Pro14 – Preview Round 8

 

The Guinness PRO14 action is coming thick and fast with the 2020/21 season now firmly in full swing, and Round 8 promises another bout of thrills and spills as each of the 12 contesting teams looks to strengthen their Conference standing.

Dragons return to the field having not played a game since November 1, and Dean Ryan’s men will be itching to get their second victory of the campaign away at the so-far winless Benetton.

Elsewhere, fellow Irish side's Ulster and Munster can extend their own unbeaten starts, away at 2019/20 semi-finalists Edinburgh and at home to Zebre respectively.

Saturday - Connacht v Ospreys

Sitting third in Conference B having played just five games due to Covid-19 postponements, Connacht’s three wins and two defeats represent a steady start for the 2015/16 champions who are bidding to re-capture former glories.

An impressive 47-12 win at Zebre on their last outing marked the perfect response to the home defeat at the hands of Scarlets a week earlier, and Andy Friend’s charges will be itching to get a first win over a Welsh region this season to strengthen their play-off push.

Ospreys have shown flashes of their potential with three wins from seven thus far, but their 25-10 victory over Edinburgh on an opening day was just their first win away in any competition in the last two seasons.

Having ended a three-game losing run in the Championship by edging out Benetton 24-22 in Swansea last time out, Toby Booth’s men will be hoping to use their winning momentum to claim victory over an Irish province for only the second time since October 2018.

Sunday - Benetton v Dragons

Benetton is the only team left in the Guinness PRO14 without a win to their name this season but can take plenty of heart from their last-gasp defeat at the hands of Ospreys last time out, which featured a hat-trick for hooker Hame Faiva.

The Italians will be hoping their next opponents' Dragons will be suitably rusty in their first match for four weeks due to Covid-19, as they bid to add to their two bonus points and start climbing the Conference B table.

The Welshmen will be looking to kick-start their campaign which features just one win from their four matches so far, coming against Benetton’s fellow countrymen Zebre 26-18 in Round 2.

That success represents their only victory in all competitions since February, while the Stadio Monigo is historically a less favourable destination for the Newport-based side, having won there just once before, in 2015.

Sun - Scarlets v Leinster

The Round 8 Guinness PRO14 fixture between Scarlets and Leinster has been postponed.

The game was due to take place on Sunday, November 29 in Llanelli, however, a small number of Scarlets players have returned positive cases of Covid-19 and others identified as close contacts are now isolating. Having considered all of the available evidence, the PRO14 Rugby Medical Advisory Group has deemed that this fixture cannot go ahead as scheduled.

Ulster Rugby, who played against Scarlets on Sunday, carried out routine squad testing today and will receive their results in the next 24 hours.

Sunday - Cardiff Blues v Glasgow Warriors

Glasgow Warriors and Cardiff Blues both sit fourth in Conferences A and B respectively, but it is the latter who will be happier with their exploits so far in 2020/21.

John Mulvihill’s men have won just once in the last five rounds of the Guinness PRO14 but put up a stubborn showing in a 40-5 defeat last time out against Leinster and have three wins to their name.

The Welshmen have beaten Scottish opposition just once since 2018 but have only lost on one occasion at home since they started playing at Rodney Parade in August.

Warriors have won their last eight matches against Blues in all competitions and will be hoping history repeats itself having fallen to four defeats on the spin since beating Scarlets in Round 2.

Monday - Munster v Zebre
 
Munster have stormed into an emphatic 11-point lead at the top of Conference B despite having only played six matches - and they will be confident of stretching their unbeaten start at home to a side they have beaten in each of the teams’ 15 previous meetings.

Johann van Graan’s men saw off Glasgow Warriors 27-13 on their travels last time out and return to home turf where they have not been defeated in any tournament in 2020.

Zebre impressed with 23-17 victory over Ospreys earlier in November, but two thumping defeats at the hands of Ulster and Connacht in their most recent outings have left them bottom of Conference A.

Michael Bradley will be hoping his men can upset the odds and earn what would be only their second victory away at an Irish province, their first coming against Connacht in 2018.

Monday - Edinburgh v Ulster

Last season’s semi-finalists Edinburgh will be hoping to return to match action fit and re-energised after their Round 7 clash with Dragons was postponed, having been beaten 50-10 by Leinster a week earlier.

Though that result came after successive Championship victories, boss Richard Cockerill will be aware of the threats unbeaten Ulster pose, with the Belfast-based side having gotten the better of them in 2019/20's last four.

That victory was Ulster’s fourth in a row against Edinburgh, while the Irishmen have also won on their last three visits to Scottish rugby HQ.
Just two points behind Leinster in the Conference A standings, Dan McFarland will be hoping Ulster can follow up a gutsy 26-24 win over Scarlets in Round 7 with an eighth successive win here, to keep the heat on their compatriots.