This weekend sees the start of the RaboDirect Pro12 for the 2012/2013 season. In what could arguably be the pick of the fixtures Edinburgh, last year’s Heineken Cup semi-finalists, face Munster. Defending champions The Ospreys will be away to Treviso, while Leinster, consistently Ireland’s best team for the last few years, travel to face Llanelli Scarlets.
Italian team Zebre were a franchise that was created at the end of the last season as Aironi were thrown out the completion following financial problems.
Looking at the players playing for Zebre it looks as if this has just been a renaming exercise as many of the players in their squad turned out for Aironi last year.
Zebre kick off their campaign away to Newport Gwent Dragons.
Full list of fixtures
|Date||Kick off Time (SA time)||Teams||Venue|
|Fri 31 Aug||20.00||Dragons v Zebre||Rodney Parade|
|Fri 31 Aug||20.05||Ulster v Glasgow Warriors||Ravenhill|
|Fri 31 Aug||21.05||Benetton Treviso v Ospreys||Stadio di Monigo|
|Sat 1 Sep||18.00||Connacht v Cardiff Blues||Sportsground|
|Sat 1 Sep||18.30||Scarlets v Leinster||Parc y Scarlets|
|Sat 1 Sep||21.00||Edinburgh v Munster||Murrayfield|
Dragons vs Zebre
The first game is hard to call as this will Zebre’s first game of the Pro12 while the Dragons fared the worst out of the Welsh regions in last year’s competition.
The Dragons come into the game without a series of injured players, most notably their captain Lewis Evans. However their backline will be bolstered by recently signed Welsh internationals Dan Evans and Tom Prydie. Up front they will also be fielding impressive Welsh duo Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate.
The quality of these players added to home ground advantage should see Dragons come away with a fairly comfortable win.
Dragons: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Will Harries, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Andy Tuilagi, 11 Tom Prydie, 10 Steffan Jones, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Jevon Groves, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Andrew Coombes, 4 Ian Nimmo, 3 Dan Way, 2 Steve Jones, 1 Phil Price
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Nathan Williams, 18 Nathan Buck, 19 Adam Jones, 20 Tom Brown, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Lewis Robling, 23 Ashley Smith
Zebre: 15 Sinoti Sinot, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Gonzalo Garcia (Captain), 11 Samuele Pace, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Filippo Cristiano, 7 Andries van Schalkwyk, 6 Nicola Cattina, 5 Emiliano Caffini, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 David Ryan, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Salvatore Perugini
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Luciano Leisbon, 19 Filippo Cazzola, 20 Filippo Ferrarini, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Alberto Chiesa, 23 Ruggero Trevisan
Ulster vs Glasgow Warriors
The Warriors team looks quite a strong one, on paper, particularly when one considers their bench. However it won’t be easy against Ulster, especially at Ravenhill. The last time Glasgow won at Ravenhill was back in December 2009.
However, I am not sure that history will play a role in the outcome of this match. Ulster will miss the presence of talisman Ruan Pienaar, currently on Springbok duty. Furthermore, their depth at loose forward is bound to be tested following the departure of the dependable Pedrie Wannenburg as well as the fact that Irish international hard man Stephen Ferris still looks to be out with injury.
Glasgow will have to come to terms with life without giant star lock Richie Grey, now plying his trade in England. However, Tom Ryder made the Pro12 team of the year last season and should do a good job for his team. Fellow lock, and captain, Allistair Kellock will have a big role to play on Friday night and much will depend on how he performs. In the past he has tended to lose focus and get involved in off the ball niggle, not something you want to see from your captain. If he can rein these tendencies in then he should put a good performance and lead from the front.
Initial thoughts were that Ulster would win a close game, due to an impressive run of pre-season results and home ground advantage. However, on closer inspection of the teams it would seem that Ulster may not be that strong at this stage. Glasgow may just win a close game.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Michael Allen, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Michael Heaney, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Lewis Stevenson, 4 Johann Muller (captain), 3 John Afoa, 2 R Herring, 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Tom Court, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Niall O’Connor, 23 Darren Cave
Glasgow: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Al Kellock (captain), 4 Tom Ryder, 3 Mike Cusack, 2 Finlay Gillies, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Moray Low, 18 Ryan Grant, 19 James Eddie, 20 John Barclay, 22 Chris Cusiter, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Peter Horne
Benneton Treviso vs Ospreys
Former Springbok flyhalf Franco Smith’s Treviso have never beaten the Ospreys in their previous six Pro12 encounters, with the best result being a solitary draw. This should not change and while Treviso may make it hard in the beginning and the weather could play a role the Ospreys should win comfortably in the end with Dan Biggar dictating matters at flyhalf.
Treviso: 15 Kristopher Burton, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Alberto Di Bernardo, 9 Edoardo Gori,, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Simone Favaro, 5 Corniel Van Zyl (captain), 4 Francesco Minto, 3 Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, 2 Enrico Ceccato, 1 Alberto De Marchi
Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Dean Budd, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Marco Filippucci, 22 Fabio Semenzato, 23 Brendan Williams
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Isaacs, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Jonathan Thomas, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 James King, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Ryan Bevington
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Joe Rees, 19 Joe Bearman, 20 Morgan Allen, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Matthew Morgan, 23 Tom Grabham
Connacht vs Cardiff Blues
Connacht may have ended the lowest of the Irish teams in last year’s competition but they have been steadily improving and managed to beat their more fancied ‘neighbours’ Ulster last season. However, in the 18 times that Connacht have played the Blues they have only won twice and drawn twice.
Expect the Blues to still have too much class and win by a fair margin.
Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (Captain), 14 Tiernan O’Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffing, 12 Mata Fifita, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo , 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Johnny O’Connor, 6 John Muldoon, 4 Michael Swift , 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Ethienne Reynecke , 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin , 17 Rodney Ah You, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 David Moore, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Robbie Henshaw
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Harry Robinson, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Gareth Davies, 11 Tom James, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Andries Pretorius (captain), 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Rory Watts- Jones, 5 James Down, 4 Robin Copeland, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Andi Kyriacou,1 Thomas Davies
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Beniot Borrust, 18 Nathan Trevett, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Cory Allen, 23 Tom Williams, 24 Owen Williams
Scarlets vs Leinster
The Scarlets may be at home to Leinster and have some very talented Welsh Internationals in their team but one wonders whether they will be good enough to topple the top Irish team who are reigning Heineken Cup champions.
The Leinster match day squad contains highly rated hooker Richardt Strauss and Kiwi flyer Isa Nacewa, but there is no place for former Stormers lock Quin Roux. However, Leinster will miss tough international flanker Sean O’Brian who is still recovering from hip operations and there are also far fewer Irish Internationals in the Leinster team than initially expected
Prior to the team announcements one would have tipped Leinster to win by plenty, but now they may just win a close game. This one could quite easily go the other way too.
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 Josh Turnbull, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Richard Kelly, 4 George Earle, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rhodri Jones
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Phil John, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Kieran Murphy, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Jonathan Davies
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Leo Auva’a, 7 Shane Jennings (captain), 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Damian Browne, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Heinke van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Tom Denton, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Collie O’Shea, 23 Darren Hudson
Edinburgh vs Munster
The last tie of the weekend may prove to be one of the best with Edinburgh at home to Munster. Edinburgh had a disappointing start to their pre-season losing heavily to Newcastle (who were relegated from the Premiership last season), but there were many first choice players missing from that game and they have recruited quite strongly on the player and coach front.
It will be interesting to see how the Edinburgh forwards, now coached by Neil Back, fare against a strong Munster pack. Edinburgh’s backline has the ability to play attractive rugby should the forwards provide a decent platform.
This one is hard to call but will go with an Edinburgh win, but not by much as although they boast a very strong starting line-up and strong bench front row it remains to be seen how they will get by without former stalwarts, scrumhalf Mike Blair who moved to France, and now retired fullback Chris Paterson.
Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nic da Luca, 12 Ben Atiga, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 9 Richie Rees, 8 Stuart McInally, 7 Ross Rennie, 6 David Denton, 5 Sean Cox, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 John Yapp
Replacements: 16 Andy Titterrell, 17 Allan Jacobsen, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Perry Parker, 20 Dimitri Basilaia, 21 Chris Leck , 22 Gregor Hunter, 23 John Houston
Munster: 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Doug Howlett (captain), 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Luke O’Dea, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 James Coughlan , 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Paddy Butler, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Barry O’Mahony, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Ivan Dineen