Five big questions as we head into Round 11

Joe Leavey
12 February 2020

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This weekend sees the first full slate of Guinness PRO14 fixtures since the first week of 2020, and we are chomping at the bit for a feast of action after six weeks away.

With a number of players away on international duty for the Guinness Six Nations, the next few weeks will be a real test of the depth of some of the squads in the competition, with crucial fixtures all over the continent.

With the race for the top three in each Conference hotting up, we take a look at five things to look out for as the competition gets back underway.

Battle of the big guns in Conference B

Looking at this weekend’s fixture list this is the one that stands out, as the top two in Conference B go head to head in Llanelli.

Scarlets and Edinburgh have identical records heading into this one, with the Scottish side leading the way by three points courtesy of additional bonus points, so this one promises to be tight.

Both sides go into the weekend on the back of two Guinness PRO14 victories, albeit over the turn of the year, with Scarlets edging out Cardiff Blues 16-14, while Edinburgh saw off Isuzu Southern Kings 61-13.

Richard Cockerill’s side won the reverse fixture convincingly earlier in the season, as they ran in seven tries in a 46-7 victory, but the Scarlets side now compared to then is a much tougher prospect.

With the top three so tightly packed in Conference B, victory in this one will be priceless come the end of the season, as both sides look to cement their place in the Finals Series positions.

Scarlets are unbeaten at home so far this season, with Edinburgh being the last side to return home from Parc y Scarlets with the win last time they visited in April 2019, and Brad Mooar will be looking for his side to continue that home form in what promises to be the game of the round.

Can Cheetahs take their home form on the road?

You had to turn to South Africa to get your Guinness PRO14 fix over the past few weeks, with the Toyota Cheetahs taking the spoils from their double-header with Isuzu Southern Kings.

A dramatic last minute Rhyno Smith try saw them steal the points in Port Elizabeth, before a resounding 45-0 win on home soil a week later saw them move into the top three of Conference A.

This weekend gives Franco Smith’s side the opportunity to take their home form on the road, as they face a depleted Leinster team at the RDS Arena.

The unbeaten table-toppers have no fewer than 11 players away at the Guinness Six Nations, so it will be a much-changed starting lineup for Leo Cullen on Saturday.

Despite that, Cheetahs captain Ruan Pienaar is taking nothing for granted, as his side look to end Leinster’s 16-match winning run in all competitions.

“We know they have a big squad of quality players that they can choose from,” the 35-year-old said. “They have in the past had players away in Six Nations and they haven’t dropped in terms of their quality.

“As a young group of players, we see it as a massive challenge and we are looking forward to playing them.”

Will Warriors deliver the perfect Valentine’s gift?

As roses and chocolates are being handed out around the country, Glasgow Warriors will be looking to give their fans a Valentine’s Day to remember as they face Zebre at Scotstoun.

The Scottish side are within touching distance of the top three in Conference A, and will be looking to capitalise on any slip ups from third-placed Cheetahs this weekend.

They have the perfect opportunity to put the pressure on as they kick off the weekend’s entertainment on Friday night, and could go within two points of the top three with a win.

Both sides have struggled for form of late, with the hosts looking for back to back domestic victories for the first time since November, and Zebre managing just two victories all season.

The Warriors will take heart from two commanding performances in the Champions Cup since their last league outing, as they remained unbeaten against both Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks.

History isn’t on the visitors’ side going in to this one, as Zebre have failed to taste success against their Scottish opponents in each of their last 15 meetings, with the earlier meeting between the two this season ending in a 31-7 win for Dave Rennie’s side.

Can Cardiff or Connacht catch up?

The Saturday evening clash between Cardiff and Connacht sees two sides who still harbour Finals Series dreams go toe to toe at the Sportsground.

With both teams still in with a sniff of the top three, neither will want to give an inch with every point so crucial as we head into the latter part of the season.

With identical records and just a point separating them, this one could go either way, but Connacht’s form has dipped drastically since the festive period, with the search for a win stretching back two months in all competitions.

The Blues have endured some tight clashes of late in the Guinness PRO14, going down 16-14 to Scarlets last time out, while beating Dragons and Ospreys by four and three points respectively.

With both sides knowing what is at stake, this one promises to be just as tight, with the winner gathering momentum heading into the next three weeks of actions.

Make or break for Benetton

We may only be halfway through the season, but Benetton’s clash with Dragons this weekend seems like a season-decider for both clubs, with the Finals Series moving increasingly out of reach.

The winner of this one will gain a march in their respective division, but with the strength of the sides in Conference B, you can’t help but feel that Benetton need to emerge victorious to keep their hopes alive.

The Italian side are yet to taste success in 2020, with three defeats out of three in all competitions and, with just three wins out of 11 domestically and in Europe, if things don’t change soon, the season will run away from them.

The visitors can take hope from their recent form against Saturday’s hosts, with Kieran Crowley’s side unbeaten in their last four match against Dragons, including a 21-17 victory last time they travelled to Wales.

We all know Dean Ryan’s side can perform on their day, and with the Italians not winning outside of the country all season, they will be hoping to take the points in this one.

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