Five former Guinness PRO14 stars set for Euro returns

Tom Harle
20 November 2019

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They say ‘never go back’ but five former Guinness PRO14 stars have the chance to bite the hand that used to feed them in European rugby this weekend.

Guinness PRO14 sides flourished in the first flurry of continental games last weekend with Ulster, Connacht and Dragons leading the way.

But they must beware of five former PRO14 stalwarts set to take on their former sides – they’ll be out to halt their momentum in a crucial set of second-round clashes.

Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors v Exeter)

Hogg joined Glasgow as a promising youngster in 2010 and left earlier this year as one of the finest full-backs in world rugby.

The 27-year-old, who played a vital role in Glasgow’s maiden PRO14 title victory in 2014-15, will face his former side just months on from his summer move to England.

Both sides will be out to back up Round 1 victories and it seems Glasgow defence coach Kenny Murray has already cast sentiment aside.

“We know that Stuart’s defence maybe isn’t quite as strong as his attack, so we’ll be looking to exploit and expose that as best we can,” said Murray.

Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon v Scarlets)

There will be mixed emotions for Halfpenny when he steps out into Stade Mayol this weekend.

The Welshman was to the fore as Toulon romped to a third Champions Cup title in 2015, kicking 14 points to push them past Clermont at Twickenham.

But his final days in the south of France were dominated by contract recriminations and injury worries.

Having tasted agonising 21-20 defeat when he returned to face Toulon in 2017, Halfpenny won’t need any revving up for Friday night’s clash.

Simon Zebo (Munster v Racing 92)

Zebo’s stunning chip-and-chase try in his final home Guinness PRO14 game against Edinburgh underlined what he brought to the table in a remarkable eight-year spell at Munster.

Such was the 29-year-old’s connection with the province he couldn’t contemplate playing against them – that’ll have to change this weekend.

And with the flying winger joining lock Donnacha Ryan and backs coach Mike Prendergast in returning to Cork, they won’t have any shortage of insider knowledge.

“They might have one or two things that we use that they might be able to share with the other lads but hopefully that doesn’t come back to bite us,” said Conor Murray.

Pita Ahki (Toulouse v Connacht)

Connacht fans never quite saw Ahki in full flow – a sight the Toulouse faithful are being treated to on a weekly basis these days.

The Kiwi, a former Sevens player, was brought over by Kieran Keane and showed flashes of his hard-running game in six appearances in Galway.

The centre has shone in France, rewarded with a new contract in March and making the most of game time in the absence of Toulouse’s sizeable international contingent.

Simon Hickey (Edinburgh v Bordeaux)

Like the region’s fine wine, Simon Hickey matured in Bordeaux and it’s currently bearing fruit for Edinburgh in the Guinness PRO14.

The Kiwi spent three seasons in France, adjusting to life in Europe with aplomb and developing his kicking game greatly in the attritional fare of the Top 14.

The fine start Hickey made in Edinburgh, kicking 92 points in 19 games, was testament to how his experiences at Bordeaux brought him on.

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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