Sean Holley’s Fantasy Rugby players to look out for

Joe Leavey
19 December 2019

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Week 8 of the Guinness PRO14 is Derby week! Your Fantasy Team transfers are going to have to be carefully monitored at this time of year as the games come thick and fast. And remember, there’s no South African involvement for a few weeks so don’t leave any redundant Toyota Cheetahs or Isuzu Southern Kings players lying around.

If any of you are like me in the last round (our first for this year’s Fantasy League), I got caught out by the non-selection of three of my team. A schoolboy error I won’t be making again, but now that I’ve given you all a head start, let’s take a little look at Week 7 of the competition and who the movers and shakers were that might take your fancy for this week’s selection.

There was a cracker of a match at Stadio Monigo where Benetton succumbed to a last-ditch Cardiff Blues try by winger Jason Harries as the Blues registered a much-needed win. For the home team however, there were significant individual performances.

Wing Iliesa Ratuva was the highest metres maker of the round by far – 140m gained – his nearest rival was Ulster’s Craig Gilroy with 84m. Ratuva also made 4 clean breaks, but his teammates joined in on the act with Alberto Sgarbi, Monty Ioane and Juan Ignacio Brex all breaking the line for fun. Full Back Jayden Hayward made 74m, ranked 7th for the week and Ratuva and Ioane were joint second for the week in terms of defenders beaten.

Benetton travel to Zebre on Saturday for the Italian derby so you may want to think about a few green and white selections this week.

For all their individual brilliance Benetton could not avoid defeat to the Blues for whom Matthew Morgan and Ray Lee-Lo are starting to look dangerous. Wales wing sensation and leading try scorer in the Rugby World Cup Josh Adams made his Cardiff Blues bow in Europe over the past few weeks. He could and should be in your thoughts!

Other World Cup stars will be making their returns this week so keep a keen eye on team selections and get your picks in on time. Back rowers Justin Tipuric of the Ospreys and Ross Moriarty of the Dragons should return this week, and both usually show up well in the stats department. I’ll be at Rodney Parade on Saturday for the visit of the Scarlets. Week 7 was miserable for the Dragons, well and truly pumped by a resurgent Zebre team.

But the men of Gwent turned over English Premiership’s Worcester there last week and will be boosted by a bumper crowd. The only shining light in that Zebre match for the Dragons was centre Jack Dixon who topped the offloads chart for all teams with three transfers out of contact, and young openside Taine Basham who ranked second in tackles made with 23.

As for Zebre, their famous win was assisted by superb all-round performances in attack and defence from flankers Giovanni Licata and Maxime Mbanda – the latter getting on the scoresheet. Another try scorer was full back Edoardo Padovani who beat 5 defenders and ran for 77m.

The Scarlets defeat at Ulster in Week 7 was not so much a wake-up call having only lost once previously in the season, more a realisation that they have been doing really well despite their injuries and International call ups. They will be pleased to see their top line breaker and metre maker Johnny McNicholl back for the derbies.

Leigh Halfpenny is a world class kicker and you’d be wise to include the likes of him as your designated kicker over the next few weeks.

For Ulster, the standout performers in the Kingspan victory over the Scarlets was in the back-three department.

The trio of Gilroy, Ludik and Robert Baloucoune were sensational. All the back three made the top 20 metre makers for the round and they are going to need to be on top form this week if they are to get anything out of the Conference A top of the table clash with unbeaten Leinster at the RDS.

Leinster have thus far been imperious this season. Sweeping aside Dave Rennie’s Glasgow Warriors in Week 7 at Scotstoun is no mean feat. To do it with so many international players missing speaks volumes. If you haven’t already, start taking note of names like Will Connors, Ross Moloney and Caelan Doris – all forwards that new Ireland coach Andy Farrell has certainly noticed!

It was a big defensive shift from the Leinstermen as the carrying stats from Glasgow suggests with Aki Seiuli and Johnny Gray topping the charts. Both players figured high in tackles incidentally but only Nikola Matawalu gained any sort of yardage for the Warriors.

Edinburgh’s rare victory in Cork said as much about Richard Cockerill’s team’s mindset these days as it did the 14 changes Munster made in readiness for Europe. But take nothing away from the Scotsmen with the return of 23 tackle man Stuart McInally and the all action Bill Mata at No 8, they are a genuine force to be reckoned with, and having conceded only 14 tries this season and only 114 points, they may be a good choice for your team defence this week.

Connacht did me proud last time out against the Kings although the visit of Munster this weekend might change that. Matt Healy and Bundee Aki are your Fantasy ones to watch for the men from Galway but for Munster team selection will be all important. Can I rely on Andrew Conway this week?

One thing’s for sure we’re in for a cracking round of tight matches, big crowds and returning players. Good luck with your selections. There’s a long way to go, but these next few weeks just might separate the pack. Merry Christmas everyone.

Sean Holley

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