Entering into the first weekend of action in 2019 it looks like another busy few days at the turnstiles with close to 150,000 fans taking in GUINNESS PRO14 derby action during rounds 11 and 12.
It has been all change in Conference A with five teams – including Munster and Connacht – now battling it out for final series positions, while Benetton Rugby are up to third in Conference B as they aim to become the first Italian club to reach the knockout stages.
With eight rounds left to play the focus is narrowing on the GUINNES PRO14 final on Saturday, May 25, which will take place at Celtic Park – fans can book their places now by clicking here to get their hands on the best seats available.
Benetton Rugby have reached third position in Conference B after a run of victories in South Africa and back-to-back wins over Zebre, but they face a stern test in the shape of Glasgow Warriors. But the table-topping Scotsmen will face a tough examination in Treviso as they attempt to recover from their double 1872 Cup defeats to Edinburgh.
Glasgow boast an impeccable record against Italian opposition with 27 consecutive wins, however, in front of a buoyant crowd in the refurbished Stadio di Monigo, Benetton have an opportunity to get a true measure of themselves against one of the top teams in the PRO14.
Defending champions Leinster are licking their wounds from only their second Championship defeat of the season against Munster in round 12, as Ulster are challenged to chip into their opponents’ 16-point lead at the top of the Conference B standings.
Leinster are a fearsome force at the RDS and you have to go back to 2013 for their last loss at the hands of an Irish province, that it was Ulster will provide little comfort to the visitors as they begin life without Henry Speight, the Australian international who joined the province on a short-term contract in the summer.
Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has steadied the ship during his first season in Belfast, but coming off a tough loss to Connacht, against a Leinster team eager to right their own wrongs, will require a hard day’s work at the office.
The Scarlets are in need of a result to kick-start their season but the Dragons are starting to pick up form which means that nothing is certain in Llanelli this weekend. Cardiff Blues’ victory over the men in red in round 12 brought to an end to the Scarlets’ 27-month, 26-match unbeaten home record in the PRO14 at Parc y Scarlets – a run of form that was on course to set a new Championship record.
The Dragons will be buoyed by their narrow loss in Cardiff and their win over the Ospreys last weekend, but they have not won an away game in the Championship in their last 38 attempts. Champions in 2017, the Scarlets have lost ground to Benetton in Conference B as they bid to reach the final series and they will be desperate to get back to winning ways in this one.
The Sportsground will be full to capacity in Galway as Munster arrive to face Connacht where a win for the home team would see them leapfrog the two-time European champions in the Conference table.
Connacht were in second place before their opponents’ win over Leinster in round 12 and there are plenty of positive signals that Andy Friend’s charges may make a return to the knockout stages for the first time since 2016. Their derby form in the past couple of weeks has been strong, even if their late loss to Leinster will be rued in years to come.
Munster will want to solidify their place at the business end of Conference A, particularly after Glasgow’s recent slips have left just two points between the two sides. Nonetheless, Johann van Graan’s side will not overlook Connacht on their own patch where they won all three of their derby games last season.
Edinburgh will bounce into their game at BT Murrayfield against the Isuzu Southern Kings, knowing that if results go their way in round 13 they could slingshot into second place behind front-running Leinster.
Richard Cockerill’s outfit struggled for consistency earlier in the campaign coming off the back of their first ever PRO14 final series appearance last season. However, Scotland’s capital team have bounced back in the PRO14 and the Champions Cup and their back-to-back wins over Glasgow have set them up for a good 2019. The Kings are playing their first game since their winter break and an away PRO14 win still remains elusive for Deon Davids’ men.
Zebre will be eager to regain some momentum with the Toyota Cheetahs arriving in Parma. However, after their month-long break, the South Africans should be refreshed and rejuvenated coming into this game.
The Cheetahs’ most obvious issue since joining the PRO14 has been their failure to consistently win on the road, but one of their two away successes last season did come at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi against Zebre. Chilly but dry conditions are expected and this should be a close contest between two teams who love to throw the ball around.
The Ospreys have strong form at home this season with only Glasgow winning at the Liberty Stadium, but Cardiff Blues have been resurgent of late and their comprehensive win over the Scarlets means that they will travel west once more with renewed confidence.
It is a vital fixture for both sides’ aspirations to reach the knockout stages. The Ospreys lost ground in Conference A after their loss to Dragons, but Glasgow’s recent skid means Allen Clarke’s charges trail the leaders by eight and third-placed Connacht by just three.
GUINNESS PRO14 – ROUND 13 FIXTURES:
Saturday, January 5 –
Benetton Rugby (3rd, Con B) v Glasgow Warriors (1st, Con A), Stadio di Monigo, 3pm (live DAZN/Premier Sports 2)
Ospreys (4th, Con A) v Cardiff Blues (5th, Con A), Liberty Stadium, 3pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2)
LEINSTER (1st, Con B) v ULSTER (2nd, Con B), the RDS, 5.15pm (live Premier Sports 2/eir Sport 1/deferred TG4)
Scarlets (4th, Con B) v Dragons (6th, Con B), Parc y Scarlets, 5.15pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2)
CONNACHT (3rd, Con A) v MUNSTER (2nd, Con A), the Sportsground, 7.35pm (live TG4/eir Sport 1/Premier Sports 2)
Edinburgh (5th, Con B) v Isuzu Southern Kings (7th, Con B), BT Murrayfield, 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2/SuperSport 1)
Sunday, January 6 –
Zebre (7th, Con A) v Toyota Cheetahs (6th, Con A), Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 2pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2/SuperSport 1/Free Sports/DAZN)
TOP PERFORMERS IN GUINNESS PRO14 AFTER ROUND 12 (Powered by Opta Statistics):
TOP POINTS SCORERS –
Sam Davies (Ospreys) 111
Jack Carty (Connacht) 95
Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues) 90
Masixole Banda (Isuzu Southern Kings) 70
Simon Hickey (Edinburgh) 68
TOP TRY SCORERS –
Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff Blues) 7
Sibahle Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs) 7
Luke Morgan (Ospreys) 7
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 6
Bryan Byrne (Leinster) 5
Keith Earls (Munster) 5
George Horne (Glasgow Warriors) 5
Niko Matawalu (Glasgow Warriors) 5
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) 5
Yaw Penxe (Isuzu Southern Kings) 5
David Shanahan (Ulster) 5
METRES GAINED –
Malcolm Jaer (Toyota Cheetahs) 696
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 646
Dan Evans (Ospreys) 635
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) 609
MOST CARRIES –
Bill Mata (Edinburgh) 154
Marcell Coetzee (Ulster) 143
Luke Hamilton (Edinburgh) 142
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) 121
Sam Davies (Ospreys) 113
CLEAN BREAKS –
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 16
Sibahle Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs) 15
David Shanahan (Ulster) 14
Jason Harries (Cardiff Blues) 14
DTH van der Merwe (Glasgow Warriors) 13
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) 13
Niko Matawalu (Glasgow Warriors) 13
George North (Ospreys) 13
Malcolm Jaer (Toyota Cheetahs) 13
Keith Earls (Munster) 13
DEFENDERS BEATEN –
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 40
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) 37
Tom Farrell (Connacht) 33
Kyle Godwin (Connacht) 32
Jordan Williams (Dragons) 30
MOST OFFLOADS –
Tom Farrell (Connacht) 19
Iliesa Ratuva (Benetton Rugby) 16
Mattia Bellini (Zebre) 14
Marco Barbini (Benetton Rugby) 14
Jayden Hayward (Benetton Rugby) 14
MOST TACKLES –
Josh Turnbull (Cardiff Blues) 146
Jarrad Butler (Connacht) 143
Marcell Coetzee (Ulster) 139
Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues) 139
Olly Cracknell (Ospreys) 134
TURNOVERS WON –
Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues) 19
Marcell Coetzee (Ulster) 17
Owen Watkin (Ospreys) 16
Nick Williams (Cardiff Blues) 13
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) 12
LINEOUT STEALS –
Junior Sipato Pokomela (Toyota Cheetahs) 7
Braam Steyn (Benetton Rugby) 6
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) 5
James King (Ospreys) 5
George Biagi (Zebre) 5
Cory Hill (Dragons) 5
Scott Fardy (Leinster) 5
For more statistics, please visit www.pro14rugby.org/statistics/powered-by-opta/