Round 4 of the Guinness PRO14 returns in style this weekend after a much-storied previous round where the undefeated Championship sides were whittled down to three.
Two of them also have a full rack of bonus points. Toyota Cheetahs and Leinster Rugby are jostling for position at the top of Conference A on 15 points, with the South Africans having swept aside Munster 40-16 last time out and Leinster recording a very similar scoreline – 40-14 - at home to Edinburgh.
The Cheetahs start their European tour at a very tricky place to travel – Connacht Rugby’s Sportsground – with Andy Friend’s side in excellent form having played some scintillating rugby at Dragons last time out – young fly-half Conor Fitzgerald pulling some tuneful strings.
Elsewhere in Conference A Leinster are at Zebre, Ulster host Cardiff Blues and there’s a mid-table battle as Glasgow Warriors travel to Dragons looking to build on their first win – an intense 17-13 over the Blues at Scotstoun. The action kicks off on Friday as Munster welcome Ospreys to Irish Independent Park, Johann van Graan’s men looking to bounce back from that defeat to Cheetahs and the Welsh region looking to build on Round 3 success against Benetton.
Elsewhere on Saturday Benetton and Isuzu Southern Kings are both without a win – they trade blows in Italy, while it all rounds off with a blockbuster finish in the evening as the other undefeated side – Scarlets - travel up to Edinburgh. Conference B is already stacking up as one of the most competitive ever, and Richard Cockerill’s men will be desperate to rein in Brad Mooar’s rejuvenated west Walians.
What’s at Stake
FRI – Munster Rugby v Ospreys
Irish Independent Park, Cork | KO 19:35 | Live: eir sport 1, Premier Sports 2, TG4, DAZN, PRO14.tv
If Ospreys are looking for inspiration for this one then look no further than their visit to Cork in February 2016, when they overcame Munster 21-17 in a memorable performance. Since then the Munstermen have taken revenge, winning their last seven against the Welsh region, but what better time for Ospreys to buck that trend than during the World Cup season? They possess miracle man Sam Parry in their ranks of course, the hooker now the only forward to score two hat-tricks in Championship history, Scott Williams grabbing their other try against Benetton. Munster conceded six tries in Bloemfontein but with first-rate players like Mike Haley, Rory Scannell and Tyler Bleyendaal in their ranks – expect a response.
FRI – Ulster Rugby v Cardiff Blues
Kinsgpan Stadium, Belfast | KO 19:35 UK | Live on S4C, eir Sport 2, DAZN, Premier Sports 1
Cardiff Blues head to the Old Smoke of Belfast with the numbers stacked against them as they look to unseat Ulster on Friday night. The hosts are unbeaten on home soil for a year, with a favourable record against Welsh regions to boot, and will be keen to keep up the pace at the summit of Conference A after the electric starts made to the Guinness PRO14 by both Leinster and the Toyota Cheetahs. The Blues are without a win since a Round 1 triumph at the Isuzu Southern Kings, but have shown battling resolve in their latest defeats, something that they will look to convert into victory this time around.
SAT – Dragons v Glasgow Warriors
Rodney Parade, Newport | KO 15:00 UK | Live on Premier Sports 2, DAZN
Two sides with points to prove do battle on the bank of the River Usk as Glasgow Warriors enter the Dragons’ den. After putting a stop to their three-game losing run in Guinness PRO14 action, the visiting Warriors will be desperate to underline their credentials as they look to replicate last season’s run all the way to the showpiece. The Dragons, meanwhile, failed to back up their away-day win at Zebre in Round 2, with Connacht running out 38-14 winners at Rodney Parade last time out. They are winless against the Warriors since February 2014, although will look to last season’s 15-15 draw in the same fixture for inspiration on Saturday.
SAT – Benetton Rugby v Isuzu Southern Kings
Stadio Monigo, Treviso | KO 15:00 (UK) / 16:00 (ITA) | Live on eir sport 2, FreeSports, Supersport 2, DAZN, PRO14.tv
Conference B’s bottom two sides meet in Treviso on Saturday as Benetton host Isuzu Southern Kings. Kieran Crowley’s side have, perhaps, been a little unlucky so far coming out on the losing end of two tight contests against Leinster and Ospreys in Round 1 and Round 3 respectively. Between that, the Italians were soundly beaten by Connacht and their creativity seems to be a problem having scored the joint second fewest amount of points in the entire competition so far. The Kings put in spirited performances in the opening two rounds but were soundly beaten by Ulster 42-17 last time out, and have never beaten Benetton in the Guinness PRO14.
SAT – Connacht v Toyota Cheetahs
The Sportsground, Galway | KO 17:15 (UK) / 18:15 (SA) | Live on eir sport 2, Premier Sports 1, SuperSport 2, TG4, DAZN, PRO14.tv
Currently enjoying their best-ever run in Guinness PRO14, having won five matches on the spin in Bloemfontein, Toyota Cheetahs must now do it the hard way on their travels and their first task comes in Ireland against Connacht. With three wins from three so far this season the Cheetahs sit top of Conference A on points difference but have not yet won on a trip to Ireland so will know they face a stiff task. Connacht have responded to their opening game defeat to Scarlets with back-to-back wins and have only lost to South African opposition once in the Championship, a statistic they will be aiming to maintain to secure a third straight victory.
SAT – Zebre Rugby Club v Leinster Rugby
Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma | KO 17:15 (UK) / 18:15 (ITA) | Live on eir sport 1, Premier Sports 2, DAZN, PRO14.tv
Two sides at opposite ends of Conference A do battle on Saturday as high-flying Leinster travel to Parma to take on bottom side Zebre. Leinster have taken three bonus-point wins from three games so far and, worryingly for the rest of the league, further reinforcements are on the horizon following Ireland’s World Cup exit in Japan. Another five-point win this weekend would see Leo Cullen’s troops become the first side in Championship history to amass 20 points from the first four rounds. Zebre face a tall task to prevent that as they have lost all 12 times they’ve faced Leinster and their last Guinness PRO14 victory of any description came against Edinburgh way back in Round 7 last season.
SAT – Edinburgh v Scarlets
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh | KO 19:35 UK | Live on eir sport 2, Premier Sports 2, SuperSport 2, DAZN, PRO14.tv; Deferred: Sunday 14:05 on S4C
Just four points separates leaders Scarlets and fourth-placed Edinburgh in a remarkably hotly-contested Conference B and the Welsh side will be eyeing a fourth straight league victory, for the first time since November 2017, under new coach Brad Mooar. But Edinburgh’s home record is formidable – they have lost only twice at BT Murrayfield in the Guinness PRO14 since April 2018 and haven’t been beaten by the Scarlets there in six years. Mooar’s men are the highest scorers in Conference B this term and will need to rack up more points in order to snap their three-game losing streak against Edinburgh.
NEW GUINNESS PRO14 CONFERENCES
Glasgow Warriors, Leinster Rugby, Ulster Rugby, Ospreys Rugby, Dragons Rugby, Zebre Rugby Club, Toyota Cheetahs.
Edinburgh Rugby, Munster Rugby, Connacht Rugby, Cardiff Blues, Scarlets, Benetton Rugby, Isuzu Southern Kings