Five rounds…five wins - Leo Cullen’s Leinster have been simply superb at the start of the 2019-20 Guinness PRO14 season.
Cullen’s men dismantled Dragons 50-15 at RDS Arena on Friday night, marshalled around the field by 20-year-old fly-half Harry Byrne, a display worthy of being the only unbeaten side left in the competition.
Could that run end in Round 6 though? Some are predicting so with the defending champions heading to Connacht for Friday night rugby this weekend. The men in Galway are in fine form themselves following their impressive 20-10 victory on the road at Ospreys last weekemd.
At the same time on Friday Dean Ryan’s Dragons will face another tricky away trip as they head to Richard Cockerill’s fortress Edinburgh, while the action on Saturday kicks off with two 3pm matches – Ospreys vs Isuzu Southern Kings and Zebre vs Glasgow Warriors.
That home fixture looks like a good opportunity for Zebre to get their first win on the board while Toyota Cheetahs still seek that elusive away win. They travel to Cardiff Blues after being narrowly edged out 17-13 by Scarlets, their second close defeat on the road in as many weeks.
There are two cracking fixtures still to come on Saturday, Benetton search for their third win on the spin, at Parc y Scarlets, and there’s a small matter of a superb-looking Interprovincial Derby at Thomond Park. Munster versus Ulster, both on four wins, both on 19 points, and local rivalries into the mix? That one’s going to be big.
Edinburgh v Dragons - BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
A word of warning to Dragons fans: Edinburgh has won both home games they have played this season in the Championship, scoring seven tries in each, against Zebre and Scarlets. Dean Ryan will be busy plotting a defence that can prevent the same happening but likely won’t be helped by Edinburgh coming off the back of 18-16 defeat at Benetton – exactly the type of match Cockerill would have wanted to win in super-competitive Conference B. Dragons will put up a fight and are in decent shape despite the loss to Leinster, winning three of their last six, and will be inspired by that 52-28 victory on the road at Zebre in early October.
Connacht v Leinster - The Sportsground, Galway
Two of the standout sides in the first five rounds of the Guinness PRO14, Irish rivals Connacht and Leinster have won a sum total nine of their 10 matches so far. Someone’s proud record will fall, therefore, with Leinster dropping just one point all season to unsurprisingly perch atop of Conference A with Connacht currently sitting pretty behind only Munster in Conference B. And the reigning champions will look to spring a repeat of last season’s visit to Galway, where they emerged with a 20-3 victory thanks to scores from Sean Cronin and Garry Ringrose. Connacht, on the other hand, will look to their seven-try 47-10 blitz of the reigning champions back in April 2018.
Zebre v Glasgow Warriors - Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma
Zebre will have to do something that they have never done before if they are to get their first win of their Guinness PRO14 season: topple the Glasgow Warriors. 14 times the two sides have met, and on all 14 occasions, last year’s finalists have emerged with the points. To make things worse, now could well be a tough time to face Dave Rennie’s side: with a plethora of World Cup stars now settled back in and in the wake of their 50-0 win over the Isuzu Southern Kings last time out. Zebre, however, will take heart from their last match on home soil, where they lost out only narrowly to Leinster.
Ospreys v Isuzu Southern Kings - Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Two teams desperate for a result do battle in south Wales on Saturday afternoon as the Isuzu Southern Kings continue their European tour with a visit to Ospreys. With just one win between them this season, the clash could prove the perfect opportunity for either outfit to kick-start something. The Kings will look for a vast improvement after they shipped 50 points without themselves making an impression on the scoreboard against the Warriors, while Ospreys get a second bite of the cherry at the Liberty, after they were last week beaten 20-10 by Connacht. With only two meetings between the two, there is a small sample size to assess, but Ospreys’ pair of wins against the South Africans – home and away – will give the Welsh side hope for a third.
Cardiff Blues v Toyota Cheetahs - Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
Since their opening day victory against the Kings in South Africa, Cardiff Blues have endured a frustrating start to their 2019/20 Guinness PRO14 campaign, slipping to four straight defeats against Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and Munster. As they prepare to right their wrongs against their second South African opponents, John Mulvihill’s side will be pleased to know the odds are in their favour. The Blues have won five of their seven showdowns with South African opponents in the Championship, while the Cheetahs have not won away from home since beating the Kings in January. With the Blues not having lost three matches in a row at the Arms Park since December 2016, it will take some performance from the Cheetahs to steal victory in Cardiff.
Munster v Ulster - Thomond Park, Limerick
Both Munster and Ulster have only suffered one defeat in five rounds of Guinness PRO14 so far this season, and both were to the same team – Toyota Cheetahs. Saturday’s fixture is set to be a close one with both sides gunning to keep up their winning form, particularly hosts Munster, who currently sit top of Conference B. The Munstermen are unbeaten at home in their last 24 games in all tournaments since Leinster beat them in Round 11 of the 2017/18 season, and they have not lost to Ulster on home turf since the 2013/14 campaign.
Scarlets v Benetton Rugby - Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
Benetton will be on a mission to secure their first away win at Parc y Scarlets since May 2013 when they make the trip to Wales on Saturday but face a stern test against a Scarlets side flying high in Conference B. The Welshmen have only lost one of their last nine fixtures at Parc y Scarlets in all tournaments and have lost just twice to Benetton in their last 14 encounters in all competitions, a statistic sure to boost confidence that they can keep pace with Munster and Connacht at the summit of the table.