PRO12 preview: Saturday

Date published: April 14 2017

Tabletoppers Leinster face the champions, Connacht, in Galway and second-placed Munster host Ulster in a derby at Thomond Park.

Cardiff Blues v Ospreys

Danny Wilson has made four changes to his starting line-up to face the Ospreys on Judgement Day V at the Principality Stadium.

Three are enforced with George Earle, Sam Warburton and Blaine Scully ruled out following the injuries they sustained against Ulster last weekend.

Macauley Cook starts in the second-row, Nick Williams steps up from the bench at number eight with Josh Navidi switching to the flank and Matthew Morgan returns to full-back.

Elsewhere Kristian Dacey has recovered from an injury of his own to reclaim his hooker jersey with Matthew Rees dropping to the bench.

There are further changes on the bench with prop duo Rhys Gill and Anton Peikrishvili now available following injury.

Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy, commented:

“It’s the business end of the season now and we know what’s at stake over the next few weeks. We’ve got three big games, three tough challenges ahead, starting with the Blues at Principality Stadium and we know what we’ve got to do.

“We are in third place so we can take comfort that it’s very much about us in the run-in, if we put together three winning performances then there’s nothing anyone else can do to stop us reaching the play-offs. Things haven’t gone as planned the last few and, where we had a bit of a gap, some room for comfort, Ulster and the Scarlets are breathing down our neck and will both be desperate to put one over us in the final two rounds.

“There’ll be a lot of fuss around Saturday’s game, a derby match at the Principality Stadium in front of a big crowd, but we can’t allow ourselves to get wrapped up in the occasion. It’s important that we are professional around the build up and the 80 minutes itself. That has to be the focus for us, to build a performance of the level required from first to last minute and make sure we can keep ourselves ahead of the chasers for the last two rounds.

“The Blues are a dangerous side, they have threats across the field, and can score tries from anywhere on the field so we’ve got to be at our best. The last two weekends have been frustrating for us, both games that we could have won, we don’t want the same story this week and it’s only the players out there who can control that by their actions and decision making when they step over the line on Saturday.”

Form: Cardiff Blues are without a victory since beating Edinburgh 18-17 at Myreside in Round 16 of the PRO12. Blues only pervious win on “Judgement Day” was when they beat Scarlets 17-13 in 2014. Cardiff Blues have won just one of their last six encounters with fellow Welsh regions – at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on Boxing Day. Ospreys have slipped to three straight defeats in all competitions but have not lost four in a row in the same season since 2014/15. Ospreys only defeat in their last thirteen encounters with fellow Welsh regions was at home to Scarlets in the PRO12 in March 2016. Ospreys have played seven previous matches at the Principality Stadium in all tournaments with their only defeat being in their most recent visit, two weeks ago against Stade Français in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup. Ospreys have won their last eleven fixtures against Blues in the PRO12 since their 21-all draw at Liberty Stadium in April 2011, whilst the capital side’s most recent win over Ospreys in the PRO12 came at the Cardiff City Stadium on New Year’s Eve 2010. 

The teams:

Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Rhun Williams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Gethin Jenkins (c), 7 Kristian Dacey, 6 Taufa'ao Filise, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Josh Navidi, 2 Ellis Jenkins, 1 Nick Williams.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 James Down, 20 Sion Bennett, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Aled Summerhill.

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhys Webb (c), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith

Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Tyler Ardron, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Luke Price, 23 Kieron Fonotia

Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)

Munster v Ulster

Ulsters' Director of Rugby Les Kiss' starting XV shows just three changes from last Friday's draw with Cardiff as his side aims to continue the run of seven games unbeaten and push towards a spot in the championship playoffs.

There are two changes in the back three as Jacob Stockdale, Ulster's top try scorer in the PRO12 this season, comes in at full-back to replace the injured Jared Payne. Andrew Trimble, who made his return from a hand injury in a second-half appearance last weekend, is preferred to fellow Ireland international Craig Gilroy on the right wing with Charles Piutau retaining the number 11 jersey.

Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall will continue their centre partnership, while Stuart McCloskey will provide strong midfield cover from the bench as he is in line to make his first senior appearance since the home win over Edinburgh, having fully recovered from a calf injury.

Paddy Jackson, who contributed a try and four successful kicks at goal against Cardiff, once again pairs up with Ruan Pienaar at half-back.

Chris Henry is the sole change in the pack as he comes in at openside flanker, with Sean Reidy shifting to number 8 and Iain Henderson continuing at blindside.

The front five remains unchanged as props Andy Warwick and Wiehahn Herbst accompany Rory Best in the front row, with Kieran Treadwell and Alan O'Connor once again selected in the engine room.

Paul Marshall and Craig Gilroy are the backline options among the replacements with McCloskey, while Rob Herring, Callum Black, Rodney Ah You, Robbie Diack and Clive Ross will provide the forward cover.

Meanwhile, Munster have made nine changes.

Included in the starting line-up are Donnacha Ryan and Tyler Bleyendaal having completed their return to play protocols this week.

A changed front row sees Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan named, while Donnacha Ryan links up with Billy Holland in the second row.

There are two changes in the back row with only Jack O’Donoghue retained at number eight as Captain Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell return to the flanks.

The half back pairing of Duncan Williams and Tyler Bleyendaal remain in situ.

Keith Earls, Rory Scannell and Simon Zebo are introduced to the backline with Earls on the left wing, Scannell inside Francis Saili, and Zebo at fullback.

Ian Keatley is named in the replacements after rehabbing a knee ligament injury sustained against Cardiff Blues at the start of March, while James Cronin is also named after overcoming a bang to his knee in last weekend’s encounter against Glasgow Warriors.

Form: Munster's only defeat in any tournament since mid-December was 21-30 at home to Scarlets in the PRO12 at the end of February. The Munstermen have lost only that one game at Thomond Park in their last 14 matches since December 2015. Munster have won their last three matches against fellow Irish provinces since tripping up to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in October. Ulster are unbeaten in their last seven PRO12 matches since their 13-16 reversal in Llanelli in Round 13. Ulster have won just one of their last five fixtures against fellow Irish provinces: 23-7 at home to Connacht in Round 11. Munster are unbeaten in their last five encounters with Ulster since the Ulstermen’s 19-17 victory at Thomond Park in May 2014. 

The teams: 

Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls; 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O'Donoghue, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Peter O'Mahony (c), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kiloyne 
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave O’Callaghan, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Andrew Conway

Ulster: 15 J Stockdale, 14 A Trimble (Capt), 13 L Marshall, 12 S Olding, 11 C Piutau, 10 P Jackson, 9 R Pienaar, 8 S Reidy, 7 C Henry, 6 I Henderson, 5 A O'Connor, 4 K Treadwell, 3 W Herbst, 2 R Best, 1 A Warwick
Replacements: 16 R Herring, 17 C Black, 18 R Ah You, 19 R Diack, 20 C Ross, 21 P Marshall, 22 S McCloskey, 23 C Gilroy.

Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Thomond Park
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Emmanuele Tomò (Italy), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)

Newport Gwent Dragons v Scarlets

Kingsley Jones has made five changes to his Newport team that lost out to Zebre in Italy last weekend in the PRO12. 

The back three sees one change made to it as wing Adam Warren joins fellow wing Adam Hughes, and fullback Carl Meyer. The centre partnership remains unchanged as Tyler Morgan, who made his 50th appearance last weekend, is joined by Sam Beard. Fly-half Angus O’Brien makes his 50th appearance for the Region and is partnered in the half-backs with scrum-half Charlie Davies.

The front row sees two changes made to it as props Sam Hobbs and Lloyd Fairbrother are given the nod with Rhys Buckley retaining his position as hooker. The second row sees Matthew Screech replace Rynard Landman to join Welsh International Cory Hill, with the back row also having one change made to it as flanker Nic Cudd joins Ollie Griffiths and skipper Lewis Evans.

The replacements bench sees Thomas Rhys Thomas, Phil Price, Brok Harris, Ashley Sweet and Jack Dixon named, who join Harrison Keddie, Dorian Jones and Tom Prydie.

With a place in the top four in Scarlets' sights the Wayne Pivac has named a strong side to take on regional rivals Dragons at the Principality Stadium with no less than nine internationals named in the starting XV.

Jonathan Davies returns to centre fellow international Scott Williams in the centre with Liam Williams also making a return to the starting XV.

The all-international front row of Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee retain their places whilst Tadhg Beirne takes his place on the blindside flank with Aaron Shingler unavailable due to injury.

Werner Kruger has recovered from illness and is named on the replacements bench whilst David Bulbring will look to make his first regional appearance since November following surgery to a shoulder injury.

Form: Newport Gwent Dragons have lost their last six PRO12 fixtures since beating Treviso 26-8 at Rodney Parade on January 6. Dragons have made four previous appearances at Principality Stadium, all on “Judgement Day”, but have lost them all. The Men from Gwent have not overcome a fellow Welsh region in the PRO12 since beating Blues in Cardiff on Boxing Day 2014. Scarlets have lost just once in the PRO12 since round 11: 9-45 to Leinster in Dublin on March 4. Scarlets have made five previous visits to the Principality Stadium with their only defeat being 13-17 to Blues on “Judgement Day” 2014. Dragons beat Scarlets 36-21 in the Anglo-Welsh cup in November, but in the PRO12 their only victory over the Men from the West since 2008 was 23-16 at Rodney Parade in September 2013. 

The teams:

Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Sam Beard, 11 Adam Warren, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ollie Griffiths, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Rhys Buckley, 1 Sam Hobbs 
Replacements: 16 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 17 Phil Price, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Ashley Sweet, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Dorian Jones, 22 Tom Prydie, 23 Jack Dixon

Scarlets: 15 Johnny Mcnicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Tom Price, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Hadleigh Parkes, 23 DTH van der Merwe

Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Principality Stadium
Kick-off: 17:15 local (16:15 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Sean Brickell (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)

Treviso v Edinburgh

Treviso have made six changes to their starting XV compared to the team that played against the Scarlets last Saturday.

Luke McLean lines up at full-back alongs with Angelo Esposito and Luca Sperandio on the wings while Tommaso Iannone and Alberto Sgarbi form a formidable midfield partnership.

Edoardo Gori is the starting scrum-half and he forms a hafback partnership with pivot Ian McKinley.

Hooker Luca Bigi packs doen in the front row alongside props Federico Zani and Simone Ferrari while Marco Fuser and captain Dean Budd are the starting locks.

Finally, the back row consists of Francesco Minto, Abraham Steyn and Robert Barbieri at number eight.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Acting head coach Duncan Hodge has made one change to his starting line-up.
The amendment comes at fly-half where Jason Tovey will start after recovering from a groin injury sustained in the European Challenge cup quarter-final against La Rochelle.
Glenn Bryce, who scored his first try for the club in last week's match against Connacht, retains his spot at full-back with Damien Hoyland and Rory Scholes continuing on the wings.
Phil Burleigh and Chris Dean continue as the midfield duo for the fourth consecutive match, while Tovey is partnered at halfback by Nathan Fowles.
Hooker Ross Ford is named as captain and will start in the front-row with Murray McCallum and Simon Berghan.
Ben Toolis – who currently tops the PRO12's defensive chart with 222 tackles – is named in the second row alongside Fraser McKenzie.
Last week's man of the match, Hamish Watson, and Viliame Mata, start on the flanks with Viliami Fihaki – called late into last week's squad in place of Cornell Du Preez – starting at number eight.

Form: Benetton Rugby have won just once in the last eight rounds of the PRO12: 13-5 over Ospreys in Treviso in Round 18. Benetton Rugby have not won successive home games in the Championship since 2016. The Italian’s most recent victory over a Scottish opponent was 20-16 at home to Edinburgh in March 2014. Edinburgh Rugby have lost all seven PRO12 fixtures they have played in 2017. They have never lost eight in a row in the history of the Championship. Edinburgh’s only away win this season in the PRO12 was on a visit to Zebre on December 31. Edinburgh have won their last five matches against Benetton Rugby. 

The teams:

Treviso: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Dean Budd (C), 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani 
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto Porolli, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Jean-Francois Montauriol, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, Tito Tebaldi, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti

Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Viliami Fihaki, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford (c) 1 Murray McCallum
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Junior Rasolea


Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Stadio Monigo
Kick-off: 20:05 local (18:05 GMT)
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

Connacht v Leinster

Connacht captain John Muldoon will play his 300th game for the province when he lines out against Leinster at a sold-out Sportsground on Saturday.

The 34-year-old, who has started 23 games already this season, leads the team featuring four personnel changes from last weekend.

Jack Carty is handed the reins at fly-half for the visit of the PRO12 tabletoppers while Craig Ronaldson is recalled to start in the centre with Bundee Aki.

Dave Heffernan and Ireland international Finlay Bealham are named in the front row in an otherwise unchanged pack.

Meanwhile Leinster boss Leo Cullen has made 11 changes to his starting XV from last weekend's last-gasp win over Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.

Rhys Ruddock moves to number eight and will captain the side, with Dominic Ryan coming at blindside flanker and Josh van der Flier once again starting at openside.

An all-new tight five has been selected for this weekend's test in Galway.

Ross Molony and Hayden Triggs make up the second row pairing, with Cian Healy, James Tracy and Mike Ross starting in the front row.

Zane Kirchner and Rory O'Loughlin are the only two backs retained from last weekend's win.

Kirchner shifts from outside centre to full-back and O'Loughlin will start in the number 13 shirt, partnered by Noel Reid in midfield. Dave Kearney and Adam Byrne complete the back three.

Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne make up Leinster's starting half-back pairing.

Form: Connacht’s 22-19 victory at Edinburgh last weekend in the PRO12 ended a two-game losing run. Connacht’s only defeat at the Sportsground in any competition since September was to Munster on December 31. Connacht’s solitary victory over a fellow Irish province this season was against Ulster in Galway in Round 6 of the PRO12. Leinster have won their last seven matches in all competitions since drawing 24-all at Castres in January, whilst their most recent reversal was to Munster in Limerick on St Stephen’s Day – their only defeat by a fellow Irish province this season. Leinster won 24-13 when the two sides clashed at the RDS Arena in Round 7 to reverse the result in last season’s PRO12 final at Murrayfield. Connacht have lost just once to Leinster in Galway in the last four encounters: 8-16 in January 2014. 

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley 
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Sean O'Brien, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Eoin Griffin

Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Rhys Ruddock (c), 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Mike Ross, 2 James Tracy, 1 Cian Healy 
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Peadar Timmins, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Barry Daly

Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 19:35 local (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies (Wales), Joy Neville (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)