Newport Gwent Dragons vs Llanelli Scarlets
Newport come into this on the back of a narrow loss to Edinburgh, and will want to keep their home record untarnished. Their openside flanker Lewis Evans has spoken of wanting “to make Rodney Parade a fortress”. If that is to be the case they’ll need to overturn their recent record against the Scarlets, who they haven’t defeated in their last ten encounters stretching all the way back to 2008. The Scarlets, meanwhile, are playing their first away fixture of the season and have named a strong starting XV to take on the men from Gwent, which indicates that they’re not just taking a win here for granted. I think that while the Dragons will be bolstered by that deserved win over Ulster a few weeks back, ultimately the day will go to the visitors, but only just.
Prediction: Scarlets by 3
Cardiff Blues vs Zebre
Cardiff got their campaign back on track with a win at home against Connacht last weekend. Next up they host the ill-fated Zebre, who began their game against Munster well (leading at half time) but ran out of steam towards the end of the second half. Having not lost at home to any Italian side ever, complacency is the only worry here for the hosts I feel, but even if they were to go behind to Zebre, I doubt their home crowd would let them away with that for very long!
Prediction: Blues by 23
Benetton Treviso vs Munster
Treviso are still chasing a first win of the season having lost to both Ospreys and Scarlets in recent weeks. They now host table toppers Munster but will not be too nervous about their opponents having defeated them quite convincingly in this exact fixture last season. This venue, the Stadio Mongio, is not a happy hunting ground for the men in red, having only won here once (in 2012). Munster themselves come in off the back of a win against Zebre in a game of decidedly two halves. As I warned last week, it seemed like complacency had set in before arriving and Zebre punished them for that in the first half. I’m betting the team talk in Munster’s dressing room lit some fires under a few backsides leading to a much better performance in the 2nd half as they romped to a fairly easy victory. They can’t afford to be so complacent against a team of Treviso’s calibre but given the score-line last time they played here (34-10) I don’t think that will be a problem.
Prediction: Munster by 10
Glasgow Warriors vs Leinster
This is by far the toughest game of the weekend to call. Glasgow are two from two thus far and come back to Scotstoun with a rare win from ‘fortress Ravenhill’. They haven’t gone three from three at the start of a season since 2002(!) and host Leinster who had an epic encounter with Ospreys last weekend which ended all square at 29-29. Who will win this one is almost impossible to tell, but I have no doubt it’ll be close. Recent encounters have all gone Leinster’s way but we should note that in this fixture last year, which ended 0-6 to the visitors, the conditions were horrendous. Leinster also narrowly beat Glasgow in the playoffs last season and were it not for a wayward conversion attempt the day could have easily gone to the Warriors. In fairness though, looking back at Glasgow’s win against Ulster last weekend, it was an out and out mugging and went completely against the run of play. The heart says Glasgow, the head says Leinster.
Prediction: Leinster by 5
Ospreys vs Edinburgh
Ospreys snatched a draw away to Leinster at the death last weekend which is no mean feat. Considering their home record against Edinburgh in recent years and Edinburgh’s poor away record, it’s hard to see past a comprehensive win here although as it as I write this, I’ve yet to see a team sheet for them. If you’re an Edinburgh fan you can take solace in their surprise win over Ospreys last season, albeit at home. A win at Liberty Stadium for them is another prospect entirely though!
Prediction: Ospreys by 20
Connacht vs Ulster
No team-sheets for this match mean I’m going in fairly blind. Connacht are undefeated at home thus far but since that fact is just based on one game against Zebre it hardly makes for an impressive record. They have only beaten Ulster once in their last 14 attempts back in 2012. It should be noted that they did beat Biarritz and Leinster here last season, so scalping big teams is not unheard at the Sportsground. Ulster are suffering from a two defeat slump and so if new coach Pat Lam is intent on making a statement, a win over Ulster would definitely make people stand up and take notice. As for Ulster, they must still be scratching their heads wondering what happened after what can only be described as daylight robbery by the Weegies last weekend in Ravenhill. For long spells during the second half an Ulster try to seal the win looked almost inevitable and I was quietly confident that my prediction of Ulster by 10 was going to be proved right. But before I could begin any self-congratulatory pats on the back, Glasgow’s defence not only fended off wave after wave of Ulster attack, but managed to get to the other end of the pitch for a try at the very death. Connacht will need to be at their very best to deny an wounded Ulster.
Prediction: Ulster by 20
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images