The Guinness Pro 14 tournament resumes after a two week hiatus, a chance for teams to regroup, a chance for fringe squad players to stake their claim for regular first team minutes for the rest of the season. The 6 Nations stage of this tournament really forces sides to maximize their full squad and if a side can get on a good run in the coming weeks, who knows what may happen come the business end of the season. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.
An intriguing fixture to kick this round of the competition. How will the Ospreys perform without Steve Tandy in charge? How will Connacht Rugby play without their players on international duty. A key fixture for both clubs particularly Connacht Rugby who head to South Africa to face the Cheetahs soon in a tranche of games against conference rivals.
Blade resumes scrum half duties in Marmion’s absence for the hosts. Griffin and Farrell form the three quarters partnership. O’Halloran will look to break the line from full back. An exciting back line. Ospreys as well have an explosive back line selected. Dan Evans has played some superb rugby this season and starts at full back. Dirksen and Howells will provide pace out wide if given opportunities by Fonotia and Beck. The pack battle looks 50/50 on paper as Rob McCusker joins the 100 appearance club for the club.
Slight nod to Connacht Rugby on this fixture given the injury list and international absentees from the Ospreys. Allen Clarke will look for a response from his charges and it will happen but I think the last quarter and squad depth could be exposed down the stretch provided Connacht Rugby executed at a high performance level which at times has being inconsistent. Connacht to edge this by three points.
If this fixture was played prior to the Natwest 6 Nations tournament, you would easily pick Glasgow Warriors for a bonus point try win. However, with international call ups aplenty, Dave Rennie will need to juggle his team and continuity could be an issue heading into this contest.
Bernard Jackman will look for his side to continue recent encouraging performances in Europe and Anglo / Welsh Cup action. The side by and large has being unaffected by the international fixture calendar this season so it is a big opportunity for the Dragons to produce a good cohesive performance.
It is a fixture primed for an ambush, edging towards Dragons purely because of the enforced squad personnel changes that need to take place on the Glasgow Warriors side but it could an exciting finish particularly as the Warriors built momentum as the game progresses. If Dragons lose badly here, Jackman and management will need to make hard calls on player contracts.
This has the potential to be the game of the round. Both sides are missing players due to international duty but it should not deflect from the fixture given some of the personnel on duty. Edinburgh have being progressing well in recent months under Richard Cockerill with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne outstanding at scrum half.
Leinster Rugby’s squad depth is evident in the back line selected for this fixture. International players such as Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden feature and with Ross Byrne providing assured game management so far this season, the attacking back line is well set.
The pack is much changed due to the international fixtures this weekend. Michael Bent features at prop and emerging talent such as Max Deegan get more valuable game time. A big game for Ross Molony here could do wonders for his ambitions of securing further first team action come the business end of the season.
Edinburgh Rugby also have threats in the back line. Fife, Bennett and van der Merwe if given time and space will create try scoring opportunities. The ten battle is intriguing as van der Walt will look to win his duel against Ross Byrne, two players who like to create expansive line breaks.
This fixture ultimately will be decided in the packs. Both sides have much changes packs and cohesion is a major factor in determining the victor. Leinster Rugby are slight favorites for this contest but would not be surprised if Edinburgh Rugby courtesy of Hidalgo-Clyne late on win the contest. A fascinating contest beckons.
A historic night at Kingspan Stadium as Joy Neville officiates her first Pro 14 fixture, a referee whose upward progression has being immense this season and her ability to allow play to develop should be seen to full effect tomorrow night. Best of luck Joy!
The fixture also provides an intriguing subplot as it is the first game post Les Kiss for Ulster Rugby. Two seasons of sheer frustration and inconsistency resulted in the well respected coach losing his job. It is now down to the players to respond and produce a cohesive performance in the process.
If you were picking a side to showcase your talents, then Southern Kings would tick all the boxes. No key acquisitions from the club since the start of the calendar year and it remains to be seen if the side can adapt to the wintry NH conditions.
Ulster Rugby have named a strong lineup despite without the likes of Best and Henderson in the ranks. You can sure that Gibbes has put the playing squad at his disposal through the ringer this week. An exciting back line with the likes of Gilroy, Marshall and McCloskey in the ranks. The pack looks strong and cohesion in the back row with the selections of Timoney and Reidy.
A bonus point try win looks on the cards for Ulster Rugby in this fixture as I have little faith in Southern Kings to provide the cohesion, pack platform and accuracy to upset the hosts here.
An intriguing fixture in Cardiff as Cheetahs look to set a marker for the rest of the season but they face a Cardiff Blues team who have steadily improved in recent months. European Challenge Cup qualification was a superb achievement for the Welsh region in a pool containing the likes of Lyon, Toulouse and Sale Sharks.
Cheetahs suffered massively when travelling to Italy in their last excursion to the Northern Hemisphere. They struggled for cohesion and accuracy for long periods of their loss to Benetton Rugby. A mixed lead up to this fixture with the news that their head coach Rory Duncan will become Worcester Warriors head coach next season. A blow for the franchise. Franco returns to the club to fill the void so continuity at least.
The Cheetahs do have the comfort of welcoming back Francois Venter, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Tier Schoeman, Malcolm Jaer and Luther Obi on this tour. Venter in particular will provide leadership and skill set to open up a game. 50/50 contest. If Cardiff Blues can stifle the free flow offloading game of the Cheetahs, then it is advantage to the hosts. The lack of game time for the Cheetahs is also a factor too.
The return of Michael Bradley to Thomond Park. The fixture on Saturday night looks quite diluted given the number of personnel changes on both sides. Zebre Rugby performances have being very up and down in recent months and with squad depth looking fragile for this tie, the hosts are well primed for a bonus point try win.
Johann van Graan’s team selection and approach to this contest will be fascinating to watch. A couple of weeks to implement some net new aspects of play with the squad. Will van Graan look for pack dominance or execute an expansive game plan? News that Tyler Bleyendaal is near full fitness is excellent news to increase further competition for the ten jersey.
Provided that Munster Rugby play with direction and execute the fundamentals to a relatively high level, there will be no upset on the cards. A chance for the likes of Alex Wootton to further enhance his gain line yards and try scoring statistics. A slow start but the hosts will do enough to secure the bonus point try to potentially open more daylight between themselves and Cheetahs.
The last game of the round and one where cohesion will be the key point of the pregame notes. With the number of internationals away from both clubs, continuity may be an issue. Scarlets and Benetton Rugby have lost up to fifteen players each to their national teams. It then comes down to squad depth and Scarlets look to have the edge when you consider they still have Beirne in the pack. Scarlets win here but it won’t be pretty. The return of James Davies and Ryan Elias key to getting the Welsh region over the line for the win.