Two fierce derbies get the weekend underway on Friday night, before five fixtures on Saturday, with the action concluding at what is likely to be a raucous BT Murrayfield after Edinburgh’s 1872 Cup win.
With Conference tables taking shape and every team wanting to start their 2020 on a high, there is once again all to play for.
CARDIFF BLUES v SCARLETS
Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff | KO 19:35 | Live on Premier Sports 2, eir Sport 2, DAZN, pro14.tv
Two of those four sumptuous Round 10 derbies kick-off on Friday night, the Welsh edition featuring Cardiff Blues welcoming Scarlets to Arms Park.
Both teams come into the fixture off the back of home victories – the Blues having edged Dragons last time out, while Scarlets ran riot in their 44-0 victory over Ospreys.
The clash is set to be a decisive one with Scarlets third in Conference B on 27 points, just four points above the Blues in fifth.
The Blues will be confident, having won their last four Guinness PRO14 matches, but Scarlets are in good form too, having lost just once in the last four – to Dragons in Round 8.
😲 OUT-rageous step and dummy from @jaaaarod = easy run-in for Shane Lewis-Hughes
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 1, 2020
Players to look out for: The Blues should be boosted by the return of No.8 Nick Williams, who is available after a leg injury for Friday’s derby with Scarlets.
Meanwhile Steff Evans is the visitors’ top try scorer so far, and will be brimming with confidence after his two contributions to last week’s 44-0 hammering of Ospreys.
Fast fact: Scarlets most recent victory at the Arms Park was on New Year’s Eve 2017.
ULSTER V MUNSTER
Kingspan Stadium, Belfast | KO 19:35 | Live on Premier Sports 1, eir Sport 1, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
We’ve got a second derby to feast our eyes upon on Friday evening as Munster bid to become the first visiting side to win at the Kingspan, in any competition, since October 2018.
That will be quite the challenge, with Ulster’s only defeat in their last seven matches in all competitions being to Leinster at the RDS Arena in Round 8, and they will surely be wanting to make up ground on the Conference A leaders in their first game of the New Year.
Conference B leaders Munster will be hoping for at least a repeat of November’s reverse fixture, where Andrew Conway inspired his side to a narrow victory.
📸 GALLERY | Check out the training pics from yesterday’s final session of 2019.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) January 1, 2020
Players to look out for: Ulster scrum-half John Cooney remains the one to watch for Ulster – keeping his spot as the team’s top points scorer (76) after kicking four conversions against Connacht.
With the Guinness Six Nations edging ever closer on the horizon, he will be gunning to impress once more, as will Munster fly-half Joey Carbery.
Carbery came through his return from an ankle injury unscathed against Leinster last time out – playing the last 25 minutes – and looks set for more game-time at the Kingspan, undoubtedly with half an eye on impressing new Ireland boss Andy Farrell.
Fast fact: The last three matches between the two rivals have all been won by the home side on the day
BENETTON RUGBY v GLASGOW WARRIORS
Stadio Monigo, Treviso | KO 13:00 (UK), 14:00 (ITA) | Live on Premier Sports 2, eir sport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Both Benetton and Glasgow have claimed four wins and been beaten five times in the opening nine rounds of Guinness PRO14 competition, making Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off a tough one to call.
You’d think the momentum could be with the visiting Warriors, who will be keen to bounce back from their 1872 Cup defeat to Edinburgh on Saturday, as well as avoid losing to Benetton in Italy for a second successive season.
But with Benetton’s four victories in the Guinness PRO14 this season – all coming in the space of the last six rounds – you could equally argue the odds are in the Italian’s favour. No matter what, it’s going to be a close one.
Give him a metre and he’ll take five points 🏉
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 1, 2020
Players to look out for: Hame Faiva is the man of the moment for Benetton, the hooker having scored a scintillating hat-trick to steer his side to victory last time out against Italian rivals Zebre.
With this match guaranteed to rest on fine margins, he could prove the difference-maker, while Warriors No.2 Fraser Brown will be looking to match his in-form opposite number with an impressive display of his own
Fast fact: Benetton have won their last three fixtures against Scottish opponents
DRAGONS v OSPREYS
Rodney Parade, Newport | KO 15:00 | Live on Premier Sports 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Derby number three takes place at Rodney Parade, with Ospreys hoping to turn the tide at the start of the decade and reignite their miserable season.
The Swansea-based outfit have lost eight of their nine Guinness PRO14 matches this term, leaving them rock bottom of Conference A.
They face a Dragons side who equally haven’t had the brightest of starts, sitting in fifth with just three wins from nine, but with Dean Ryan’s men having only lost once at Rodney Parade so far this season – 39-12 to Zebre in Round 7 – breaking them down is going to be quite the task.
🗨️“Having that injury, that long layoff, it makes you realise how much I do love this game and how much I enjoy playing…”
Prop @aaronjarvis0 delighted to be back as he looks forward to big start to 2⃣0⃣2⃣0⃣ 👇
— Dragons 🏉 (@dragonsrugby) January 1, 2020
Players to look out for: Eight tries in his last 11 games, Dragons back-rower Taine Basham is the man Ospreys need to keep their eye on this Saturday.
The 20-year-old marked himself out as one of the Guinness PRO14’s most exciting prospects against Cardiff Blues last time out, making 12 tackles, scoring one try and setting up another to be named man of the match, despite being on the losing side.
Veteran Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric could well be one of the men tasked with stopping Basham and his performance, at the breakdown and in the loose, will be key if the visitors want to leave Newport victorious.
Fast fact: Ospreys have lost all six away games they have played in all tournaments this season
ZEBRE v TOYOTA CHEETAHS
Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma | KO 15:00 (UK) 16:00 (ITA) | Live on SuperSport 1, DAZN, Freesports, pro14.tv
It’s been a bright season so far for Toyota Cheetahs, Hawies Fourie’s side currently sitting third in Conference A with two game sin hand on those above them and will travel to Italy in high spirits after their 18-13 win over Ospreys last time out – back in Round 7.
If you had to predict the winner of this fixture you’d probably be placing your bets on them too – they’ve never lost to Zebre in the Guinness PRO14.
Zebre’s story tells quite a different season, but after Michael Bradley’s men managed to turn around their 20-match winless run in Round 7 and then twice run Benetton close over the festive period, they will be hoping they can continue to trend upwards.
— Zebre Rugby Club 🦓 (@ZebreRugby) December 31, 2019
Players to look out for: Rhyno Smith is one of the Cheetahs’ main attacking forces – the full-back having beaten 33 defenders in nine rounds to score seven tries.
Zebre have a classy full-back of their own however, with explosive Italian international Edoardo Padovani roaming the back-field and he’ll aim to build on the 53 metres he made on six carries against Benetton last time out.
Fast fact: The Italians have not been successful in Parma in the PRO14 since beating Edinburgh there in October 2018
LEINSTER v CONNACHT
RDS Arena, Dublin | KO 17:30 | Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sport 1, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
A win wouldn’t just mean a happy new year for Conference A runaway leaders Leinster – they could equal their best-ever start to a Guinness PRO14 campaign if they can beat Connacht on Saturday.
Leo Cullen’s side ground their way to a ninth successive domestic win this season over Munster last weekend, one short of their previous best when they won all ten games to take the trophy during the 2001/02 season.
One thing is for sure, you wouldn’t want this start to the New Year if you are a Connacht fan. The Irishmen are struggling for form having won just one of their last four Guinness PRO14 fixtures, and the RDS Arena has not been a particularly happy hunting ground in the past – although they’re hardly alone in that regard.
“Connacht never give up. And any team that never gives up is going to be a handful.”
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) January 2, 2020
Players to look out for: Another young gun could prove the one to watch at the RDS Arena, with Leinster No.8 Caelan Doris proving his potential last time out against Munster.
His 12 carries and as many tackles proved crucial in the tight affair to help Leinster stay perfect for the New Year.
Meanwhile, young Conor Fitzgerald has displaced Jack Carty as Connacht’s starting fly-half this year – often moving the Ireland international to full-back – and he’ll need to display experience beyond his 22 years to pull the strings in a surprise victory at the RDS.
Fast fact: Connacht have not beaten Leinster in Dublin since 2002.
EDINBURGH v ISUZU SOUTHERN KINGS
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh | KO 19:45 | Live on Premier Sport 1, eir Sport 2, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
The last match of the weekend sees Edinburgh host Isuzu Southern Kings, the Scotsmen high on confidence following their 29-19 1872 Cup win over Glasgow Warriors last weekend.
Being unbeaten at BT Murrayfield this season is a record they will want to still have intact come May, so they won’t be taking any team for granted.
Kings may have just one win to their name this campaign, in Round 6 at Ospreys, but recent history is on their side as they won the last meeting between the two sides in January.
🚨 INSANE MATA OFFLOAD ALERT 🚨
If only he was Scottish🤦♂️. Great to see Graham giving it the eyes too 👀 pic.twitter.com/W5n4OoOpYk
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 2, 2020
Players to look out for: Darcy Graham is the man of the moment at BT Murrayfield after his remarkable display in the thrilling 29-19 1872 Cup victory.
The 22-year-old bolstered his burgeoning reputation with a double to impress the 30,000 in attendance – perfect timing, some may say, as the Guinness Six Nations quickly approaches.
Kings have a game-breaker of their own in the form of scrum-half Stefan Ungerer and his snipes from the base of rucks will be a key method of attack for the South Africans.
Fast fact: The Scotsmen are unbeaten in all competitions at BT Murrayfield this season.