After a fortnight of European action and on the eve of the Six Nations, the GUINNESS PRO14 returns for round 14. There is plenty to prove as the race hots up for the final series.
Conference A is as tight as it gets with everyone from table toppers Munster down to Cardiff Blues in fifth still vying for the knockout berths. Fourth-placed Connacht’s trip to Cardiff is certainly one of the games of the weekend.
In Conference B, Benetton Rugby continue to catch the eye in a packed field behind runaway leaders and defending champions Leinster. Edinburgh, in second, and fifth-placed Ulster are only separated by two points – and the race could take another twist over the coming days with some mouth-watering match-ups.
The focus is narrowing on the GUINNESS PRO14 final on Saturday, May 25, which will take place at Celtic Park in Glasgow – fans can book their places now by clicking here to get their hands on the best seats.
Second plays third in Conference A on Friday night as Glasgow Warriors, who lost last time out to Benetton, look for revenge when the Ospreys head north to Scotstoun Stadium. This crucial clash sees Dave Rennie’s side keen to turn a slump in form around that has seen them only win one of their last five games in all competitions.
The Ospreys, meanwhile, have only lost once in their last four PRO14 outings but have only got one away win to their name in the Championship this season – against Zebre in round 5. Glasgow have won all six clashes with Welsh opponents this season and the Ospreys have a tough head-to-head record against the Warriors to overcome – the Scottish outfit have won the last three clashes and counting.
Also on Friday night, Conference B is set for a shake up as Ulster welcome Benetton Rugby to Kingspan Stadium. The province are on a high after two wins-from-two in the Champions Cup secured a quarter-inal berth but domestically, they have lost two in a row in the PRO14.
In contrast, Benetton have won five in-a-row in the Championship and are chasing a third away win on the spin – a feat never before achieved by the Italian club. However, they will have to do it the hard way in Belfast where Dan McFarland’s men seldom lose – only Connacht have won there since last February.
In the match of the round, Friday night at the RDS sees a repeat of last season’s PRO14 final as Leinster entertain Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets. The Llanelli outfit have good history in the RDS – they won the 2017 semi-final there on their way to the title. But since then Leinster have only lost once at the RDS, to Benetton last April. Indeed, their defeat to Munster at Thomond Park after Christmas is their only loss in any tournament since October.
The Scarlets snapped a three-game losing run in the Championship last time out against the Dragons and have only won once on the road in the PRO14 all season. Yet, they did overturn Leinster at Parc y Scarlets in round 2 and could achieve a season’s double over the Irish powerhouses for the first time in their history.
Saturday sees the Dragons welcome Conference A leaders Munster to Rodney Parade. The Welsh region downed Munster in Newport back in December 2015 but have lost the last four meetings between the sides since then.
They meet a Munster side in rich form, with the men in red having only lost once in the PRO14 since early October and quarter-final-bound in the Champions Cup. On the negative side, Johann van Graan’s charges have lost on their last two trips to Wales, both against Cardiff Blues in February and September of last year.
Over in Bloemfontein, the in-form Toyota Cheetahs put their impressive record against Italian opposition on the line against Zebre. The Cheetahs have won four of their five clashes with Italian sides since joining the Championship and have only lost once in their last four PRO14 games.
Zebre, meanwhile, are on a six-match losing run in the PRO14 since they overcame Edinburgh in Parma back in October. The two sides have met three times already, and the Cheetahs have emerged victorious every time, so Michael Bradley’s men have their work cut out to halt their slide.
Leinster downed Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park on the opening day of the season, but since then the Welsh region are unbeaten at their home fortress. They put that record on the line on Saturday when the impressive Connacht come to town looking to steal a march on their Conference A rivals in the battle for a top-three finish.
The Andy Friend-coached westerners have lost just twice in their last 10 games in all competitions but are notoriously poor travellers to Wales. They have lost on their last five trips there, and their only win in their last nine such visits came in February 2017 at Cardiff Arms Park.
The Isuzu Southern Kings have only won once in the PRO14 all season, against Glasgow Warriors back in September. But this weekend they welcome Glasgow’s near neighbours Edinburgh to the Madibaz Stadium hoping for lightning to strike twice.
However, Richard Cockerill’s side are one of the form teams in Europe, winning seven in-a-row in all competitions, and they are in the Champions Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 2012. They have won with a bonus point the last three times these two sides have met, but the Kings pushed the Cheetahs close last time out and will be keen to spring a surprise.
GUINNESS PRO14 – ROUND 14 FIXTURES:
Friday, January 25 –
Glasgow Warriors (2nd, Con A) v Ospreys (3rd, Con A), Scotstoun Stadium, 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2)
LEINSTER (1st, Con B) v Scarlets (4th, Con B), the RDS, 7.35pm (live eir Sport 1/TG4/Premier Sports 2)
ULSTER (5th, Con B) v Benetton Rugby (3rd, Con B), Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm (live Free Sports/DAZN)
Saturday. January 26 –
Dragons (6th, Con B) v MUNSTER (1st, Con A), Rodney Parade, 3pm (live eir Sport 1/TG4/Premier Sports 1)
Toyota Cheetahs (6th, Con A) v Zebre (7th, Con A), Toyota Stadium, 3pm local time (live SuperSport 1/eir Sport 1/Premier Sports 2)
Cardiff Blues (5th, Con A) v CONNACHT (4th, Con A), Cardiff Arms Park, 5.15pm (live TG4/S4C/Premier Sports 2)
Isuzu Southern Kings (7th, Con B) v Edinburgh (2nd, Con B), Madibaz Stadium, 5.15pm local time (live SuperSport 1/Premier Sports 2/deferred eir Sport 2)
TOP PERFORMERS IN GUINNESS PRO14 AFTER ROUND 13 (Powered by Opta Statistics):
TOP POINTS SCORERS –
Sam Davies (Ospreys) 121
Jack Carty (Connacht) 109
Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues) 96
Simon Hickey (Edinburgh) 76
Masixole Banda (Isuzu Southern Kings) 75
TOP TRY SCORERS –
Sibahle Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs) 9
Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff Blues) 7
Luke Morgan (Ospreys) 7
George Horne (Glasgow Warriors) 6
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 6
METRES GAINED –
Malcolm Jaer (Toyota Cheetahs) 821
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 786
Jordan Williams (Dragons) 725
Sibahle Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs) 715
Dan Evans (Ospreys) 701
MOST CARRIES –
Bill Mata (Edinburgh) 168
Marcell Coetzee (Ulster) 143
Luke Hamilton (Edinburgh) 142
Nico Lee (Toyota Cheetahs) 121
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) 121
CLEAN BREAKS –
Sibahle Maxwane (Toyota Cheetahs) 22
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 19
Malcolm Jaer (Toyota Cheetahs) 16
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) 16
George North (Ospreys) 15
DEFENDERS BEATEN –
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) 50
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) 40
Tom Farrell (Connacht) 37
Kyle Godwin (Connacht) 32
Jordan Williams (Dragons) 31
MOST OFFLOADS –
Tom Farrell (Connacht) 22
Iliesa Ratuva (Benetton Rugby) 16
Nico Lee (Toyota Cheetahs) 14
Marco Barbini (Benetton Rugby) 14
Jayden Hayward (Benetton Rugby) 14
Mattia Bellini (Zebre) 14
MOST TACKLES –
Josh Turnbull (Cardiff Blues) 155
Olly Cracknell (Ospreys) 148
Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues) 147
Jarrad Butler (Connacht) 143
John-Charles Astle (Isuzu Southern Kings) 140
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
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) 6
Braam Steyn (Benetton Rugby) 6
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) 5
George Biagi (Zebre) 5
Cory Hill (Dragons) 5
Tadhg Beirne (Munster) 5
James King (Ospreys) 5
Scott Fardy (Leinster) 5
For more statistics, please visit www.pro14rugby.org/statistics/powered-by-opta/