Weekend in Focus: The road to Cardiff starts here

Luke Baker
26 September 2019

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The waiting is almost over as the Guinness PRO14 season finally gets underway with a bang on Friday night.

Seven intriguing encounters will be taking place in South Africa, Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland over the weekend with every game available to watch live, as the road to the Guinness PRO14 Final in Cardiff next year begins.

It all starts when the Toyota Cheetahs host last year’s runners-up Glasgow Warriors on Friday in Bloemfontein – the first time a South African team have hosted on the opening weekend – and here’s what to watch out for in Round 1.


Toyota Cheetahs v Glasgow Warriors

Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein | KO 19:05 SA / 18:05 UK | Live on Super Sport, Premier Sports, eir Sport & DAZN – Broadcast partners

There is understandably plenty of excitement among Cheetahs fans over the new season following their Currie Cup success, and that will only heighten with an opening clash against Dave Rennie’s free-scoring Glasgow Warriors.

Warriors made it all the way to the Guinness PRO14 Final at Celtic Park last season before going down to all-conquering Leinster and they traditionally start the season quickly, so expect a high-scoring thriller in Bloemfontein

Player to look out for: Huw Jones – Glasgow Warriors

Huw Jones was one of the shock omissions from Gregor Townsend’s World Cup squad but Scotland’s loss is Warriors’ gain. The centre will have a point to prove and a Glasgow midfield duo of Jones and Nick Grigg have bags of experience to call upon.

Fast fact: The Warriors’ only defeat in Round 1 since 2012 was at home to Scarlets in 2015.

Ulster v Ospreys

 Kingspan Stadium, Belfast | KO 19:35 UK | Live on Premier Sports & DAZN – Broadcast partners

The other game on Friday night is in Belfast where Ulster host the Ospreys, with both teams looking to build on strong campaigns under rookie coaches Dan McFarland and Allen Clarke.

Ulster are a formidable outfit at home and have a number of experienced campaigners who only just missed out on World Cup selection to call on, while Ospreys’ midfield of Scott Williams and Cory Allen also oozes international class.

Player to look out for: Jordi Murphy – Ulster

Jordi Murphy was unlucky to miss out on a spot in Joe Schmidt’s back-row options for Japan but a rugby player scorned is a dangerous one and the 29-cap Irishman will be looking to take some frustration out on the Ospreys.

Fast fact: Ulster have lost only once at Kingspan Stadium in any competition since February 2018: 22-15 to Connacht last October


Munster v Dragons

Thomond Park, Limerick | KO 15:00 UK | Live on TG4, eir Sport, Free Sports, DAZN – Broadcast partners

The Dean Ryan era at the Dragons begins with one of the more daunting challenges in the sport – travelling to Thomond Park is demanding at the best of times, let alone for your first game in charge, but Ryan has never been one to shirk a challenge.

He has inspired plenty of optimism so far at Rodney Parade, while Munster are excited to have added Australia legend Stephen Larkham to their coaching team and it will be fascinating to see his early impact.

Player to look out for: Sam Davies – Dragons

Sam Davies’ switch from Ospreys to Dragons over the summer generated plenty of headlines in Wales and now it’s time for the talented fly-half – who was world under-20 player of the year in 2013 – to re-ignite his international ambitions and finally put Dragons on an upwards trajectory

Fast fact: Dragons have not won on the road in the Championship since a trip to Treviso in March 2015, whilst their most recent victory at an Irish province was over Leinster at the RDS Arena in February 2015.

Isuzu Southern Kings v Cardiff Blues

NMB Stadium, Port Elizabeth | KO 16:00 SA /15:00 UK | Live on Super Sport, eir Sport, Premier Sports, DAZN – Broadcast partners

This off-season was one of massive change for Isuzu Southern Kings, so it will be intriguing to see how they line up against John Mulvihill’s well-drilled Cardiff Blues side.

From a Blues perspective, year two under Mulvihill will be about stepping up from last term and the likes of Owen Lane and Jarrod Evans will want to make a statement after narrowly missing out on Wales’ World Cup squad.

Player to look out for: Dimitri Catrakilis – Isuzu Southern Kings

One key Kings signing is that of Dimitri Catrakilis. The former Stormers, Montpellier and Harlequins man brings a wealth of experience and an accurate boot that should offer some stability alongside the attacking threats of Masixole Banda and Yaw Penxe in the back three.

Fast fact: The Kings’ record against Welsh regions in the Guinness PRO14 is won one, drawn one, lost ten.

Benetton Rugby v Leinster

Stadio Monigo, Treviso | KO 18:15 ITA / 17:15 UK | Live on DAZN, Premier Sports, eir Sport – Broadcast partners

Benetton and Leinster have played out some thrillers in recent seasons and with a win and a draw in Dublin on their last two visits, Benetton will clearly have no fear of Leinster – even without a massive World Cup contingent.

Kieran Crowley still has plenty of talent at his disposal despite the missing Azzurri stars, while no Guinness PRO14 team has more depth than Leinster and you wouldn’t bet against the likes of back-rowers Caelan Doris and Scott Penny in the back row or centre Conor O’Brien to start emerging as a superstar over the next few weeks.

Player to look out for: Antonio Rizzi – Benetton Rugby

Antonio Rizzi is the coming man in Italy at fly-half and this is the season the supremely-talented youngster needs to step and start asserting himself on the No.10 role. Having the experienced Ian Keatley as a new signing to learn from will only help the 21-year-old.

Fast fact: Benetton Rugby reached the Guinness PRO14 Final Series for the first time last year, despite winning just once in the last four rounds of the regular season.

Scarlets v Connacht

Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli | KO 17:15 UK | Live on S4C, Premier Sports, TG4, DAZN – Broadcast partners

The Wayne Pivac era ended with a difficult campaign, but he remains a hard act to follow after a remarkable run at the Scarlets and that is the weight on the shoulders of ex-Crusaders assistant Brad Mooar.

Four years ago in a World Cup year, Connacht flew out of the blocks during the 2015 edition and carried that momentum all the way to the title. Once again they are not overly affected by international call-ups.

Player to look out for: Samson Lee – Scarlets

The feisty prop will have been devastated to miss out on Warren Gatland’s World Cup squad and Connacht could find themselves on the receiving end of his relentless scrummaging and powerful ball-carrying.

Fast facts: Connacht have won just once away from home in the Guinness PRO14 since last December: 6-5 over Zebre in Parma in April. Did you also know? Of the last five PRO14 champions, only one has lost their first match of the season (Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets in 16/17).

Edinburgh v Zebre

BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh | KO 19:35 UK | Live on Premier Sports & DAZN – Broadcast partners

It has been a tricky week for Edinburgh, losing star back-rower Hamish Watson to what looks like a potentially long-term knee injury but Richard Cockerill will have been planning for life without Watson in the opening weeks of the season, and the back row is one area where he has reasonable depth.

Zebre will be looking to bounce back from a tricky campaign last year, albeit in a tough road encounter to start the season, and have brought in a number of experienced heads to bolster the squad over the summer including Ian Nagle, Mick Kearney and Alex Tarus.

Player to look out for: Danilo Fischetti – Zebre

Danilo Fischetti was one of the standouts from a very strong Italy Under-20s side and the loosehead prop could be pushing into the senior Azzurri team sooner rather than later, so he’ll be eager to prove himself with some consistent domestic performances first.

Fast fact: Zebre have lost their last fourteen Guinness PRO14 matches since beating Edinburgh in Parma in Round 7 last season

Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!

General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.

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