A fortnight of European action is in the rear-view mirror and we return to the GUINNESS PRO14 for one week in what could be a crucial round 7 when all is said and done.
The weekend features a rematch of last May’s final when high-flying Leinster travel to Glasgow to take on the Warriors, while on Friday there are two huge encounters as Munster host Edinburgh and Ulster welcome the Scarlets to Belfast.
Then on Saturday, Cardiff Blues are in Italy to take on Benetton Rugby, with another Welsh-Italian battle in Newport where the Dragons entertain Zebre.
Finally, the South African pair are on the road, the Isuzu Southern Kings will look to build on their recent win away to the Ospreys when they travel to Connacht, while the Toyota Cheetahs will aim to imitate their compatriots away in Neath.
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.
Friday, November 29 –
MUNSTER (1st, Con B) v Edinburgh (3rd, Con B), Irish Independent Park, kick-off 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 2/eir Sport 1/SuperSport 1/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
There has been something of a budding rivalry between Munster and Edinburgh in recent seasons, with the province having twice narrowly beaten the Scottish capital club in knockout encounters. The first of those was in the PRO14 two seasons ago at Thomond Park, Munster edging home 20-16, before they came from behind to win a European quarter-final at BT Murrayfield last year.
Now the two teams find themselves together in Conference B, and with just five points separating the top four, the race for a final series place is very tight. Both teams are coming into the game off the back of draws at home, Munster finishing strongly to take two points from their clash with Racing 92, while Edinburgh conceded a late penalty in a draw with Bordeaux-Bègles. Before they return to European action, Johann van Graan and Richard Cockerill will know just how important this game is.
ULSTER (2nd, Con A) v Scarlets (2nd, Con B), Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2/DAZN/PRO14.tv/deferred S4C)
Ulster are one of just five teams with two wins from two in the Champions Cup, while the Scarlets were very close to matching them in the Challenge Cup. Brad Mooar’s side suffered an agonising defeat away to Toulon, conceding a last-minute converted try, despite playing the whole of the second half with 14 men. Ulster, meanwhile, got the better of Clermont to go top of their European pool, and they will be looking to carry that form back into the PRO14.
Dan McFarland’s men have been very strong at home, with four wins in all competitions from as many games, and can consolidate their charge for a final series position with a win here. However, they take on a Scarlets outfit who have lost just one match in the PRO14 this season.
Saturday, November 30 –
Benetton Rugby (5th, Con B) v Cardiff Blues (6th, Con B), Stadio di Monigo, kick-off 4pm local time (live Free Sports/eir Sport 2/DAZN/PRO14.tv/deferred S4C)
There will have been similar feelings for Benetton and Cardiff Blues fans after last Saturday’s European action, both seeing last-second kicks turn draws into defeats. For Benetton, it was Dan Biggar’s accuracy from the tee that proved the difference at the death, while Leicester youngster Tom Hardwick did the same to the Blues. So, there will be revenge on the minds of both teams, and when you add in the fact that they are Conference B rivals both in desperate need of a win to get back into the hunt for the final series, expect there to be an edge. And for those who have forgotten, these two played out an absolute thriller in Treviso last year, Tommaso Allan converting Monty Ioane’s injury-time score in a 27-25 success.
CONNACHT (4th, Con B) v Isuzu Southern Kings (7th, Con B), the Sportsground, kick-off 5.15pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 1/SuperSport 1/TG4/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
The last time we saw the Isuzu Southern Kings in action they were stunning the Ospreys in Swansea in their first-ever victory outside South Africa. Now the men from Port Elizabeth are looking to build on that as they take on a Connacht side who are improving in their second year under Andy Friend.
The Kings have had a couple of poor results so far this season – at home to Ulster and in Glasgow – but otherwise they have been competitive for the most part. They got their first win over the Ospreys, capitalising on a fast start to claim a famous victory, but beating Connacht will be a tougher proposition. The westerners got the better of Montpellier in their first European game, before letting a second half lead slip away to French champions Toulouse. They are coming off a loss in the PRO14, however, having been well beaten at home by Leinster last time out. With no margin for error in Conference B, Friend will be hoping that his injury-hit squad can get back on track.
Dragons (5th, Con A) v Zebre (7th, Con A), Rodney Parade, kick-off 5.15pm (live Premier Sports 2/eir Sport 1/S4C/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
The Dean Ryan revolution was not going to happen overnight, but a pair of wins in Europe leave the Dragons well-placed to get out of their pool in the Challenge Cup. They now return to domestic duty to take on a Zebre side still winless, but also the only team to have denied Leinster maximum points in the PRO14 this season. Michael Bradley’s team fell to a narrow loss at home to Stade Français last weekend in the Challenge Cup in difficult conditions.Their cause should be helped by the Dragons being without some of their young stars, with the likes of Taine Basham and Aaron Wainwright included in Wayne Pivac’s first Wales squad to take on the Barbarians. Ryan’s charges showed their strength in depth with victory in Russia, and will need to back that up against a Zebre side who they thumped in Parma earlier this season to end their away day hoodoo.
Glasgow Warriors (4th, Con A) v LEINSTER (1st, Con A), Scotstoun Stadium, kick-off 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 2/eir Sport 1/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
And so we come to the main event of the weekend. The champions against last year’s runners-up, back in Glasgow. Rather than Celtic Park, this game will be played at Scotstoun, with Glasgow looking to become the first side to beat Leinster this season. They will need to if they are to maintain hope of chasing down Leo Cullen’s men at the top of Conference A – the Warriors have already lost three games this year in the PRO14.
They did get the better of Leinster the last time the teams met in the regular season though, running out comfortable winners at the RDS last April. The teams had contrasting weekends in Europe, Glasgow letting a half-time lead slip away to Exeter, while Leinster ground out a vital win at Lyon. That momentum may be crucial as two of the big guns face off.
Ospreys (6th, Con A) v Toyota Cheetahs (3rd, Con A), the Gnoll, kick-off 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 2/eir Sport 2/SuperSport 1/DAZN/PRO14.tv)
It was a tough weekend for the Ospreys, who were well-beaten away to Saracens, and have now lost five in a row in all competitions. The last of those in the PRO14 was at home to the Kings, and they will face more South African opposition this weekend as the Toyota Cheetahs travel to the Gnoll in Neath. Allen Clarke will be hoping that a change in surroundings can reverse their fortunes, but the Cheetahs know a win here will be huge in their bid for a place in the final series.
While the Cheetahs have been virtually unstoppable at home, they are still looking for a first win on the road this season. They came close away to both Connacht and the Scarlets, but last time out were off the pace against Cardiff Blues. With just two points separating them from Glasgow in fourth spot, this is a huge game in the context of their season ambitions.
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