The sixth round of the league sees plenty local bragging rights up for grabs with a couple of derby games in Ireland and Wales. Glasgow Warriors head into the Cheetahs den while Ospreys and Edinburgh are faced with must win fixtures in the league even before European action has started. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.
This fixture has lost something, remember when I was a grasshopper that this tie would see full houses, two full strength teams going at it hammer and thongs for the full eighty minutes. The game this weekend has being viewed as a ‘training game’ by Erasmus, a bit harsh but European action is looming on the horizon and both sides want a good workout, injury free and prepped for the challenge which awaits in ERC action. Leinster ominously for Munster underwhelmed last weekend and expect a much more cohesive performance against a Munster side whose opening period against the Blues was loose at best. The second half performance at Thomond Park was vastly improved but there are question marks on the defensive line speed and it will be interesting who Munster name at fly-half with Bleyendaal, Keatley and Hanrahan all in selection plans. Both sides will go at this fixture for the opening period but expect massive personnel changes in the second half. Leinster have an excellent home record against Munster in recent years and it will be the same again, think the squad depth is superior than Munster who could struggle in the lineout again. Leinster by seven points for me.
This is probably the fixture of the Pro 14 weekend. Two in form teams of recent weeks lock horns in the altitude of Bloemfontein. The Cheetahs look a far different proposition to Pro 14 teams in South Africa, Their points haul in the last two fixtures has being outstanding. Zebre Rugby and Leinster Rugby have felt the attacking threat and offloading speed from the Cheetahs. Glasgow Warriors come into this game with a 100% record. Their demolition of Munster in round four was a standout performance but their performance against Benetton Rugby was a timely reminder to all concerned with the Scotstoun based outfit that consistency in performance is still a work in progress. A good acid test for Glasgow Warriors and if they can come out of this fixture still unbeaten, then it will be a massive momentum lift ahead of ERC action. The Cheetahs do not fear anyone at home and the altitude factor means that I am siding with the South African side. A win for the Cheetahs by seven points plus which will bring the South African outfit further into the Conference A mix. I cannot wait for this fixture.
Local Welsh derby bragging rights but not much else for either side to shout about. Cardiff Blues have endured a poor start to the season both on and off the pitch. Dragons have won two games so far but they have also received some bruising hammerings as well. Whoever loses this fixture can probably accept that playoff rugby will be over before the race has started. Blues need this win desperately. A spirited performance at Thomond Park until the sin bin and the side folded in quick time with Munster securing the bonus point try just before the final quarter. Blues have the more experienced pack and Tom James on the wing is producing stellar numbers in meters gained. Dragons youthful squad is a work in progress. Jackman will look for further improvement but Blues with the home advantage just about will get the nod here by three points. The hope is that both sides improve as the season progresses as both look like not featuring in the playoff picture even this start in the season.
Richard Cockerill has called this fixture as a must win fixture for Edinburgh if they harbor any ambitions of being in the conference playoff picture. Zebre Rugby come into this fixture as a dangerous opponent. Their win against Ulster was fully merited; they outworked and were more clinical than the Irish province last weekend. Michael Bradley and coaching staff must be thrilled with the early season successes. Edinburgh stayed close against Leinster Rugby last weekend and perhaps were unlucky not to win the game. The lack of attacking threat has being their issue and Tovey needs to launch his outside backs with more regularity. Intensity needs to be on point as well and suspect with the words of Cockerill ringing in their ears this week, the hosts will win with a bonus point. Edinburgh by ten. Zebre Rugby exertions against Ulster key in the final quarter.
Ospreys are in must win Pro 14 fixture territory. Licking their wounds from a mauling both on and off the pitch in Bloemfontein, Steve Tandy and team need to produce a performance against the reigning league champions who have impressed massively this season. The news that Rhys Webb is off to France will only add to the gloom factor around the Liberty Stadium but surely there is fight in the Ospreys. A local derby game, memories of last season when Scarlets trounced Ospreys in the regular league season finale. Ospreys need to kick start their season and have more reasons to win this encounter. Scarlets will look to attack Ospreys out wide at every opportunity. The hosts will need to pick their spots to attack Scarlets but the front five need to impose their will on the game. Ospreys to win, inspired by performances from Tipuric and Jones. Davies’ absence at the breakdown a key factor to why I am siding with the hosts. A tight affair but Ospreys need this win, otherwise the season will hit new lows and more calls for Tandy to go.
Benetton Rugby have a glorious opportunity to steady the ship after an encouraging performance against Glasgow Warriors last weekend. Three tries at Scotstoun was an excellent effort and despite falling off in the last quarter, positive signs are there for the league, the club and more importantly the national team. Benetton Rugby’s work rate, defensive organization and attacking ability should be too much for a Southern Kings side who quite frankly have being a massive disappointment. Their squad looks ill-equipped to compete in this league. The early signs and defensive displays have not being to the standard required. Benetton Rugby should win and secure the bonus point try. Benetton Rugby should have their third win of the season this weekend. Encouraging signs and a side who will be a test for any opponents in the months to come.
Two sides who have points to prove. Ulster were looking like a side who had turned the corner from an inconsistent league campaign last season. 4/4 and all looked pretty heading into a game against Zebre Rugby which looked like a regulation win but the form book was turned upside down thanks to serious under-performance, inferior work rate and lack of precision in attacking play. This weekend is a chance to right the wrongs of last weekend but the jury is now out on the side with stern tests awaiting in ERC and Pro 14 in the weeks to come. Connacht are a team in transition. The noises coming from the Sportsgrounds is that they are looking for improvement with each passing week. Their performances have being inconsistent at best, big lapses in concentration has costed the Westerners at least two wins so far this season. Kieran Keane knows the magnitude of the job after five games and will be looking for more defensive improvements to complement the attacking style of play on show last weekend against the Scarlets. Connacht’s record at Kingspan Stadium is abysmal and the inconsistencies in defense and attack are too much here to bridge. It is a win for Ulster by ten points.