greatly buoyed by sneaking a victory at the home of their closest rivals.
The Scarlets host Cardiff Blues in Llanelli with both of these regions working hard to ensure their seasons continue to spark. The hosts have seen a few key faces depart this year but are still fully capable of producing the scintillating rugby that won them the PRO12 title two years ago.
Facing them is a Blues team which had to grit it out at home to the Dragons last weekend with Gareth Anscombe kicking a late winner and proving yet again that he can keep his cool when pressure is on. Having qualified for the Champions Cup off the back of their displays last season, reaching the knockout stages will be top of their list of ambitions – but winning away to the former champions would provide them with the belief that they can do it.
The Dragons welcome the Ospreys to Rodney Parade in a fixture between a team which has found its way again and a side that is hoping emulate them. The hosts have been a mixed bag in the past three outings in the PRO14, with a hard-fought win over Edinburgh, a big loss to Leinster and a heart-breaking defeat away to Cardiff.
During that time Bernard Jackman has departed as Dragons head coach and the players will need to take the best of their display in the Welsh capital back to Rodney Parade against an Ospreys outfit that is looking relevant again after last season’s disappointment.
Fresh from their derby win over the Scarlets, the Ospreys are proving much more consistent in their performances this season and on current form look set for a return to the PRO14 final series. Avoiding a banana skin here would help them keep in touch with Munster and Glasgow, but derby games are terrific equalisers and nothing can be taken for granted in this one.
Meanwhile, in the much-anticipated pick of the round, Leinster’s festive visit to Thomond Park to face Munster has been sold out for some time now and it looks set to be an all-out battle. There is so much to play for in this game with Leinster 16 points clear at the top of Conference A, while Munster are focused on reeling in Glasgow in Conference B.
With so many Ireland internationals across both teams, this also represents an opportunity for those players to reinforce their worth to the national team ahead of the GUINNESS Six Nations. Leo Cullen’s men seem like an irresistible force at the moment, but Munster have downed plenty of high flyers at their famous Limerick citadel and no team will narrow the eyes for the men in red in the way that Leinster do.
GUINNESS PRO14 – ROUND 12 FIXTURES:
Friday, December 28 –
CONNACHT (4th, Con A) v ULSTER (2nd, Con B), the Sportsground, 7.35pm (live TG4/eir Sport 1&2/Premier Sports 1)
Saturday, December 29 –
Benetton Rugby (4th, Con B) v Zebre (7th, Con A), Stadio di Monigo, 3pm local time (live DAZN/Free Sports/eir Sport 1)
Glasgow Warriors (1st, Con A) v Edinburgh (5th, Con B), Scotstoun Stadium, 3pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2)
MUNSTER (2nd, Con A) v LEINSTER (1st, Con B), Thomond Park, 5.15pm (live eir Sport 1/Premier Sports 2/deferred TG4)
Scarlets (3rd, Con B) v Cardiff Blues (5th, Con A), Parc y Scarlets, 5.15pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2)
Sunday, December 30 –
Dragons (6th, Con B) v Ospreys (3rd, Con A), Rodney Parade, 3pm (live S4C/Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2)
TOP PERFORMERS IN GUINNESS PRO14 AFTER ROUND 11 (Powered by Opta Statistics):
TOP POINTS SCORERS –
Sam Davies (Ospreys) 94
Jack Carty (Connacht) 89
Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues) 71
Masixole Banda (Isuzu Southern Kings) 70
Simon Hickey (Edinburgh) 68
TOP TRY SCORERS –
Sibahle Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs) 7
Luke Morgan (Ospreys) 7
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 6
Bryan Byrne (Leinster) 5
Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff Blues) 5
Niko Matawalu (Glasgow Warriors) 5
Yaw Penxe (Isuzu Southern Kings) 5
David Shanahan (Ulster) 5
METRES GAINED –
Jordan Williams (Dragons) 700
Malcolm Jaer (Toyota Cheetahs) 696
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 569
Sibahle Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs) 542
Dan Evans (Ospreys) 526
MOST CARRIES –
Bill Mata (Edinburgh) 143
Luke Hamilton (Edinburgh) 142
Marcell Coetzee (Ulster) 135
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) 116
Nico Lee (Toyota Cheetahs) 103
Sam Davies (Ospreys) 103
CLEAN BREAKS –
Sibhale Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs) 15
Jason Harries (Cardiff Blues) 14
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 14
Malcolm Jaer (Toyota Cheetahs) 13
David Shanahan (Ulster) 13
DEFENDERS BEATEN –
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 39
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) 32
Kyle Godwin (Connacht) 30
Jordan Williams (Dragons) 30
Tom Farrell (Connacht) 30
MOST OFFLOADS –
Tom Farrell (Connacht) 18
Iliesa Ratuva (Benetton Rugby) 15
Mattia Bellini (Zebre) 14
Marco Barbini (Benetton Rugby) 13
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) 12
Monty Ioane (Benetton Rugby) 12
Adam Byrne (Leinster) 12
Jayden Hayward (Benetton Rugby) 12
MOST TACKLES –
Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues) 134
Jarrad Butler (Connacht) 130
Marcell Coetzee (Ulster) 128
Olly Cracknell (Ospreys) 126
Josh Turnbull (Cardiff Blues) 124
TURNOVERS WON –
Marcell Coetzee (Ulster) 17
Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues) 17
Owen Watkin (Ospreys) 15
Nick Williams (Cardiff Blues) 12
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) 10
Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues) 10
LINEOUT STEALS –
Junior Sipato Pokomela (Toyota Cheetahs) 7
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) 5
George Biagi (Zebre) 5
James King (Ospreys) 5
Cory Hill (Dragons) 5
Scott Fardy (Leinster) 5
Braam Steyn (Benetton Rugby) 5
For more statistics, please visit www.pro14rugby.org/statistics/powered-by-opta/