Round 3 of the Guinness PRO14 season is almost upon us, with seven fixtures in just over 24 hours set to shape the ever-evolving Conference tables.
Two of the competition’s standout sides kick the weekend off in Bloemfontein on Friday afternoon, with the Liberty Stadium rounding off the matches a day later.
As claims are staked, reputations forged and streaks embarked upon, there promises to be yet another thrilling weekend of Guinness PRO14 action in store.
Toyota Cheetahs v Munster Rugby
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein | KO 18:15 SA / 17:15 UK | Live on Super Sport, Premier Sports, eir Sport & DAZN – Broadcast partners
Having notched 16 tries and 111 points in their opening two fixtures of the season, the Cheetahs’ famed attacking brand of rugby has really taken hold.
In Rhyno Smith they have one of the standout stars of the nascent season and, riding high after wins over Glasgow Warriors and Ulster, the South African outfit are looking to add another scalp to their list.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) 9 October 2019
In Munster they face a stiff test, however. Johann van Graan’s outfit have also won their opening two with added bonus-points to-boot but can boast a defence that is marginally more meagre than that of the Cheetahs.
It is too early in the season to label this one a potential preview of the Guinness PRO14 Finals Series, but the stage is certainly set for a cracker.
Player to look out for: Rhyno Smith – Toyota Cheetahs
The flying full-back played a handful of Guinness PRO14 matches for the Cheetahs last year, but after signing a long-term contract in the summer, he looks already to have nailed down his position.
Two tries in Round 1 and a couple more a week later, he has bewitched a pair of high-quality defences in the form of Ulster and the Warriors; can he do the same against Munster?
Fast fact: Munster are the only team to boast an unbeaten record at Toyota Stadium, where they have won two from two.
Dragons v Connacht
Rodney Parade, Newport | 19:35 UK | Live on S4C, Premier Sports, TG4 & DAZN – Broadcast partners
After a standout triumph in Parma last time out, the Dragons will hope for a victorious homecoming on Friday night.
They ended their four-and-a-half year wait for an away win at Zebre in Round 2, and on fonder pastures go hunting for their second win of the season against a Connacht side with an identical record so far.
Player to look out for: Owen Jenkins – Dragons
Owen Jenkins was the star man for the Welsh side in Parma, with two tries to his name and an all-action performance.
”I’ve come back in and it’s nice to see a different atmosphere and the boys working hard…”
— Dragons (@dragonsrugby) 10 October 2019
A menace down the left, he will look to pose serious questions to the Irish side, similar to those that resulted in the red card of Zebre man Charlie Walker last time out.
Fast fact: The Dragons notched up seven tries away from home for the first time ever in Zebre.
Leinster v Edinburgh Rugby
RDS Arena, Dublin | 19:35 UK | Live on eir Sport, Premier Sports & DAZN – Broadcast partners
The only side other than Munster and the Cheetahs who have a perfect 10 points chalked up after two rounds are reigning champions Leinster.
They host an Edinburgh side who are also unbeaten and have caught the eye in wins over Zebre and the Cardiff Blues, but a tall order is in store if they are to test the Irish giants on home turf.
Player to look out for: Mark Bennett – Edinburgh Rugby
The former sevens flyer has enjoyed an explosive return to action after an injury nightmare that kept him largely out of action for the best part of a year.
He followed up a hat-trick in Round 1 with the only try of the piece in Edinburgh’s win over the Blues and will ask plenty of questions of a youthful Leinster defence.
Fast fact: Edinburgh have not beaten Leinster in Ireland since September 2009.
Scarlets v Zebre Rugby
Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli | 15:00 UK | Live on Premier Sports & DAZN – Broadcast partners
After a tricky time of it last season, signs have been promising for the Scarlets so far.
Two wins from two, both of them ground out in gritty style against Connacht and the Glasgow Warriors, have them sitting third in Conference B.
“We have got a lot of character, you can’t defend if you don’t have that.”
Scarlets defence coach Glenn Delaney talks about the defensive display in Glasgow, the hardest day of the week and the challenge of @ZebreRugby
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) 9 October 2019
And with Zebre searching for their first triumph of the year, the Welsh side will look to hit the accelerator with the Italians in town.
Player to look out for: Steff Evans – Scarlets
Evans has been the diamond in the crown for Brad Mooar’s men across their two matches this campaign.
The wing scooped man-of-the-match honours in both fixtures and underlined his reputation as one of the competition’s finest in his position.
Fast fact: Scarlets have won both fixtures in their new Guinness PRO14 campaign but have not won three in succession in the Championship for twelve months
Isuzu Southern Kings v Ulster
Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth | KO 16:00 SA / 15:00 UK | Live on Super Sport, Premier Sports, eir Sport & DAZN – Broadcast partners
Two sides who have been stung in their opening two fixtures will be desperate to put things right on Saturday afternoon.
While the Kings are yet to taste victory, they will be encouraged by displays in matches against the Cardiff Blues and Munster, and will hope that Ulster – who were beaten soundly in Bloemfontein last weekend – will struggle once again down south.
Player to look out for: John Cooney – Ulster
Keen to banish memories of defeat against the Cheetahs, John Cooney may well be the man to help them do just that.
He was the standout man during Round 1’s victory over Ospreys and will once again see plenty of the ball as he drives the attack once more.
Fast fact: Ulster’s loss to Cheetahs in Round 2 was their first reversal to a South African opponent in the Championship.
Glasgow Warriors v Cardiff Blues
Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow | 19:35 UK | Live on Premier Sports & DAZN – Broadcast partners
Last season’s losing finalists the Glasgow Warriors have not started their bid to go one better in the manner that they would have hoped.
Take a closer look at our opponents with our preview of Saturday’s match.
— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) 10 October 2019
Two defeats from two, the last on home turf against Scarlets, leave them adrift of the upper echelons of Conference A, with the visit of another in-form Welsh side set to test them again on Saturday night.
Player to look out for: Matthew Morgan – Cardiff Blues
Morgan led from the back in the Blues’ impressive win over the Southern Kings, a constant threat who notched a try for his troubles.
And the Warriors’ problems could well be exploited by his skillset once again come Saturday, with the likes of the Cheetahs’ Smith and Scarlets’ Evans already taking them to task in their opening two.
Fast fact: Last season’s finalist, Glasgow Warriors, have been defeated in the opening two rounds, at Cheetahs and at home to Scarlets, but have never lost their opening three matches of a new campaign since the Championship went home and away in 2003/04.
Ospreys v Benetton
Liberty Stadium, Swansea | 19:35 UK | Live on Premier Sports & DAZN – Broadcast partners
Another pair of outfits who have struggled to live up to billing at the start of the season; both will be targeting this one as a campaign catalyst.
With two defeats from two, each will have lofty designs this year: Benetton as they look to replicate last season’s heroics, while Ospreys are aware that improvement is required; both will be desperate to break their duck.
Player to look out for: Benetton are blessed with back-three talent, with the likes of Luca Sperandio impressing already this year, but their go-to man is Monty Ioane on the left.
He will be tasked with kick-starting their campaign with trademark explosiveness.
Fast fact: Ospreys record at home to Italian opponents in all competitions is played 23, won 23.
Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!
General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.