Leinster’s impressive victory over Conference B leaders Munster last time out maintained their unbeaten start to the campaign as they bid for a third successive title, but there were also strong showings from the likes of Edinburgh Rugby, Ulster and Scarlets.
This weekend marks the return of Toyota Cheetahs and Isuzu Southern Kings to the fold after a five week absence, and with Round 10 being the last bout of action before two weeks of European competition, each side will be desperate to boost their domestic credentials.
So, with all that in mind and the shape of both tables firmly taking hold, here are three bold predictions for Round 10 – while you can also make your own on the Guinness PRO14 app!
Blues to be humbled by free-scoring Scarlets
Just seven points splits the top six sides in Conference B, and rival Welsh regions Cardiff Blues and Scarlets are both well in the mix, in fifth and third respectively.
After a somewhat inconsistent start to proceedings, John Mulvihill’s Blues have seen their quest for a play-off spot strengthened recently with wins in their last four Guinness PRO14 matches, including closely-fought contests against fellow Welshmen Dragons and Ospreys in their last two fixtures.
But, if recent form is an indicator of where this match is headed, Blues could be in for a tough Friday evening at home to 2016/17 champions Scarlets, who are fresh from a thumping 44-0 win over Ospreys.
Brad Mooar’s men have won just one of their last 12 away league matches, but with Uzair Cassiem (99) and Josh Macleod (13) topping the charts for carries and turnovers – as well as the likes of Ryan Conbeer and Leigh Halfpenny showing their finest form – expect them to further close the gap to leaders Munster.
Ulster to showcase Conference A strength
In another Friday night thriller, two of the season’s standout sides – Ulster and Munster – come head-to-head in Belfast with both outfits ultimately determined to go one better than their run to the semi-finals in 2018/19.
Munster sit pretty at the top of Conference B and will be determined to bounce back from a disappointing home defeat to double-defending champions Leinster, but could hardly have been handed a tougher task than a trip to Dan McFarland’s high-flying Ulster.
Conference A’s second-placed side have lost just one of their last seven matches in all competitions – to Leinster – and most recently humbled 2015/16 champions Connacht 35-3.
With the likes of overall top points scorer John Cooney (76) and top tackler Sean Reidy (124) showcasing such imperious form, expect Ulster to continue their fine run and deal Munster their third Guinness PRO14 defeat in four here.
Unwelcome return for Cheetahs
Cheetahs’ blistering start to the campaign encouraged whispers of a serious 2019/20 title bid, and they will be determined to boost their credentials in their first league clash since late November away at lowly Zebre.
Hawies Fourie’s men endured a dip in form towards winter which saw them suffer three successive defeats, but a 18-13 win at Ospreys last time out gave them a platform to build on and they will be confident of maintaining their unbeaten record against the Italians here.
But while Zebre sit just one point off the foot of Conference A – and have 12 points less than the Bloemfontein-based side despite having played two more matches – a Round 7 win over Dragons, and victory over Brive in the European Challenge Cup, showed they are capable of turning it on.
Michael Bradley’s side will be eager to right the wrongs of two defeats to Italian rivals Benetton in their last two games, and with Cheetahs notoriously weaker on the road, a challenging visit to Parma could provide them with the worst possible return to the Guinness PRO14.