Round 10, the last round for Guinness Pro4 teams to gain confidence ahead of the December ERC fixtures. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action and conceivably we may have to wait until the final fixture to see any potential fireworks.
Edinburgh Rugby will look to get back to winning ways after they arrive to Port Elizabeth to face a winless Southern Kings outfit. The hosts though have threatened in recent league fixture of breaking their league duck.
The Ulster and Scarlets performances were encouraging, some excellent attacking play but as so often in this campaign, defensive lapses and indiscipline have proven costly.
Edinburgh were not disgraced in their loss to the Toyota Cheetahs at fortress Bloemfontein. Special note to Hidalgo-Clyne whose performance was superb, scored all his side’s points and is getting back to the form which saw the scrum-half in a Scottish jersey.
If Edinburgh can negotiate the opening quarter with minimum difficulty, expect Richard Cockerill’s charges to win with a bonus point to boot. The Scottish national team contingent will provide that extra quality to get over the line.
The wait for the Southern Kings to secure that maiden win looks likely to extend into the mid-December at least, will be interesting to see their performance tomorrow given recent cameos but Edinburgh Rugby’s organization and skill set should suffice.
This is a difficult fixture to call. I am expecting Bernard Jackman and his team to deliver a strong performance at Rodney Parade given their recent form and results against Munster and Leinster respectively.
Those heavy losses have fallen along familiar lines. Pack suffocated by their opposition, penalty count on the rise, field possession surrendered, points conceded at a rate of knots.
Dragons did show some glimpses of promise last weekend against Leinster. An early ten point start showed dynamic attacking with Henson providing much needed experience. However, a good opening quarter evaporated thereafter.
Ulster Rugby come into this game with plenty of question marks. An utterly unconvincing performance against a resolute Benetton Rugby (missing many first line players) last weekend has raised more questions on the style, consistency and management of the side.
Les Kiss has responded by bringing in a couple of promising academy players for this road trip fixture. Tommy Bowe is positioned in the three quarters. The pack welcomes van der Merwe in the front row, a welcome addition given the issues at scrum time.
This is a fixture which will heap pressure on either head coach. Jackman will argue that this is a transitional period but yet another trouncing to Irish provincial opposition will surely provide food for thought for anyone connected to the Welsh region.
Les Kiss has endured a difficult time at Ulster Rugby; the side has all the talent on paper to stake a serious aspirations in both domestic and ERC action but the performances on the park have being labored and lacking consistency. The Paddy Jackson / Stuart Holding situation certainly has not helped.
Tough fixture to call. If a dry track, then Ulster Rugby have the skill set to win this with a bit to spare. However, something is telling me that Dragons are due a good performance and in front of their home crowd, slight nod to the Gwent region.
I saw the Cardiff Blues game last weekend, probably the standout game of the round. Blues played a fast, uptempo game and with the emergence of Lane and James in the back line, decisive line breaks were created.
The weak points were indiscipline where Nick Williams was the prominent contentious figure. The pack struggled at scrum time at times and the manner in which Connacht’s pack were able to maul their way for tries in the second half spoke volumes.
Blues have an arduous trip in front of them this weekend, playing a Glasgow Warriors side who are the form team of Conference A. Their demolition of the Ospreys last weekend with their fringe squad continuing the dominance enjoyed since the start of the season.
If this game is played on a dry track, expect plenty of tries. Blues will look to go toe to toe with their hosts creating expansive line breaks but they are up against an incredibly efficient side whose clinical try scoring ability is unmatched in this conference.
Glasgow Warriors to extend their winning streak in the league to ten on the bounce this season. Their international players returning from duty will add more potency to an already well drilled squad. Glasgow with a bonus point. Cardiff Blues to contribute to a good contest, their road trip win to Toulouse gives hope but this is a step too far given last week’s cameo.
Saturday afternoon kicks off with the clash of Zebre Rugby and Connacht Rugby. This is a key fixture particularly for the visitors as defeat potentially could consign the Westerners to realistically not challenging for playoff positions.
Zebre Rugby were given ample opportunities to punish an undisciplined Munster Rugby last weekend. Two tries were scored in the opening period but the manner of the performance left plenty for improvement.
The pack were second best. Game management unraveled in the second half with Munster Rugby availing of a couple of 5 meter scrums. Players not in tune with their skill set, trying the outrageous moves behind their posts. They got away with plenty in the breakdown and another officiating crew could be busy pinging the Italian outfit.
Connacht Rugby fell just short last weekend. Their comeback in the second half was admirable but indiscipline and lapses at different stages of the contest proving pivotal. Griffin yellow card, line break created but lack of Blues support looked like scuppering the move before the deliberate knock-on.
The back play at times was superb and with the pack revitalized in the second half with a couple of maul tries scored by Delahunt, confidence should be high to secure a bonus point win. Zebre Rugby look ripe for the picking here and Connacht Rugby know only a bonus point win will put any pressure on their conference rivals.
Benetton Rugby are a side which impressed me last weekend. Their defensive organization on point in recent road trips continued at Kingspan Stadium and only for a late Ulster Rugby try would have secured a win.
With their Italian national side players back with the club, Leinster Rugby will have to be produce an efficient performance to secure a road trip victory.
Leinster Rugby scored fifty plus points against a Dragons side who were hapless at times but the first quarter will have being used to good effect in video analysis. The side were far too loose and Dragons took full advantage with a quick ten point lead.
The Leinster Rugby squad depth is superb and it will be interesting to see how Cullen and Lancaster play this fixture. Do they retain the players who have impressed last week or do they slot a couple of first choice players into the mix ahead of ERC action?
A fixture which will be a proper gauge of where Benetton Rugby are in their development, expect a strong performance but Leinster Rugby are playing some lovely rugby at present. Larmour for me has being a revelation in recent weeks. Leinster to win, perhaps with the bonus point late but the hosts will show good signs of progress in an entertaining encounter.
This is a fixture with banana skin written all over for Munster Rugby. An opening fixture for Johann van Graan to impress the locals against an opposition who are reeling from a horrendous home loss to Glasgow Warriors.
The Ospreys team selection will make interesting reading given that Wales will play South Africa this weekend. Fourth international game on the bounce and the Welsh regions will feel the strain with the other home nations able to call their full squads.
Ospreys with a side full of fringe, academy and subset of established stars have nothing to lose in truth. Sam Davies, Bradley Davies, Dan Evans are quality players and surely there has to be a reaction from the players at least after last weekend. The less said about last week the better, the second half display was abject, two intercept tries to rub salt into the wounds.
Munster Rugby enter this game with plenty of scope to improve. Yes, they beat Zebre Rugby. Yes, they did secure a bonus point but the manner of the performance was inconsistent at best. The discipline was abject at times with Copeland pinged for his party piece, deliberate kill the ball at the breakdown. Arnold’s sin bin a culmination of Munster indiscretions.
The key point for Munster Rugby management is the three quarter positions. Farrell is out until the New Year. Earls looks unlikely to feature as well. Who fills the thirteen position? Sam Arnold’s name could come into the mix. Intriguing subplot there and the ten jersey again up for grabs with Keatley looking for more game time. JJ was inconsistent last week, defensively needs to improve.
A fast track at Irish Independent Park. Munster Rugby need to produce a performance ahead of their Leicester Tigers ERC fixtures. Ospreys to provide a spirited performance. Munster Rugby to win performance and discipline issues could be far from perfect.
The tie of the round. Cheetahs at home; their fortress in Bloemfontein will be provided a stern test by the reigning league champions. However, with depleted squad depth due to the Welsh international, team selection will be interesting.
Cheetahs at home have shown excellent form, their second half performances in altitude has put every team apart from Glasgow Warriors to the sword. Their speed of movement, attacking lines and quick passing has being a joy to watch.
Scarlets struggled for periods against the Southern Kings, a narrow win but one which saw prominent roles for the likes of Beirne, Jones and they delivered with superb tries.
The news of Scott Williams’ departure is a blow to the club but the Scarlets have stayed classy and are looking to the future. The future of George North will come into the equation and what a signing if the players rejoins the club.
Given the squad options, edge this encounter to the Toyota Cheetahs but Scarlets and Cheetahs will produce a superb passing contest, tries galore, cannot wait.