Round 5 of the Pro14 Rainbow Cup is upon us with plenty to play for in both hemispheres as the team jockey for a Finals berth.
Here is a look at the games in Round 5:
Friday, June 4
Bulls vs. Stormers – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Big clash this one as the Bulls can eliminate the Stormers from Finals contention with a win while increasing their grip on finishing top of the South Africa pool. The Bulls won the reverse fixture 20-16 in Cape Town in Round 2 which shows that there is very little to choose between the two squads.
Rosko Specman – on loan to the Stormers from the Cheetahs – comes into the starting line-up and there is a change at fly-half with Tim Swiel making his first start og the campaign. David Meihuizen and Neethling Fouche come into the pack and will start at lock and tighthead prop respectively.
The Stormers’ attack far outplayed the Bulls in the first meeting, but the Bulls’ defense was rock solid – albeit a little heavy on the penalties – as they survived the onslaught. They will be please to welcome back scrum-half Ivan van Zyl for his first start of the season after injury and he will be joined in the halves by Morne Steyn after he sat out last week due to ‘Boks resting protocols.
The Bulls should sneak this one, but I like the Stormers to cover at +6.5 (0.90) with BetXChange.
Connacht vs. Ospreys – The Sportsground, Galway
Ospreys can win here then beat Benetton in a week to put themselves right in contention for the top spot on the ladder. Rhys Webb plays (and captains) after three months out, while Stephen Myler is back in at pivot. Their Lions – Alun Wynn Jones and Justin Tipuric – will be rested for the remainder of the region’s season. Connacht is one of the few teams in the comp still playing their tourist for the summer, with Bundee Aki starting at 13 here. The losses in the Osprey’s pack are huge so take Connacht to win and cover at -4.5 (0.91).
Glasgow Warriors vs. Leinster – Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
Glasgow still has a shot at the final, though they – like everyone else except Benetton – need to hope the Italian side loses next weekend in Wales. Glasgow will be without their two British & Irish Lions as Zander Fagerson and Ali Price are rested. Leinster coach Leo Cullen has made seven changes to his side from their last match, with the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Jack Conan, and Robbi Henshaw (all Lions) rested. I still expect Leinster to have too much for their Scottish counterparts, but take Glasgow +10.5 (0.96) as they should cover.
Saturday, June 5
Lions vs. Sharks – Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg
The beauty of the South Africa side of the comp has been that there is a degree of parity between the sides. The Sharks need to win here to set up a potential winner take all clash with the Bulls next weekend, while the Lions will be buoyed by picking up their first win of the competition in a thrilling one-point victory (34-33) over the Bulls last time out.
It is of no real surprise that Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen has named an unchanged side here. Dan Kriel comes on to the bench in place of Manuel Rass in their only change in the entire 23. The Sharks, on the other hand, have lost two on the bounce and they have made a number of changes to their side. Manie Libbok comes in at pivot ahead of Curwin Bosch in the biggest change, while they will be thrilled to have the finishing expertise of Makazole Mapimpi in the starting side after his return from Japan. Wener Kok is in ahead of captain Lukhanyo Am at centre, Anthony Volmink for Aphelele Fassi at fullback, and Sbu Nkosi is out injured. There is also an all-new front row among changes in the pack.
The Sharks need this one more than the Lions, but the Lions seem to be in a better place mentally and have a much more stable side. Even so, I think the Sharks take this one in a close match.