Preview: PRO12, Saturday

Date published: March 24 2017

Glasgow Warriors taking on Connacht at Scotstoun is the pick of the fixtures on Saturday in Round 18 of the PRO12 season.

Zebre v Munster

The Italian coaching staff can count on five Italian internationals for this game, three of them in the starting line-up: centre Tommaso Boni, scrum-half Marcello Violi and flanker Maxime Mbandà.

Also another three starters are available following injury: winger Kayle van Zyl in his first game of 2017 along with the two South African back rowers Johan Meyer and Derick Minnie.

Other internationals in the XV capped by Italy during the 2017 Six Nations campaign are rested.

Meanwhile, in naming his matchday 23 Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus makes fives changes to the side that defeated Cardiff Blues in Round 17.

Returning are the international trio of Niall Scannell, John Ryan and captain Peter O’Mahony, as they all start in a pack that also sees the return of Jack O’Donoghue at number eight after rehabbing an ankle injury sustained against Ospreys.

In a positional switch, on making his 70th appearance for the province, Dave O’Callaghan makes his first start at lock for the province, joining Billy Holland in the second row partnership.

Tyler Bleyendaal is the only change to the backline as the Kiwi ten resumes his half-back pairing with Duncan Williams, while there is additional international honours at full-back this week after Andrew Conway’s debut against England at the Aviva last Saturday.

Prop James Cronin is included in the replacements after successfully rehabbing a finger injury sustained against Racing 92 at the end of January, and David Johnston is named in his first matchday squad of the season.

Form: Zebre’s most recent victory in the PRO12 was 19-14 against Edinburgh at Murrayfield at the end of October. Zebre have not beaten an Irish Province since winning 13-6 against Ulster in Parma in September 2014. Munster have lost just once in the PRO12 since round 6: 21-13 at home to Scarlets on February 24. Munster’s away record in the PRO12 this season is an impressive won eight, lost one, the defeat being to Leinster at Aviva Stadium on October 8. The two sides have met on nine previous occasions with Muster victorious in every instance, seven times with a try bonus, whilst Zebre have managed just two losing bonus points, both in Parma, in 2013 and 2016.

The teams:

Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Kayle Van Zyl,13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Valerio Bernabò (c), 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Bartholomeus Le Roux, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Bruno Postiglioni
Replacements: 16 Sydney Tobias, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Matteo Pratichetti, 23 Guglielmo Palazzani

Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Dave O’Callaghan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 David Johnston, 23 Dan Goggin

Date: Saturday, March 25
Venue: Stadio Lanfranchi
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll (Ireland), Elia Rizzo (Italy)

Leinster v Cardiff Blues

After two weekends with no PRO12 championship action, Leinster boss Leo Cullen has been able to recall a number of players that had been out through injury.

Isa Nacewa comes back in to captain the side on the left wing with Adam Byrne on the right and Joey Carbery selected at full-back.

Noel Reid is again selected in the number 12 jersey for the 14th time this season with Rory O’Loughlin returning from shoulder injury to fill the number 13 jersey beside him.

Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne start together as outhalves for the first time since the New Year’s Eve win over Ulster. McGrath wins his 70th cap for Leinster.

In the pack Cian Healy returns from international duty to pack down beside fellow internationals Richardt Strauss and Michael Bent. Ross Molony and Hayden Triggs partner in the second row.

Fresh from his Six Nations debut against England last weekend, Dan Leavy returns to Leinster duty at blindside, with Josh van der Flier back from shoulder injury at openside. Rhys Ruddock starts at number eight for only the second time this season.

Meanwhile, wing Blaine Scully will captain Cardiff Blues. The USA international, who has skippered his country on various occasions, is one of five changes head coach Danny Wilson has made to the starting line-up, following the 23-12 defeat to Munster earlier in the month.

Scully and Alex Cuthbert are named on the wings, partnering full-back Matthew Morgan in the back three, and replacing Tom James and Aled Summerhill respectively.

Kristian Dacey returns from international duty to start at hooker, and is the only change amongst the starting pack. Tomos Williams is given the nod at scrum-half, with namesake, Lloyd, named on the bench. Gareth Anscombe continues his role at outside half.

Rey Lee-Lo replaces Willis Halaholo at outside centre, with Steven Shingler keeping his place at 12. Club captain, Gethin Jenkins, makes a long-awaited return from a bicep injury and will start the game on the bench. Elsewhere, Ellis Jenkins, who also returns from a recent injury lay-out, is named amongst the replacements.

Form: Leinster have won their last six PRO12 fixtures since losing out to Munster in Limerick at Christmas. The Leinstermen have won their last 20 home games in all competitions sine their defeat to Toulon in the Champions Cup at Aviva Stadium in December 2015, whilst the last side to lower their colours at the RDS Arena was Newport Gwent Dragons in the PRO12 in February 2015. Cardiff Blues 18-17 victory at Edinburgh in their most recent away game ended a three game losing streak on the road in the PRO12. The Blues have lost their last five matches against Irish provinces since winning against Munster in Cork in Round 2. Leinster have won their last twelve matches against The Blues in all competitions, whilst the Welshmen’s only victory over the Leinstermen since 2007 was 11-3 at the Cardiff City Stadium in February 2011.

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Isa Nacewa (c), 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Fergus McFadden

Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Steven Shingler, 11 Blaine Scully (c), 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Corey Domachowski
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Sion Bennett, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22  Willis Halaholo, 23 Tom James

Date: Saturday, March 25
Venue: Stadio Lanfranchi
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Richard Kerr (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Penné (FIR)

Glasgow Warriors v Connacht

Gregor Townsend has been boosted by the return of a number of Scotland internationals as the PRO12 returns. Fresh from being named Six Nations Player of the Championship, Stuart Hogg starts at full-back, hoping to continue his international form on the domestic stage.

Hogg is joined in the back-three by centurion Sean Lamont who lines up on the right wing, with Rory Hughes on the opposite side.

In the centres Peter Horne captains the side for the second game in a row, alongside Nick Grigg, who scored two tries against the Dragons earlier this month.

The Scotland half-back pairing reunite in a Warriors shirt with Ali Price and Finn Russell both starting. In the front row Alex Allan and Sila Puafisi pack down either side of All Black Corey Flynn. Tim Swinson and Brian Alainu’uese continue their partnership in the second row, both having impressed in Glasgow’s last game against the Dragons.

Matt Smith will make his home debut starting on the open flank and he is joined by Rob Harley and Adam Ashe in the back-row, with Harley set to make the second highest number of appearances of any player in a Glasgow shirt.

Meanwhile, there are ten changes from the Connacht side that was named to play Zebre in the last round three weeks ago. Ireland internationals Tiernan O’Halloran and Kieran Marmion return to take their place in the backline with Jack Carty restored at fly-half.

Craig Ronaldson partners Bundee Aki in midfield while Niyi Adeolokun and Stacey Ili continue on the wings. Upfront, Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham pack down in the front row with hooker Tom McCartney.

The second row partnership is made up of Quinn Roux and Andrew Browne, the Galway man marking his 150th appearance for the province. Sean O’Brien, Jake Heenan and captain John Muldoon all return to make up the back row. From the bench, Ireland Sevens player Josh Rowland is in line to make his first appearance for Connacht having recovered from a long-term ankle injury.

Form: Glasgow Warriors 47-17 victory at home to Newport Gwent Dragons in Round 17 ended a three-game losing run in the PRO12. The Warriors home record in the PRO12 this season is an even won four, lost four. Connacht have won their last four PRO12 matches, the last two with maximum points. Connacht have lost only one of their last six matches against Scottish opponents: 5-41 at home to Warriors in Round 1 this season. Connacht have won only one of their last eleven encounters with Warriors in the regular season of the PRO12: 14-7 in Galway last May, whilst Connacht’s only victory on Glasgow’s “turf” since 2003 came at Firhill in September 2010.

The teams:

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Peter Horne (c), 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Matt Smith, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Brian Alainu’uese, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Alex Allan
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Lewis Wynne, 21 George Horne, 22 Alex Dunbar, 23 Peter Murchie

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 James Cannon, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 John Cooney, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Josh Rowland

Date: Saturday, March 25
Venue: Scotstoun
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Bob Nevins (Scotland)

Treviso v Ospreys

The Treviso team has been chosen by the coaching staff without head coach Kieran Crowley, who has flown to New Zealand for family reasons.

The backs include David Odiete at full-back while on the wings are Angelo Esposito and Luca Sperandio. The pair of centres will be formed by Tommaso Iannone and Alberto Sgarbi, with the half-backs being Tito Tebaldi and Ian McKinley.

In the department of the front row are Federico Zani, Luca Bigi and the returning Simone Ferrari. Second row is occupied by Filippo Gerosa and captain Dean Budd. Finally Francesco Minto, Marco Lazzaroni (50th appearance) and Robert Barbieri will complete the XV.

Meanwhile, scrum-half Tom Habberfield captains the Ospreys for their trip to Italy, with a number of Wales internationals rested aside from fly-half Sam Davies.

Form: Benetton Rugby Treviso’s most recent victory in the PRO12 was 23-12 against Zebre on December 23. Treviso’s other home win in the tournament this season was against Dragons in Round 4. Ospreys only loss in the last nine rounds of the Guinness PRO12 was 23-25 at home to Munster on February 18. Ospreys have not lost to an Italian side in the PRO12 since a visit to Zebre in May 2014. Treviso’s most recent victory over Ospreys was in the European Champions Cup in January 2015, whilst their only win over the Welshmen in the PRO12 was in August 2012.

The teams:

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

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield (c), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 James King, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Tyler Ardron, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Jay Baker, 23 Jonathan Spratt

Date: Saturday, March 25
Venue: Stadio Monigo
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)