As the plot thickens in the Guinness PRO14 last weekend confirmed a number of things for us: Leinster are going to take some stopping in defence of their title, Dragons are onto something this season and Conference B is going to chop and change all season long.
The pace only quickens with two successive game-weeks ahead of Europe’s return, with all the action back on Friday night with a superb triple-header.
After Toyota Cheetahs and Scarlets both stumbled at the weekend that one remaining unbeaten side – Leo Cullen’s Leinster – host Dragons at 19:35pm at RDS Arena and will be wary of slipping up against Dean Ryan’s men, who punished Glasgow Warriors 18-5 on Saturday.
The Warriors themselves, looking for the second win of their season, host the Isuzu Southern Kings at the same time, while the third match on Friday sees John Cooney-led Ulster host Zebre, who appear to have found a new star in Marco Manfredi.
Try picking any of the matches lined up for Saturday. In Halloween week fireworks are promised as Scarlets host Toyota Cheetahs, Ospreys host Connacht, Edinburgh travel to Benetton and Cardiff Blues welcome Munster.
All four of those games appear very well matched, the home sides all on less points and attempting to rein-in their visitors on the day with home support behind them.
Glasgow Warriors v Isuzu Southern Kings
Glasgow Warriors host the Kings at Scotstoun on Friday, a side who beat them 38-28 in Port Elizabeth in September last year, the last time the two met. Having said that, the last time this fixture was played in Glasgow the Warriors prevailed 43-13 (in October 2017) – the Kings will have hoped to have closed the gap since then. Finalists in May, the Warriors have stumbled at the start of 19/20 without their international contingent, while the Kings almost pulled off a miraculous comeback at Benetton in Round 4 (losing out 36-30). True, that maiden season win has not yet come, but the Kings have won two of their last three fixtures against Scottish opponents and will do their utmost to make that three in four.
Ulster Rugby v Zebre Rugby Club
A winless Zebre side will head into this contest determined to build on their resilient performance against Leinster, while Ulster will be buoyed by their 23-14 triumph over Cardiff Blues that consolidated their position in the Conference A table. The Italian team were defiant under the Parma lights in Round 4 despite their 3-0 loss, but have been blown away by Edinburgh, Dragons and Scarlets in recent weeks and conceded no fewer than 156 points in the process. The Ulstermen, meanwhile, will be hoping the talismanic Cooney will continue his prolific Guinness PRO14 exploits seen so far, as he sits top of the pile in terms of points scored with an impressive 48 – an average of 12 per game.
Leinster Rugby v Dragons
It has been an imperious start to Conference A for Leo Cullen’s dominant Leinster side, who sit just one point shy of a perfect tally after their hard-fought 3-0 victory over Zebre in Parma and who will be eager to continue their run against mid-table Dragons. The Welsh side toppled Glasgow Warriors 18-5 in Round 4 to show their improvements but have failed to string together two Guinness PRO14 wins since November 2016, and two successive away triumphs since March 2012. With the RDS representing something of a fortress – Leinster have lost just once there since April 2018 – the defending champions will surely be confident of extending their flawless start to the season so far.
Scarlets v Toyota Cheetahs
Toyota Cheetahs were stopped in their tracks by an impressive Connacht outfit in Round 4, suffering their first defeat of the Guinness PRO14 season in a narrow 24-22 loss. Scarlets, meanwhile, were blown away by a ruthless Edinburgh side in what was also their maiden defeat of the campaign, but will be confident of getting back to winning ways at a venue where they have lost just once in since the beginning of the year. With Cheetahs having lost their last five away games in the Championship and Scarlets coming out on top in last season’s two encounters, Brad Mooar’s side will enter the game confident of keeping the South Africans’ overall victory tally in Wales to just one.
Ospreys v Connacht
Conference B leaders Connacht are now three games unbeaten and will aim to make it four when they travel to Wales to face an Ospreys side who have won just the once so far in this campaign. The Irish side, who left it dramatically late to win against Cheetahs last time out, have also won three of their last four fixtures against Welsh opponents. Hosts Ospreys however have won their last three matches at Liberty Stadium while Connacht’s only victory in 13 previous visits to Liberty Stadium was in October 2015, so the visitors should not expect things to go all their own way.
Benetton Rugby v Edinburgh Rugby
Having got their campaign up and running at the fourth time of asking, Benetton will be looking to build on their first win when they face Edinburgh in Treviso on Saturday evening. The omens are good for the Italians, they have lost just twice at Stadio Monigo in any competition since this weekend last season and edge the head-to-heads over the past five encounters. Richard Cockerill’s men are the top scorers in Conference B and will be looking to maintain their momentum by getting their first win at Stadio Monigo since October 2017.
Cardiff Blues v Munster
Since their opening round victory in South Africa at Southern Kings Cardiff Blues have been on a downward trajectory, slipping to three straight defeats. Blues have not lost four in a row in the same season since 2015/16 but face a stiff test against second place Conference B outfit Munster. The Munstermen have lost only one of their last six encounters with Welsh regions but the last four fixtures between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day. Munster have not been victorious at the Arms Park since March 2017 but will feel they have a great chance to put that right on Saturday.