We stand at the new decade’s dawn and after counting up the numbers they show that Round 9 capped off the 2010s in serious style – with five sell-outs across six derby matches. With the games played across three days from Boxing Day fans across Europe were clearly in the mood to play their part in those intense rivalries, with a total of 101,994 roaring on the derbies.
The sell-outs started on Boxing Day as the resurgent Dragons visited Cardiff Arms Park, coming away with a 16-12 defeat in an absorbing contest, followed by Scarlets’ win over Ospreys, and continued on Friday as the Kingspan faithful watched five-star Ulster beat Connacht 35-3.
Saturday saw a full-to-the-brim, sun-drenched Stadio Monigo as Benetton edged Zebre 36-25, and a long sold-out Thomond Park as Leinster won once more thanks to one of the most punishing defensive efforts in recent memory.
Finally, not a sell-out but the best attended game of the round, Edinburgh’s 1872 Cup win over Glasgow Warriors at BT Murrayfield had a record attendance of 27,437 – most of whom will not forget that magnificent match for many a year, or Bill Mata’s offload.
Across Round Nine the average attendance was 16,999 – and as Round 10 flies in on Friday with another four derbies on the card, remarkably just seven points now split the top six sides in Conference B, as the intensity ramps up only further in 2020.
FRI - Blues v Scarlets
Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff | KO 19:35| Live on Premier Sports 2, eir Sport 2, DAZN, pro14.tv
Those four Round 10 derbies kick-off on Friday night with a sumptuous pair of fixtures, the Welsh edition of which features Cardiff Blues at home again – this time with Scarlets knocking at the gates. This one is stacking up to be a cracker in that ultra-competitive Conference B, with Scarlets third on 27 points and Blues four points below in fifth.
Will a leapfrogging the order of the day? Possibly, but no quarter will be given at the Arms Park – Cardiff Blues have won their last four Guinness PRO14 matches while Scarlets’ only defeat in their last four in all competitions was to Dragons in Round 8.
FRI – Ulster v Munster
Kingspan Stadium, Belfast | KO 19:35 | Live on Premier Sports 1, eir Sport 1, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Irish teams lay it all on the line in the Interpros and expect nothing less as Munster bid to become the first visiting side to win at the Kingspan in all competitions since October 2018. Andrew Conway inspired Munster to a narrow victory in November’s reverse fixture, sending his side top of Conference B and that is where they remain.
Home advantage proved decisive in this clash last season – Munster bulldozed to a 64-7 success at Thomond Park but Ulster bit back to win 19-12 on home soil. Sean Reidy’s industry will be key to the hosts – he has made the most tackles (124) in the Guinness PRO14.
SAT – Benetton v Glasgow Warriors
Stadio Monigo, Treviso | KO 13:00 | Live on Premier Sports 2, eir sport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Two teams with similar Guinness PRO14 records go head-to-head in a cross-Conference clash in Italy. Both Benetton and Glasgow have claimed four wins and been beaten five times in the opening nine rounds of competition, although Benetton have seven bonus points to Glasgow’s three. The Warriors have scored 27 tries to Benetton’s 25, so a close game seems in store. The Scottish side will be smarting from their 1872 Cup defeat to Edinburgh on Saturday, and will be equally desperate to avert defeat to Benetton in Italy for a second successive season.
SAT – Dragons v Ospreys
Rodney Parade, Newport | KO 15:00 | Live on Premier Sports 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Can Ospreys turn the tide and pull a win from the fire of a Welsh derby? Eight defeats from nine Guinness PRO14 outings represents a miserable season so far for the Neath-Swansea side and news that Scott Williams will sit out this key clash won’t help matters.
They face a Dragons outfit doubtless buoyed by a dramatic 22-20 win over Welsh rivals Scarlets, sealed with a late Sam Davies drop goal in Round 8, although falling to defeat in Round 9. Dean Ryan’s men have won three games so far this season and sit fifth in Conference A, of which Ospreys are bottom.
SAT – Zebre v Toyota Cheetahs
Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma | KO 15:00 (UK) 16:00 (ITA) | Live on SuperSport 1, DAZN, Freesports, pro14.tv
The South African sides return to action in Round 10 and, after seeing their form dip slightly following a great start to the season, Toyota Cheetahs travel to Italy in high spirits after their 18-13 win over Ospreys last time out. Hawies Fourie’s side currently occupy a Finals Series place, sitting third in Conference A and have never lost to Zebre.
Michael Bradley’s men may have ended their 20-match winless run in Round 7 but two defeats to bitter rivals Benetton will sting and they will need to turn their poor home record around.
SAT – Leinster v Connacht
RDS Arena, Dublin | KO 17:30 | Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sport 1, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
The superlatives keep coming for Leinster, after they ground their way to a ninth successive win this season with festive victory over Munster. The Conference A leaders still have a perfect record and can equal their best ever start to a campaign with victory on Saturday, their previous best coming when they won all 10 games to take the trophy during the 2001/02 season.
Connacht, meanwhile, are struggling for form having won just one of their last four Guinness PRO14 fixtures. They will also need to overcome history if they are to triumph over Leinster – having not beaten their opponents in Dublin since 2002.
SAT – Edinburgh v Isuzu Southern Kings
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh | KO 19:45 | Live on Premier Sport 1, eir Sport 2, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Richard Cockerill’s men are in great form and full on confidence following their 29-19 1872 Cup win over Glasgow Warriors. They have only been beaten once in their last eight matches in all competitions and they’re unbeaten at BT Murrayfield this season. Enter Isuzu Southern Kings. Kings have just one win to their name this campaign, in Round 6 at Ospreys, but recent history is on their side as they did win the most recent meeting of these sides in January.