After the excitement of European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup last weekend, it is time to get back to the brass tax of Guinness Pro 14. A weekend which could see several teams come tantalizingly close to securing their place in the playoffs. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.
This is the pivotal contest in Conference B. A win for Edinburgh Rugby in this encounter will see Richard Cockerill’s charges almost secure their place in the playoffs. The team news makes for interesting reading. Edinburgh make six changes to the side that were humbled by Cardiff Blues in European Challenge cup action last weekend. Hidalgo-Clyne, Weir, Burleigh and Berghan all come into the starting lineup. All solid selections.
Ulster Rugby have given opportunities to a couple of promising academy players. Tom O’Toole (prop), Matthew Dalton (second row) come into the side and are joined by Matthew Rea and Nick Timoney. An explosive looking back line is named with Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Louis Ludik and Charles Piutau named at full back.
Third plays fourth in this encounter. It is a game that Ulster Rugby have to win to have any realistic chance of extending their regular league season. Ulster Rugby on the road this season have being inconsistent at best so it will be interesting to see how Ulster Rugby perform with the likes of Rory Best and Iain Henderson in the ranks.
Slight edge to Edinburgh Rugby who look to have more cohesion in their ranks. The half-back pairing selected is vastly experienced and with the likes of Gilchrist, Toolis and Berghan all coming back to the pack; they look to edge the pack battle. Playoff ticket almost stamped after this result for Edinburgh. A win to compound another miserable week for Ulster Rugby off the pitch.
This Conference A fixture is a dead rubber with both sides realistically out of the playoff hunt. Ospreys name a strong selection for this fixture with the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Dan Biggar in the ranks. Their performance against Leinster Rugby in round eighteen was excellent; physicality with superb expansive line breaks. Dan Evans was sublime on the night and will be looking to add to his try scoring tally.
Connacht Rugby ring the changes from the side who exited European competition last weekend at home to Gloucester Rugby. A chance for Kieran Keane and management to give game time to squad players. Delahunt, Carey, Cannon come into the pack as Ultan Dillane starts which is good to see. A brand new three quarter unit as Robb and Griffin replace Aki and Farrell.
A game which should produce tries considering the two back lines named, the hosts look well primed in the pack to create the platform to secure another morale boosting home victory to conclude the season. Ospreys win with a late bonus point try in this one as Connacht Rugby’s defensive breakdowns in recent weeks will be exposed yet again.
A fixture which has home win written all over it. The big question as I publish this blog (April 5th) is the Leinster Rugby team selection that Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will name for this encounter. The assumption is that the players who excelled last weekend in European action will get the weekend off so it could be a squad selection of squad players as well as a chance for Sean O’Brien to impress potentially.
The Leinster Rugby squad depth is excellent and it is dread that Zebre Rugby travel to the RDS for this encounter particularly when you see the game tape from their last road trip; an embarrassing loss to Glasgow Warriors who scored sixty plus points.
The hope is that Zebre Rugby are competitive and do not get hammered but if the weather conditions are good, expect the Leinster Rugby squad assembled to produce a cohesive performance which could heap more road trip agony for Michael Bradley’s charges. Bonus point try win for Leinster Rugby beckons hopefully in the second half and not in the opening period. Zebre’s pack needs to produce a performance but I cannot see it.
A Conference A fixture which could have huge ramifications in the direction of the playoff race. If Toyota Cheetahs can win this contest, they will open up a significant end of season points gap to Cardiff Blues who are improving with each passing round. A victory for Cardiff Blues and we are setup for an interesting Conference A playoff race for third place.
Cardiff Blues will be buoyant after their 6-20 road trip over well fancied Edinburgh Rugby last weekend in European Challenge Cup action. An accurate, clinical opening period setting the platform for victory. The Cardiff Blues pack were excellent during the game and the cohesion between the pack and back line was impressive at times.
Toyota Cheetahs enter this fixture after another couple of weeks of inactivity. Their last fixture was a convincing bonus point try win to the Dragons; absorbing early pressure from the hosts to close out the contest in emphatic fashion. The home confines of Bloemfontein will be most welcome.
In their first fixture this season, Cardiff Blues emerged 25-20 victors. A game which ebbed and flowed throughout as Toyota Cheetahs were made to pay for accuracy issues at both sides of the ball. Cardiff Blues will pose serious problems in the back row and back line areas but Toyota Cheetahs with home advantage and altitude advantage sees them just pip Cardiff Blues in an entertaining match-up.
This looks like the fixture of the round if solid squad selections are announced. However, Scarlets may rest key personnel after last weekend’s win at home to La Rochelle. Does Wayne Pivac decide to rest players now or next weekend ahead of their Leinster European Rugby Champions Cup showdown in two weeks? Intriguing selection beckons for the hosts.
Glasgow Warriors have already secured playoff and home field advantage so it will be interesting to see the team selection from Dave Rennie. A game where they can produce a performance with zero pressure, expect an open expansive game from the top team in Conference A.
This fixture is dependent on the Scarlets squad; if it is a solid team selection, expect an epic encounter but I sense that the squad named will be predominantly squad players with some players needing additional game time. Edge to Glasgow Warriors at this time.
A fixture of little consequence, only pride. Dragons probably have more reasons to win this contest, a long awaited first league win of the year. A season which has seen Bernard Jackman’s charges exposed due to inexperience and squad depth, it is imperative that the Welsh region win a game before season end to rid this wretched league loss record.
Benetton Rugby though will look to consolidate a solid season in Conference B. Their performances this season have being on point, secured a mid-table league position and their level of performance has impressed me with some superb victories to more illustrious opposition on paper throughout the season.
Slight edge to Benetton Rugby; their squad looks better on paper to Dragons who will continue to struggle to put points on the board despite having exciting talent out wide where Hewitt has the potential to become an excellent winger. Marty Banks game management pivotal for me down the stretch.
Munster Rugby travel to Kimberley. A timely tour of South Africa to recharge the batteries this week after that bruising win over Toulon last weekend. An emotional trip for the likes of Stander, Kleyn, Grobler and van Graan to their native homeland. Munster Rugby enter this fixture with both Simon Zebo and Darren Sweetnam unavailable for selection due to injuries sustained last weekend.
Johan van Graan will look to change up the side this weekend so the likes of James Hart and JJ Hanrahan potentially could be given game time at half-back. Stephen Fitzgerald could conceivably come into the line up at full back. Conor Oliver looks a solid bet to feature in the back row.
Southern Kings will look to produce a positive start against Munster Rugby; the game conditions indicate a match full of entertaining open expansive phases and tries. Provided Munster Rugby can execute in the set piece efficiently, then the advantage in this encounter goes to the visitors. Hopefully, there will be a good crowd in attendance to see the fixture.