Five round and five wins. Leo Cullen’s Leinster have been simply superb at the start of the 2019/20 GUINNESS PRO14 season.
Cullen’s men dismantled the Dragons 50-15 at the RDS last Friday night, marshalled around the field by 20-year-old out-half Harry Byrne, a display worthy of being the only unbeaten side left in the competition.
But could that run end in round 6? Some are predicting so with the defending champions heading to Connacht for Friday night rugby this weekend. Andy Friend’s charges are in fine form themselves following their impressive 20-10 victory on the road at the Ospreys.
At the same time on Friday, Dean Ryan’s Dragons will face another tricky away trip as they head to Richard Cockerill’s fortress Edinburgh, while the action on Saturday kicks off with two 3pm matches – Ospreys v Isuzu Southern Kings and Zebre v Glasgow Warriors.
That home fixture looks like a good opportunity for Zebre to get their first win on the board, while the Toyota Cheetahs still seek that elusive away victory. They travel to Cardiff Blues after being narrowly edged out 17-13 by the Scarlets, their second close defeat on the road in as many weeks.
There are two cracking fixtures still to come on Saturday, Benetton Rugby search for their third win on the spin, at Parc y Scarlets, and there is a small matter of a superb-looking interprovincial derby at Thomond Park. Munster v Ulster, both on four wins, both on 19 points, and local rivalries into the mix? That one’s going to be big.
After recording four successive attendance highs for the GUINNESS PRO14 final, tickets will be limited for this season’s decider at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday, June 20. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of ‘Early Bird’ prices to get the best seats at www.pro14rugby.org/final.
GUINNESS PRO14 – ROUND 6 FIXTURES:
Friday, November 8 –
Edinburgh (4th, Con B) v Dragons (5th, Con A), BT Murrayfield, kick-off 7.35pm (live eir Sport 2/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport 1/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
A word of warning to Dragons fans: Edinburgh has won both home games they have played this season in the Championship, scoring seven tries in each, against Zebre and the Scarlets. Dean Ryan will be busy plotting a defence that can prevent the same happening but likely will not be helped by Edinburgh coming off the back of 18-16 defeat at Benetton – exactly the type of match Richard Cockerill would have wanted to win in super-competitive Conference B. The Dragons will put up a fight and are in decent shape despite the loss to Leinster, winning three of their last six, and will be inspired by that 52-28 victory on the road at Zebre in early October.
CONNACHT (2nd, Con B) v LEINSTER (1st, Con A), the Sportsground, kick-off 7.35pm (live eir Sport 1/Premier Sport 2/TG4/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
Two of the standout sides in the first five rounds of the PRO14, provincial rivals Connacht and Leinster have won a sum total of nine of their 10 matches so far. Someone’s proud record will fall, therefore, with Leinster dropping just one point all season to unsurprisingly lie top of Conference A with Connacht currently sitting pretty behind only Munster in Conference B. And the reigning champions will look to spring a repeat of last season’s visit to Galway, where they emerged with a 20-3 victory thanks to scores from Sean Cronin and Garry Ringrose. Connacht, on the other hand, will look to their seven-try 47-10 blitz of the reigning champions back in April 2018.
Zebre (7th, Con A) v Glasgow Warriors (4th, Con A), Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, kick-off 4pm local time (live eir Sport 2/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
Zebre will have to do something that they have never done before if they are to get their first win of their PRO14 season: topple Glasgow Warriors. 14 times the two sides have met, and on all 14 occasions, last year’s beaten finalists have emerged with the points. To make things worse, now could well be a tough time to face Dave Rennie’s side: with a plethora of Rugby World Cup stars now settled back in and in the wake of their 50-0 win over the Isuzu Southern Kings last time out. Zebre, however, will take heart from their last match on home soil, where they lost out only narrowly to Leinster.
Ospreys (6th, Con A) v Isuzu Southern Kings (7th, Con B), Liberty Stadium, kick-off 3pm (live SuperSport 1/Premier Sports 2/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
Two teams desperate for a result do battle in south Wales on Saturday afternoon as the Isuzu Southern Kings continue their European tour with a visit to the Ospreys. With just one win between them this season, the clash could prove the perfect opportunity for either outfit to kick-start something. The Kings will look for a vast improvement after they shipped 50 points without themselves making an impression on the scoreboard against the Warriors, while the Ospreys get a second bite of the cherry at the Liberty, after they were last week beaten 20-10 by Connacht. With only two meetings between the two, there is a small sample size to assess, but the Ospreys’ pair of wins against the South Africans – home and away – will give the Welsh side hope for a third.
Cardiff Blues (6th, Con B) v Toyota Cheetahs (3rd, Con A), Cardiff Arms Park, kick-off 5.15pm (live eir Sport 2/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport 1/S4C/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
Since their opening day victory over the Kings in South Africa, Cardiff Blues have endured a frustrating start to their 2019/20 PRO14 campaign, slipping to four straight defeats. As they prepare to right their wrongs against their second South African opponents, John Mulvihill’s men will be pleased to know the odds are in their favour. The Blues have won five of their seven showdowns with South African opponents in the Championship, while the Cheetahs have not won away from home since beating the Kings last January. With Cardiff not having lost three matches in a row at the Arms Park since December 2016, it will take some performance from the Cheetahs to secure victory in Cardiff.
MUNSTER (1st, Con B) v ULSTER (2nd, Con A), Thomond Park, kick-off 5.15pm (live eir Sport 1/Premier Sport 2/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
Both Munster and Ulster have only suffered one defeat in five rounds of the PRO14 so far this season, and both were to the same team – the Cheetahs. Saturday’s fixture is set to be a close one with both sides gunning to keep up their winning form, particularly hosts Munster, who currently sit top of Conference B. The Munstermen are unbeaten at home in their last 24 games in all tournaments since Leinster overcame them in round 11 of the 2017/18 season, and they have not lost to Ulster on home turf since the 2013/14 campaign.
Scarlets (3rd, Con B) v Benetton Rugby (5th, Con B), Parc y Scarlets, kick-off 7.35pm (live eir Sport 2/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport 1/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
Benetton will be on a mission to secure their first win at Parc y Scarlets since May 2013 when they make the trip to Wales on Saturday, but the face a stern test against a Scarlets side flying high in Conference B. The Welshmen have only lost one of their last nine home fixtures in all tournaments and have lost just twice to Benetton in their last 14 encounters in all competitions, a statistic sure to boost confidence that they can keep pace with Munster and Connacht at the summit of the table.
GUINNESS PRO14 CONFERENCES:
Conference A –
Glasgow Warriors, LEINSTER, ULSTER, Ospreys, Dragons, Zebre, Toyota Cheetahs
Conference B –
Edinburgh, MUNSTER, CONNACHT, Cardiff Blues, Scarlets, Benetton Rugby, Isuzu Southern Kings