Guinness PRO14 is back for Round 18 with Grand Slam winners and long-term absentees returning
Last Updated: 22/03/19 5:41pm
Round 18 of the Guinness PRO14 arrives this weekend so take a look through the confirmed line-ups and preview all seven matches.
Glasgow Warriors go into the round on top of Conference A [61 points] with Munster hot on their heels [58 points].
Conference B has a slightly different complexion to it as Leo Cullen's Leinster have a 22-point cushion ahead of second-placed Benetton and have already cemented their home semi-final.
This year, all PRO14 domestic roads lead to Celtic Park where the final will be held and that will take place on May, 25.
Cardiff Blues vs Scarlets - Friday at 7.35pm
Scarlets go into this away fixture with a positive record when it comes to previous meetings with their rivals - they're 20-11 to the good. However, their most recent encounter saw the Blues prevail 34-5 at Parc y Scarlets.
The pressure is on the visitors' shoulders because if they lose their challenge for the third qualification spot in Conference B becomes difficult. The home side can just about afford to slip up.
Grand Slam heroes return for a massive @PRO14Official derby against @scarlets_rugby at CAP on Friday!— Cardiff Blues (@cardiff_blues) March 21, 2019
What better way to celebrate @WelshRugbyUnion's success down in the Welsh capital than a full-bloodied Welsh derby with everything to play for!
🎟️ https://t.co/B3mIoZAepM pic.twitter.com/JZtUvvHECa
The Blues have lost just twice at Cardiff Arms Park in the competition this season and John Mulvihill has called upon his entire contingent of Welsh internationals including Josh Navidi and Gareth Anscombe starting.
"They will have no problem getting themselves up for a Welsh derby and we are all hugely motivated for this crucial fixture," said Mulvihill.
"The Scarlets traditionally, are a team who really like to move the ball and will test us across the park so we will have to be at our defensive best to negate their attacking threats."
James Davies makes his return from injury for the Scarlets and he's one of five changes to the side that took to the field last. Head coach Wayne Pivac includes eight of Wales' Grand Slam-winning squad.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Ray Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 1 Rhys Gill, 2 Kristian Dacey (c), 3 Dimitri Arhip, 4 Josh Turnbull, 5 Rory Thornton, 6 Josh Navidi, 7 Olly Robinson, 8 Nick Williams.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Harri Millard, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia (c), 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Kieran Hardy, 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Marc Jones, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 5 Steve Cummins, 6 Josh Macleod, 7 James Davies, 8 Uzair Cassiem.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Josh Helps, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Steff Evans.
Connacht Rugby vs Benetton Rugby - Friday at 7.35pm
Connacht Rugby's last four matches in the PRO14 have all been won by the home side on the day and their only defeat at The Sportsground, in any competition since September, was against Munster in early January.
Benetton are bringing bundles of PRO14 form to Ireland with them - they're unbeaten in the competition since Round 9 -but their record in Galway is shaky. They've not been victorious there since December 2011.
Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane all return for the home side, Carty and Marmion will start on the bench, while Dillane will partner James Cannon from the word go in the engine room.
Ian McKinley will look to lead Benetton's charge from fly-half and will partner with Dewaldt Duvenage while a back-row trio of Marco Lazzaroni, Giovanni Pettinelli and Toa Halafihi will endeavour to set the tone physically.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Kyle Godwin, 9 Caolin Blade, 1 Denis Buckley, 2 Shane Delahunt, 3 Finlay Bealham, 4 Ultan Dillane, 5 James Cannon, 6 Eoin McKeon, 7 Colby Fainga'a, 8 Jarrad Butler (c).
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Stephen Fitzgerald.
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (c), 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian McKinley (c), 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 1 Nicola Quaglio, 2 Hame Faiva, 3 Marco Riccioni, 4 Irné Herbst, 5 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 8 Toa Halafihi.
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Barbini, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Barclay set to start for Edinburgh
Scotland's John Barclay will end his 10-month injury nightmare when he finally makes his Edinburgh debut on Friday night.
Edinburgh Rugby vs Leinster Rugby - Friday at 7.35pm
John Barclay will end his 10-month injury nightmare when he makes his Edinburgh debut on Friday night.
The back-row forward has not played since rupturing his Achilles in his final game for Welsh outfit Scarlets in last season's PRO14 semi-final.
This weekend Edinburgh are aiming to regain momentum; they won three on the bounce over Christmas and New Year but have been victorious just once in four attempts since.
TEAM NEWS: Ross Byrne has been pulled from the team this evening so @CiaranF_97 starts at 10, @jimmyobrien88 is promoted from the replacements to full back and Gavin Mullin is onto the bench for, potentially, his seasonal debut #EDIvLEI #GuinnessPRO14 pic.twitter.com/E6ShOMNILL— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) March 22, 2019
Leinster also have some returnees from injury including Joe Tomane who will be making his first start since November.
Luke McGrath is back [knee injury] at scrum-half while Dan Leavy has recovered from a calf injury.
Edinburgh: 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman, 2 Ross Ford, 3 WP Nel, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 5 Ben Toolis, 6 John Barclay, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Viliame Mata.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Fenton, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Chris Dean.
Leinster: 15 Jimmy O'Brien, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Noel Reid, 12 Joe Tomane, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Ciarán Frawley, 9 Luke McGrath, 1 Ed Byrne, 2 Seán Cronin, 3 Michael Bent, 4 Josh Murphy, 5 Mick Kearney, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 7 Dan Leavy, 8 Max Deegan.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Jack Dunne, 20 Oisín Dowling, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Gavin Mullin, 23 Conor O'Brien.
North, Jones join Ospreys' injury list
Ospreys could be without three of their star names, including Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, for the rest of the season.
Ospreys vs Dragons - Saturday at 3pm
Ospreys have slipped to six straight defeats in all tournaments since their 20-11 victory at home to Cardiff Blues in Round 13 and with be without Alun Wyn Jones, George North and Scott Williams.
Jones suffered knee ligament damage last weekend, North fractured two metacarpals in his left hand against Ireland and Williams is recovering from a disc problem in his lower back.
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"It's been a tough couple of months on and off the field but the boys and management have held firm and remained committed," said head coach Allen Clarke.
"Our last game at home for the season gives us the opportunity to show what we stand for as a team and how much we appreciate the backing of our supporters, friends and families. It's also an opportunity for everyone to show what the Ospreys mean to them."
Dragons are still without a league win in 2019, but their most recent victory was against this weekend's opponents 23-22 on December, 30.
If they are able to follow that result up with then it will be their first season's double over Ospreys since 2010/11.
They make eight changes for the clash in Swansea including No 8 Ross Moriarty and flanker Aaron Wainwright returning in the back row alongside Taine Basham.
Fly-half Jason Tovey starts the game just three points shy of hitting 1,000 for the region.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Luke Price, 9 Aled Davies, 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Scott Baldwin, 3 Tom Botha, 4 Adam Beard, 5 Bradley Davies, 6 Olly Cracknell, 7 Justin Tipuric (c), 8 James King.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Jordan Lay, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Luke Morgan.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jarryd Sage, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Rhodri Williams, 1 Brok Harris, 2 Richard Hibbard (c), 3 Leon Brown, 4 Max Williams, 5 Matthew Screech, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Taine Basham, 8 Ross Moriarty
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Lennon Greggains, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Adam Warren.
Ulster Rugby vs Southern Kings - Saturday at 5.30pm
In three previous meetings, the Kings have never beaten their hosts and Ulster Rugby are unbeaten in their last six games.
The Kingspan Stadium remains a fortress for Ulster too. They've lost only once there, in any tournament, in the last 13 months so all the signs are positive ones when it comes to the home outfit this weekend.
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For Ulster there are five personnel changes to the team that managed a bonus-point win away at Dragons earlier this month - four of the new faces are up front including Marcell Coetzee returning from injury having last featured in January.
Ruaan Lerm is back in the Kings' starting line-up while at scrum-half Stefan Ungerer returns to replace the injured Sarel Pretorius.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rob Lyttle, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Dave Shanahan, 1 Andy Warwick, 2 Rob Herring, 3 Marty Moore, 4 Alan O'Connor (c), 5 Ian Nagle, 6 Matty Rea, 7 Nick Timoney, 8 Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Tom O'Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Clive Ross, 21 John Cooney, 22 Michael Lowry, 23 Angus Kernohan.
Southern Kings: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Meli Rokoua, 12 Tertius Kruger, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Bader Pretorius, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 1 Alulutho Tshakweni, 2 Michael Willemse, 3 De-Jay Terblanche, 4 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 5 John-Charles Astle (c), 6 Henry Brown, 7 Martinus Burger, 8 Ruaan Lerm.
Replacements: 16 Alandre Van Rooyen, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Lupumlo Mguca, 19 Stephan Greeff, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Rudi Van Rooyen, 22 Masixole Banda, 23 Harlon Klaasen.
Glasgow Warriors vs Cheetahs - Saturday at 7.45pm
Glasgow Warriors have won their last four matches since their defeat in Treviso in early January and that marks their best run in the competition since December 2017.
Similar to the Kings' record against the Ulster, the Cheetahs have never beaten the Warriors and Glasgow prevailed 52-24 the last time they met.
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Callum Gibbins will captain the home side with Matt Fagerson and Rob Harley joining him in their back-row unit. Pete Horne starts at fly-half with Nick Frisby as his half-back partner.
Malcolm Jaer returns from injury for the visitors and starts at full-back with Louis Fouché moving onto the bench. Flanker Junior Pokomela misses out due to a back injury.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Niko Matawalu, 13 Kyle Steyn, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Pete Horne, 9 Nick Frisby, 1 Oli Kebble, 2 Fraser Brown, 3 Zander Fagerson, 4 Tim Swinson, 5 Scott Cummings, 6 Rob Harley, 7 Callum Gibbins (c), 8 Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Siua Halanukonuka, 19 Bruce Flockhart, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Adam Hastings, 22 Paddy Kelly, 23 Robbie Nairn.
Cheetahs: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 1 Charles Marais, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 5 Walt Steenkamp,6 Daniel Maartens, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 8 Henco Venter.
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Reinach Venter, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Justin Basson, 20 JP du Preez, 21 Gerhard Olivier, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Louis Fouche.
Munster Rugby vs Zebre Rugby - Saturday at 7.45pm
Zebre travel to Thomond Park hoping to end the longest one-sided head-to-head record in the PRO14 - the two sides have met on 13 previous occasions with the Irish province winning them all.
Munster have won their last 17 matches against Italian opposition in the competition and will want to make that 18 in order to keep the pressure on Glasgow Warriors above them in Conference A.
Jack O'Donoghue is set to make his first start since recovering from a serious knee injury and in total there are seven changes to the side that faced Scarlets three weeks ago.
Tyler Bleyendaal is amongst the replacements and is in line to make his 50th appearance for the province.
Edoardo Padovani's start will be his 70th appearance for the Italian outfit. They welcome back their internationals and George Biagi will lead them from the engine room.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Alby Mathewson, 1 Jeremy Loughman, 2 Rhys Marshall, 3 Stephen Archer, 4 Fineen Wycherley, 5 Darren O'Shea, 6 Jack O'Donoghue, 7 Chris Cloete, 8 CJ Stander (c).
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Liam O'Connor, 18 John Ryan, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Chris Farrell.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tomaso Boni, 11 James Elliott, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Gugleilmo Palazzini, 1 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 3 Roberto Tenga, 4 David Sisi, 5 George Biagi (c), 6 Maxime Mbanda, 7 Jimmy Tuvaiti, 8 Renato Giammarioli
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Marco Ciccioli, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Apisai Tauyavuca, 21 Marcello Violi, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Matthia Bellini.