Newcastle Falcons vs Leicester Tigers

Newcastle Falcons vs Leicester Tigers Live : Rugby match and TV coverage will be shown exclusively by BT Sport as the two struggling clubs go toe-to-toe with both sides desperate for a win in their quest to avoid relegation from the Gallagher Premiership. Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers (Kingston Park, 7.45pm) Live on Gloucester Rugby v Bath Rugby (Kingsholm, 3pm) Live on BT Sport

Dean Richards’ side are still bottom, but just five points behind the Tigers, who have lost their last three games. Leicester have named a star-packed side in their bid to avoid being dragged into danger, with Manu Tuilagi, George Ford and Ellis Genge involved.

Graham Kitchener and Matt Smith both play their 150th Premiership games. The Tigers are one of the most successful outfits in English rugby history – with 10 titles, two Heineken Cups and John Player and Tetley Cup wins – but this season has been one of struggle.

Leicester have never been relegated, and it would be some irony if Richards, one of their most successful captains and coaches, were to engineer their downfall.

“There’ll be a lot of intensity shown and a lot of passion shown,” he told BBC Newcastle. “Invariably when you get a game like this it doesn’t turn out to be a humdinger in the way that anyone would like it to be, but there will passion and intensity on show.”

Richards’ presence is one of many shared links between the two sides, with ex-Tigers Toby Flood, Calum Green, Vereniki Goneva, Logovi’i Mulipola and George McGuigan all involved for Newcastle.

“Dean was very good to me as a coach,” Tigers head coach Geordan Murphy told BBC Radio Leicester. “He’s also been incredibly supportive as a head coach and is a very good man.

“I have a lot of time for him but I hope I get one over him this week. I think it’s a huge game, it won’t be the deciding factor and there are still three games to go.” Newcastle: Hammersley; Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti; Flood, Takulua; Mulipola, McGuigan, Ah You, Green, Davidson, Graham, Hardie, Wilson

Replacements: Cooper, Lockwood, Davison, Robinson, Olmstead, Young, Connon, Williams Leicester: Toomua; May, Owen, Tuilagi, Olowofela; Ford, Harrison; Genge, Kerr, Cole, Spencer, Kitchener, Fitzgerald, Williams, Thompson

Replacements: Polota-Nau, Gigena, Heyes, Wells, O’Connor, White, Aspland-Robinson, Smith .

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Newcastle Falcons vs Leicester Tigers: Match preview
The fact that Friday night’s game is being billed as one of the biggest in Leicester Tigers’ prestigious history shows just how far the once great club has fallen.

Normally at this stage of the season the Tigers would preparing for a tilt at the play-offs. But this year the eight-time Premiership champions are faced with the unthinkable prospect of being relegated from the top tier of English rugby.

Just six victories in 18 league games has seen the Tigers slump to 10th in the table and another defeat to fellow strugglers Newcastle this coming Friday would see Geordan Murphy’s side slip even closer to the trapdoor.

Leicester head to bottom-of-the-table Newcastle with just a five-point buffer separating the two clubs and only four games of the regular season remaining.

Leicester City vs Newcastle United

Leicester City vs Newcastle United  Live : Leicester have won their last four matches to move up to seventh in the standings. They have also won their last three home games.Newcastle have not won away in the league since Dec. 15 (D3 L5).Leicester have won six of their last seven matches against Newcastle in all competitions but lost 2-1 at home last season.

​​Leicester City welcome Newcastle United to the King Power Stadium on Friday night, with manager Brendan Rodgers hoping his side continue their good form and come away with three points.

The Foxes won comfortable away to relegated Huddersfield last time out, and Rodgers will want his players to replicate that attacking display in front of their home fans against the Magpies.Kasper Schmeichel (GK) – The Danish keeper has put in some good performances of late and provides a wealth of experience at the base of Leicester’s side. He will have to be ready to deal with Newcastle’s physicality at set pieces, or risk being caught out by the ​Magpies.

Ricardo Pereira​ (RB) – The Portuguese right back has been one of Leicester’s most consistent performers since his summer move and his attacking forays have become a useful weapon for the Foxes.

Wes Morgan (CB) – Club captain Morgan has become indispensable in recent weeks. Not only has he put in commanding defensive performances, he has also contributed some key goals, cementing his place in the team. Jonny Evans is available again but Morgan’s recent performances should see him retain his starting place.

Harry Maguire (CB) – The England defender is ready to return to action following the birth of his child. His ability to play out from the back is an important part of Leicester’s style, so expect ​Maguire to start.

Ben Chilwell (LB) – Another consistent performer for the Foxes. There are a number of clubs monitoring the 22-year-old and if he keeps putting in good performances, the Foxes will face a fight to keep him in the summer.Demarai Gray (RM) – The England Under-21 international could trouble the opposition with his direct running and ability to beat his man. He will be hoping to add a few goals to his tally before the end of the season and is a danger from range.

Wilfred Ndidi (CDM) – ​Ndidi provides cover for his defensive colleagues whilst also playing a part in his sides attacking play, often going unnoticed because of the exploits of his more flamboyant teammates. He’s probably one of the first names down on the team sheet.

Youri Tielemans (CM) – The Belgian scored in his last outing and has built a good relationship with his teammate James Maddison. ​Leicester will be looking to turn his loan move into a permanent one in the summer and build the team around the talented youngster.

James Maddison (CM) – Since his arrival in the summer, Maddison has gone from strength to strength, and in Rodgers he has found a manager who plays to his talents. His partnership with Jamie Vardy is beginning to look particularly potent and is becoming a lethal weapon in the Foxes’ attacking arsenal.

Harvey Barnes (LM) – Having returned to Leicester in January after a successful loan stint in the Championship, Barnes has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water. He has looked assured on the left side of the Foxes’ midfield and will look to further stake his claim to a starting spot against Newcastle.

Jamie Vardy (ST) – ​Vardy is fit after being substituted late in the previous game. The Englishman has returned to his prolific goal-scoring form lately and it will take a lot for the Magpies defence to stop him.Two former Liverpool bosses meet with very different aims when Newcastle United visits Leicester City on Friday (Watch live at 3 p.m. on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Brendan Rodgers and Leicester City are targeting seventh place and a place in the Europa League, while Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez wants another win or two to clinch Premier League safety.

The Foxes lost to Watford in their first match under Rodgers, but have beaten four bottom half sides to put together a fine winning streak and climb into seventh; Leicester is level on points with Wolves and a point ahead of Watford, though both have played one fewer match.

What they’re saying

Leicester City’s Rodgers: “I expect a very, very tough game. Rafa is a top class manager who organizes his teams exceptionally well. They play in a 5-4-1 structure when they haven’t got the ball. They don’t give away many goals, so we know we will have to have that patience, but we have a lot of exciting players in the team who can be good in one-on-one situations, and who can manipulate the ball.”

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez: “Now we have five games and we have to think of every one like a final, as we have said many times. We must approach every game with confidence, calm, and the belief that we can do it. Leicester are a very good team. They are playing with more confidence now, and it will be tough for us, for sure.”

Prediction

Leicester’s attackers may be a bit too much for Rafa’s imposing defense, especially with Florian Lejeune and Sean Longstaff out of the lineup, but the chemistry between Miguel Almiron, Ayoze Perez, and Salomon Rondon has given the Magpies another dimension. 1-1.

Houston SaberCats vs Seattle Seawolves

Houston SaberCats vs Seattle Seawolves Live : Houston SaberCats vs Seattle Seawolves Major League Rugby 2019 rugby match on Friday.The Houston SaberCats beat the Utah Warriors 29-27 to earn their second Stadium on April 13 against the second-place Seattle Seawolves.The Houston SaberCats will make their third road trip of the season when they travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the defending MLR Champions, The Seattle Seawolves.

Big changes are coming to Salt Lake City-based Major League Rugby for the third season.The league unveiled its plans Thursday for the 2020 season, which include three more teams, a two-conference regular season, and a tiered playoff structure that will feature the top three teams in each season.

The league will add Boston’s New England Free Jacks, Washington’s Old Glory DC and Atlanta’s Rugby ATL to the competition in 2020, bringing the overall numbers of teams to 12, including the founding member Utah Warriors.

“The expansion of Major League Rugby from nine to 12 teams is exciting in every possible way imaginable,” said Utah coach Alf Daniels, who leads one of MLR’s founding six clubs. “It shows that the MLR is serious, it’s contagious and it’s here to stay. It is a testament that rugby is growing here in the USA. It’s a privilege to be a part of this great Warriors Club, who are founding members. Together, we are building the Warriors. Way as Utah becomes the epicenter of U.S. rugby.”

Match play begins Feb. 15, 2020 with a two-conference setup. Utah will factor into the Western Conference, alongside the Austin Elite, Houston Sabercats, Glendale Raptors, San Diego Legion and Seattle Seawolves. The three new teams will join NOLA Gold, Toronto Arrows and Rugby United New York in the Eastern Conference.

All teams will play a home-and-away series with against in-conference opponents, with a rotating set of home-or-away matches against teams in the other conference. The updated format help alleviate current concerns over travel issues amongst league teams.

The top three teams from each conference will advance to the league’s championship series, with conference champions received a first-round bye and automatic berth in the league semifinals.

“Professional rugby is here to stay in North America,” Major League Rugby commissioner Dean Howes said in a statement. “MLR is the first time the North American sports model has been applied to the global game of rugby. That model is now laying the foundations for the long-term success of this league and the sport.”
Season three for Major League Rugby is going to look a little bit different come 2020 as not only will there be three more expansion sides coming into the already nine-team league, MLR has changed formats and will now feature conference play.

Conference play was almost a foregone conclusion once the new expansion teams were announced, but now it opens up the possibility of even expanding more for the league. There will be an Eastern Conference featuring Rugby ATL, New England Free Jacks, Old Glory DC, Rugby United New York, Toronto Arrows, and NOLA Gold, and there will be a Western Conference featuring Austin Elite Rugby, Houston SaberCats, Glendale Raptors, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves, and Utah Warriors.

There will be 101 matches altogether, 96 regular season and five playoff. Each team will play the five other squads in their conference twice, home and away, for a grand total of 10 matches and they will also play six cross-conference games, three home and away, which brings the same amount of matches played by each side as they play in 2019. The start of the season will be February 15, 2020.

The MLR Championship Series will also look very different. The top three teams in each conference will advance to the playoffs where the two and three seeds in the conference play each other and then the winner will face off against the top seed, who receives a bye in the first round, in the Conference Finals. The winner of that match will go on to the MLR Final to take on the winner of the opposite conference. That will be a total of five matches played in the Championship Series.

This will be very interesting as it will undoubtedly create rivalries. In such a scenario, Old Glory DC and RUNY could become bitter rivals if they are consistently playoff-worthy squads as they potentially would face off three times during the season.

One possibility of a rivalry could be Seattle and Glendale as they always play fierce. For the growth of the game, this is a fantastic approach as it not only develops more interest, it also cuts down on travel for the teams. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see where MLR expands to as it seems like there is a future for 16 sides. No doubt will MLR just add two teams to each conference, but where is a big question mark.

With the rapid development of the league, it would be hard pressed for the other leagues and nation’s governing bodies to not notice what is going on here. This is also a golden opportunity for television networks to tap into this potential gold mine, especially with markets such as New York, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Boston, San Diego, and Toronto involved. You could also possibly see more players from other nations coming over, whether they are looking for more playing time or just continuing their career in a better market.

This is an exciting announcement made by the league as it really shows the commitment to not only growing the game, but how financially strong they are. This is a sign that the league will be here to stay, but it also shows how serious both Canada and the United States are about getting competitive on the world stage.
Major League Rugby will add three teams for its third season, allowing for the creation of two six-team conferences.Coney Island, baby: New York wait for pro rugby ends with win over Toronto Read more In the east, Old Glory DC (Washington, with investment from the Scottish Rugby Union), Rugby ATL (Atlanta) and the New England Free Jacks will compete with Rugby United New York, Toronto Arrows and the Nola Gold (New Orleans).

The west will be made up of Seattle Seawolves, Glendale Raptors (Colorado), San Diego Legion, Utah Warriors, Houston SaberCats and Austin Elite. The top three teams in each conference will contest a five-game playoff series building to a championship game.

In a statement, league commissioner Dean Howes said: “MLR is the first time the North American sports model has been applied to the global game of rugby. That model is now laying the foundations for the long-term success of this league and the sport.”

Crusaders vs Highlanders

Crusaders vs Highlanders Live : The Crusaders’ Super Rugby match against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday has been cancelled in light of the tragic shootings in Christchurch. The Crusaders vs Highlanders have each scored seven tries within the opening quarter of games in Super Rugby 2019, the joint-most of any teams in the competition. The Highlanders have conceded five tries after defending for seven or more phases this Super Rugby campaign.

We are more than half way through the tournament with only 7 rounds left to go until the qualifiers. We can look forward to some mouthwatering match-ups in round 9. The Highlanders travel to Christchurch to try and tame the prolific Crusaders. This New Zealand derby is traditionally very physical and skillful because of the fact that players are trying to stake their claim on an All Black jersey for the Rugby Championship and the Rugby World Cup at the end of 2019.

The Crusaders came out on top at home in July 2018, however the Highlanders got the victory earlier in this year in Otago. The Crusaders have been in exceptional form this year especially out wide. Sevu Reece has been a scoring machine the last couple of rounds. The return of the All Black midfielder, Jack Goodhue, will definitely boost the attacking ability of the Crusaders’ backline.

On the Highlanders side, they have opted for experience especially in the back field with Ben Smith starting alongside Matt Faddes and Tevita Li. Smith has the vision of a hawk from the full back position and makes the majority of the attacking en defensive decisions in the Highlanders backline. We often refer to the cliché that the side that gets the upper hand upfront will be victorious at the end of the game and this clash will be no different.

The Crusaders have a lot of experience upfront with their captain, Sam Whitelock, starting in the second row alongside, Scott Barrett. The recent return of Kieran Read will also boost the side upfront and he might bring a calming factor to the young players when things get tough over the weekend.If one scenario should be binned when predicting the outcome of Friday night’s South Island derby, it’s the prospect of the Crusaders being ambushed by a desperate pack of Highlanders.

Forget it. The competition leading red and blacks are on high alert ahead of the 36th match between the teams, and not just because their 12th-placed neighbours can’t afford for their winless streak to close in on two months.

The southerners are also set to mark fullback Ben Smith’s 150th Super Rugby match in the fixture at Christchurch Stadium, a venue no visiting side has tasted success at in almost three years.

“They will be desperate. We need to be desperate. If anything, we need to be more desperate than them,” Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall said. more desperate than them,” Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall said.The Crusaders won’t have George Bridge (knee) available for Friday night’s clash with the Highlanders in Christchurch.

All Crusaders players and coaches interviewed this week agreed on one thing: the Highlanders are better than their 2-1-4 record indicates.

For one, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has seen enough to know his team has a scrap on their hands, even though the Highlanders will be without the injured Aaron Smith, Waisake Naholo and Luke Whitelock.

“They’ve had a lot of close losses. A bounce of the ball away. As a coach, you’re sitting up there hoping you get a couple of decisions, or someone makes a great decision for you on the field, to get that result.The Crusaders will be without prop Owen Franks for their southern derby blockbuster against the Highlanders on Friday.

The All Blacks veteran has been sidelined with a shoulder issue. He’ll undergo further scans this week to determine the severity of the injury.

Wing George Bridge is another who’s been added to the casualty list, out with an undisclosed injury. He’ll be replaced by Sevu Reece.Coach Scott Robertson said they’d be in rush to bring Franks back into the fold, particularly with their bye week on the horizon.

“We’ve realised that we can take the time with our players,” said Robertson. “Because we have the depth in the squad, and that’s something we’re really fortunate to have.

“It’s really important that we have as many bodies available by the end of the competition by trusting those players now.”

Meanwhile, hooker Codie Taylor will spend another week recovering from the calf strain that saw him miss last week’s win over the Brumbies.

Andrew Makalio will start at in Taylor’s number two jersey, and Ben Funnell has been named on the bench.

In other forward pack changes, Sam Whitelock and Whetukamokamo Douglas return to the starting side. Whitelock will resume the captaincy.
Halfbacks Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond will swap roles yet again, Hall claiming the starting spot this week.

Jack Goodhue and Braydon Ennor both return to the starting side at centre and on the right wing respectivelyHighlanders coach Aaron Mauger has declared Josh Ioane “ready to go” after handing him the Highlanders’ No 10 jersey for the trip Christchurch to face the Crusaders on Friday.

The first-five hasn’t started a match since the round four loss to the Hurricanes a month ago, but Marty Banks’ injury has opened the door for him to run the attack in Ben Smith’s 150th match for the Highlanders.

Benetton Treviso vs Munster

Benetton Treviso vs Munster Live : Two tries from flying winger Ludovico Nitoglia gave Benetton Treviso their first win of the season, making it two victories on the trot over Munster at this venue Tom Palmer wants Benetton Treviso to build on their recent form as they look to make it three wins on the bounce in the GUINNESS PRO12 against Munster. Johann van Graan has made 11 changes to his Munster team for Friday night’s Guinness Pro14 clash away to Benetton. They beat Ulster at Murrayfield in their penultimate league match this evening, and if Munster win at Benetton Treviso

At one stage in the second half Munster led the Italians by 10 points after Ireland prop Stephen Archer crossed for just his second ever try for the province and Ian Keatley converted.

However, Archer later went on to pick up a yellow card eight minutes from time, joining Niall Ronan, Duncan Williams and Cathal Sheridan as the players to earn a ten-minute timeout.

Two tries from flying winger Ludovico Nitoglia gave Benetton Treviso their first win of the season, making it two victories on the trot over Munster at this venue – the Reds were beaten 34-10 on their last visit back in February.

It had all started so well for Rob Penney’s side on a night when Peter O’Mahony returned to take on his official duties as Munster’s captain for the season.

Despite Keatley missing a tricky penalty early on, Munster raced into a 5-0 lead when seasonal debutants Simon Zebo and Keith Earls linked up for the latter to score down the right flank – the groundwork for the try being laid by centres Casey Laulala and James Downey.

Keatley was unable to add the conversion and five minutes later former Leinster out-half Mat Berquist got Treviso off the mark with a penalty.

Moments later Ronan was shown a yellow card by referee Leighton Hodges, but worse was to follow when Berquist gave Treviso the lead by slotting the resulting penalty.

Penney would have been delighted to not see a further impact on the scoreboard while his team were down to 14 men. With their openside flanker back on the pitch, Munster began to improve.

After a series of powerful scrums under the posts that produced three penalties, Hodges eventually awarded Munster apenalty try that their scrum domination deserved, giving them a 12-6 lead after 26 minutes.

But the home side hung in there and four minutes from the break Berquist was on target once again with a penalty awarded after Billy Holland failed to roll away from a ruck.

Munster led 12-9 at half-time and that advantage was increased in the 46th minute when Archer got on the back of a powerful rolling maul and Keatley slotted the tricky conversion to give the league leaders a ten-point cushion.

But that was as good as it got for Munster as Nitoglia touched down twice in a 12-minute spell for Treviso to turn the game on its head.

Either side of his second try, Berquist picked off penalties to give Treviso a crucial ten-point cushion and with Williams, Sheridan and Archer also seeing yellow, Munster had little hope of mounting a comeback as their Italian adventure ended on a losing note.

Melbourne Rebels vs Stormers

Melbourne Rebels vs Stormers Live : Melbourne are bracing for an angry Stormers outfit when they look to increase their Melbourne Rebels vs Stormers ,Super Rugby Australian conference 2019 lead at AAMI Park on Friday night.The Rebels are gunning for their third straight win and first South African scalp of the year against the Stormers, who have lost their past three games.

The Rebels are coming off the back of two bonus point wins in Australia since returning from a tough tour of South Africa where they could only manage a losing bonus point.

The Stormers have had a horrible tour losing all 3 games on the road so far and failing to really make an impact in the last two games after a narrow defeat to the Canes 3 weeks ago. The Stormers have only managed 11 trys in the 7 matches so far this season which is the worst of all teams, and currently, sit bottom of the South African conference and 11th overall. However

the Rebels have managed to cross the line on 30 occasions this season and are sitting second overall
Loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff will captain the Stormers against the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday.Kitshoff takes over the captaincy from Siya Kolisi, who is being rested for the final match of the Stormers’ Australasian tour.

Stormers Head Coach Robbie Fleck said that his team is determined to end their tour on a high on Friday.“Our focus this week is on being as accurate as possible in everything that we do in order to make the most of our opportunities.

“The players have worked hard again this week as we look to end our tour on a high note,” he said.Rebels team and injury newsSouth African coach Dave Wessels has made four changes to his matchday 23 ahead of the clash against the Stormers.

Prop Sam Talakai, hooker Robbie Abel and lock Ross Haylett-Petty have all been included in the starting forward pack, while Richard Hardwick will return to the squad as a replacement.

Wallabies winger Jack Maddocks and hooker Anaru Rangi have not been considered for selection due to suffering knee tendonitis and a rolled ankle respectively after the Rebels’ win over the Sunwolves last weekend.

Lock Matt Philip has also been sidelined with a bruised heel, while promising prop Pone Fa’amausili has been left out to face the Cape Town side.

When quizzed about his star winger’s injury, Melbourne Head Coach Dave Wessels says the decision to rest Maddocks was made less difficult given the minor nature of the injury and by also having a ready-made replacement in fellow outside back Tupou.

According to the Stormers’ official website, Kitshoff will line up alongside hooker Bongi Mbonambi and tighthead prop Wilco Louw in the front row, while Salmaan Moerat and Cobus Wiese will form a new lock partnership. Johan du Toit will cover from the bench.

Ernst van Rhyn will make his Stormers debut at openside flank in place of Kolisi, with Kobus van Dyk and Jaco Coetzee retaining their places in the loose trio.

The only change to the backline sees scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies back in the starting line-up, while wing Seabelo Senatla is set to make his first appearance of the season from the replacements bench.

Southern Kings vs Ospreys

Southern Kings vs Ospreys  Live : Southern Kings lock Andries “Dries” van Schalkwyk will run out first for the Port Elizabeth-based side when they take on Welsh outfit Dragons in a PRO14 clash at Nelson Mandela University’s Madibaz Stadium on Sunday.

Ospreys have made one change for the second leg of their visit to South Africa with prop Ma’afu Fia replacing Tom Botha against Southern Kings.

Allen Clarke’s side need to win to keep maintain their Pro14 and Heineken Champions Cup hopes and put pressure on rivals Cardiff Blues and Connacht.

Ospreys picked up a bonus point in a 31-14 win over Cheetahs last weekend.

“Our performances in the last two games mean we still have everything to play for,” said Ospreys head coach Clarke.

Ospreys go into Friday’s game three points behind Blues and seven adrift of Connacht in the penultimate round of the regular season, with Blues facing Connacht this weekend.

Ospreys’ Conference A campaign will end against Cardiff Blues on Welsh rugby’s Judgment Day at Principality Stadium on Saturday, 27 April – a game that could determine the fate of each side.

Connacht sit in third, an automatic play-off spot, with Blues four points behind them.

The play-offs for the Pro14 title involve the top three teams in each conference automatically entering the 2019-20 Heineken Cup.

The teams finishing fourth in Conference A and Conference B will have one more chance to qualify for Europe’s top flight next season, via a play-off.

Former South African Sevens player Sibusiso Sithole will make a long-awaited return for the Kings by making his first appearance of the season in the centre.

Southern Kings: Beyers; H Klaasen, Sithole, B Klaasen, Basson; B Pretorius, Ungerer; Tshakweni, Willemse, Terblanche, Greeff, Astle (capt), Ntsila, Van Schalkwyk, Lerm.

Replacements: A Van Rooyen, Ferreira, Scholtz, Oelofse, De Wit, R Van Rooyen, Banda, Rokoua.After a lengthy period on the sidelines due to injury, Sithole will make a long-awaited return to the playing field, making his first appearance for the season in the starting line-up.

Sithole will form a midfield partnership with Berton Klaasen, who made his 50th appearance for the Southern Kings last week and is a replacement for the injured Tertius Kruger.

Kruger sustained an ankle injury in Sunday’s 18-18 tie with Dragons.

In other changes in the backline, Ulrich Beyers will make a return to the starting line-up at No15 in the place of Masixole Banda, while Harlon Klaasen will start on the right wing where he replaces Michael Makase, who himself was a late replacement last week following a late hamstring injury to the Southern Kings’ leading try-scorer Yaw Penxe.

In the forwards, exciting young prop Alulutho Tshakweni makes a return to the starting XV in a rotational switch with veteran, Schalk Ferreira, who will be on the bench this week.

Captain JC Astle will have a new starting lock partner in Stephan Greeff, who will get a start in the No4 jersey this week.

Dries van Schalkwyk shifts to blindside flank, where he replaces hard-tackling Tienie Burger, who has been ruled out of action with a shoulder injury.

Fijian Meli Rokoua, will also make a return to the match-23 squad where he will provide backline cover alongside Banda.

Schalk Oelofse has also been included on the bench to provide cover in the second row.

“We have had a few injuries that have forced us to make certain changes to our team,” coach Deon Davids said.Here’s what we do know:
Benetton vs Leinster
Benetton Rugby is for real. The team from Treviso, Italy produced a thrilling performance, going through 29 phase on the final play of the game to score and secure a draw with mighty Leinster.

Although Leinster has already clinched 1st in Conference B, they still showed plenty of resilience in Italy. Having conceded the majority of possession and behind for most of the game, the Irish team still clawed back to get that tied result.

Scarlets vs Edinburgh
FloRugby columnist Juan Pablo Socino will be very happy with his team’s effort this week, as Edinburgh needed badly to win.

The two teams were lying 4th and 5th in Conference B, and so a loss would probably take one of them out of playoff contention. Scarlets were happy to have Leigh Halfpenny back, but it was his mistake that allowed Jaco van der Walt to run the length of the pitch for Edinburgh’s second try to cap the comeback.Connacht did just barely enough, beating Zebre 6-5. A loss would have opened the door wider for the Cardiff Blues to chase down the Irishmen in Conference A.

And how about Zebre’s defense? Not bad for a last-place team.

Toyota Cheetahs vs Ospreys
Dan Evans is still scoring for Ospreys, as the Welsh team won on the road in South Africa. That’s a tough place to play, and they the victory keeps hope alive for Ospreys.

Munster vs Cardiff Blues
Munster was the Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup, and that grinding forward power is what will get them there.

Having clinched a spot in the playoffs, Munster now wants a bye to the semifinals. Cardiff could have used a bonus point, but, while an exciting attacking team (Aled Summerhill especially), the Blues have paid the price for a leaky defense.Glasgow has not secured a first-round bye, but the Warriors will be in the playoffs, and showed how clinical they can be against a very good Ulster team.

Ulster missed crucial opportunities, and Glasgow’s cover defense was exceptional.

Isuzu Southern Kings vs Dragons
The Dragons have won four games, Southern Kings only two, but the Kings are ahead of the Dragons in the standings. Why? Bonus points.

This is a testament to how the Southern Kings play exciting, open rugby, and how they don’t give up. The South African team has seven (seven!) close-loss bonus points to go with five four-try bonus points.

Those additional 12 points are more than two victories, and bump them ahead of a Dragons team that is yet to get a four-try bonus point in any game.

This game was a wild one and adding to that was some poor discipline on both sides. At one point it was 13-on-13.

So now what? Here’s where every team stands in the playoff hunt:

Edinburgh vs Ulster

Edinburgh vs Ulster Live : Magnus Bradbury has taken over the Edinburgh No 6 jersey from John Barclay for the vital rugby match against Ulster. The capital side are now in the business end of the season, with one more home league match to play before the Guinness PRO14 Finals Series. With just three points separating Ulster in third and Edinburgh in fourth in the Conference B standings.

The one other change among the substitutes sees Allan Dell return as loosehead prop replacement instead of Rory Sutherland. Edinburgh are currently fourth in Conference B on 51 points, three points behind second-placed Ulster.

“We’ve got to win,” head coach Richard Cockerill said. “It’s the same as last week. If we don’t, we’re relying on other results and miracles. We’ve just got to keep winning.

“Although Ulster were beaten by Glasgow, they were extremely good against Leinster the week before and they should have won. They’ve had a tough run-in: they played in Dublin, Glasgow and now they come to us. Despite the 30-7 loss, Ulster remain in the Pro14 play-off places with two regular season games remaining.

“We have put ourselves in the position where we are second in the pool,” said Reidy.

“If we play some good footy, we can get that home quarter-final.”

Ulster boss Dan McFarland has described Friday’s encounter with Edinburgh as a “knockout game” in the race to reach the play-offs.

The Irish province currently hold a two-point lead over third-placed Benetton, with Edinburgh a further point behind.

A second-place finish will be rewarded with home advantage in the quarter-finals. raham; Hoyland, Bennett, Scott, van der Merwe; van der Walt, Pyrgos; Schoeman, McInally (c), WP Nel, Toolis, Gilchrist, Bradbury, Watson, Mata.

Replacements: Ford, Dell, Berghan, Hunter-Hill, Barclay, Shiel, Hickey, G Taylor.

ULSTER: J Stockdale, R Baloucoune, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore, I Henderson (c), K Treadwell, N Timoney, J Murphy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: J Andrew, A Warwick, R Kane, A O’Connor, S Reidy, D Shanahan, P Nelson, A Kernohan.

“We’ll put out our best team and we’ll both go as hard as we can to try and win. They’ve got a lot of quality, but we’ve got some pretty good players too.”

Edinburgh (v Ulster at Murrayfield, Friday 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports): Darcy Graham; Damien Hoyland, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata. Substitutes: Ross Ford, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Callum Hunter-Hill, John Barclay, Charlie Shiel, Simon Hickey, George Taylor.

Ulster: Jacob Stockdale; Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Iain Henderson, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee. Substitutes: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Sean Reidy, David Shanahan, Peter Nelson, Angus Kernihan.

To date, Dave Rennie’s team have only qualified for the play-offs but, with just a three-point lead over Munster at the top of Conference A, have yet to secure a home semi-final. They could clinch one this weekend if they win at Leinster and Munster are beaten by Benetton, otherwise the issue will not be decided until the last round of regular-season fixtures at the end of the month, when Edinburgh visit Scotstoun, possibly with a play-off fight of their own still to be settled.

With a series of decisive games coming up, Seymour himself feels particularly refreshed, having only returned to action in last week’s win over Ulster after an enforced break for a few weeks because of a rib injury acquired playing for Scotland against Wales. After just one match back he has yet to reach peak match fitness, but he has been encouraged by how well rested he and his colleagues feel at a point in the season when fatigue is usually taking its toll.

Blues vs Jets

Blues vs Jets Live :The St Louis Blues opened with a Blues vs Jets lackluster start to their quest for the 2019 Stanley Cup against the Winnipeg Jets. One good thing is they, The Blues will Blues vs Jets meet the Winnipeg Jets in what promises to be an exciting first-round matchup. The puck drops for Game 1 on Wednesday.

And then along came Tyler Bozak with the game-winning goal with just two minutes five seconds to play, giving the Blues a heart-pounding 2-1 victory Wednesday over Winnipeg. Bozak turned the lights out on the Jets’ Whiteout in the opening game of this Western Conference playoff series.

In the annals of Blues playoff history, it was the fourth-latest game-winning goal scored in regulation. Better late than never, right?

During an otherwise highly successful regular season, the Blues were 2-23-6 when trailing after two periods. They picked a good time for No. 3, getting goals from David Perron and then Bozak to erase a 1-0 Jets lead at Bell MTS Place — one of the league’s toughest venues on visiting teams.

“I had a lot of chances tonight, so I knew the puck was kind of following me around a bit,” said Bozak, who led the Blues with six shots on goal, matching his season high. “It’s always fun when that happens. So after the few I missed it was definitely nice to get one in there.”

Oakville’s Pat Maroon did the heavy lifting on the play, carrying the puck into the offensive zone despite some determined checking by Winnipeg, then winning a puck battle behind the net to set up Bozak.

“The D-man poached me and I tried to chip it over his stick,” Maroon said. “Got with it, and there were three guys on my back there. I was just trying to find the puck in my feet and I got loose and Bozy was high slot.

Maroon played with a heavy heart because his grandfather, Ernest Ferrara, passed away Tuesday. His nickname was “Jocko” and he was 94. That’s a long run, and a great nickname.

“He was behind me tonight. … He was watching above,” Maroon said. “Obviously that was for him. It’s been emotional, tough days for me. Being with the guys and having them by my side has been really good.”

Following Bozak’s goal, the Blues still had to negotiate 125 seconds of harrying hockey against one of the NHL’s most explosive scoring teams, including the last 100 seconds with Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck pulled in favor of an extra attacker.

“The mindset was just compete to the end and give the team a chance to win,” goalie Jordan Binnington said. “That buzzer couldn’t have come sooner. We were just battling throughout in our D-zone. It was a grind right till the end. So it was a good win.”

Just 34 seconds into the game, Jets star Mark Scheifele tried to take a bite out of Binnington, slamming into him behind the net as the Blues rookie tried to clear the puck.

And with just 13 seconds left in the game, Binnington bit back, robbing Scheifele of what looked like the game-tying goal with the save of the night — sliding over from his left to right in the crease.

“They were moving the puck around,” Binnington said. “It went down to Scheifele and I had to make a little bit of a desperation save there and hope for the best, with the boys coming and clearing out the rebound. That’s all I remember.”

From the opening faceoff — before it actually — it was the world against Binnington. Well, at least the corner of the world known as Manitoba.

During the week, there were comments from the Jets’ locker room about how they wanted to make him nervous. Then there was the unearthing of culturally insensitive tweets made by Binnington six years ago — on the eve of Wednesday’s playoff game, by a former Winnipeg resident.

Then came Scheifele’s hit, which brought a two-minute minor for interference. Then came the booing. Loud booing e-v-e-r-y time Binnington touched the puck.

Asked if he’d ever been booed before, Binnington replied: “I don’t think so. Yeah, they were all over me, but it’s a part of the game. It’s exciting. They’re passionate. … So whatever. We gotta handle it. Stay composed, so on to the next game.”

The victory was a study in perseverance for the Blues, who were literally knocked off their game for most of the first two periods. This wasn’t a case of Winnipeg’s speed or firepower causing trouble. It was their physical play and hitting — 24 hits in the first two periods alone and 36 in the game.

“Obviously an exciting building,” Bozak said. “The crowd was awesome. We were nervous at the start, but I thought we found our game as the game went on. I thought everyone did a great job.”

Midway through the opening period there were only three shots on goal apiece for the teams. But as the frame wore on, Winnipeg started to get the best of the hitting and most of the offensive zone time.

It paid off for the Jets at the 13:28 mark of the period, when Patrik Laine — name sound familiar? — ripped a wicked wrist shot past Binnington from the slot. Laine, you may recall, tied a Blues’ opponent record with five goals against St. Louis in an 8-4 victory at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24.

“Their goal gave them momentum a little bit and got the crowd into it even more,” Perron said. “We just kept climbing, climbing, grinding. Our second intermission, I thought we were calm and composed in (the locker room). It was good to see.”

Perron stopped the Winnipeg momentum with his game-tying goal off a drop pass from Colton Parayko at the 4:05 mark of the third. That seemed to get the Blues back on their game. By game’s end, they had negated Winnipeg’s home-ice advantage in the best-of-7 series.

“Well it’s one win, but it’s a good win for sure,” interim coach Craig Berube said. “We come in here, this is a tough building and it’s an excellent team over there. It’s going to be a battle. We were on the right side tonight.”

Lightning vs Blue Jackets

Lightning vs Blue Jackets Live : The NHL postseason upsets are more common than in other sports, but this one will draw 2019 Lightning vs Blue Jackets attention because the Lightning were dominant during the regular season and the Blue Jackets were forced to scramble to qualify for the playoffs.The tying goal was a shorthanded effort by Josh Lightning vs Blue Jackets Anderson against the NHL’s best power play.

The Lightning and Blue Jackets meet again in Game 2 on Friday night at Amalie Arena.Tampa Bay will look to bounce back from a disheartening 4-3 defeat to Columbus in the first game of the series. The Bolts jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period but surrendered four unanswered goals over the final two periods to drop Game 1.

Find out how to watch, listen, and live stream the action.After (almost) every Tampa Bay Lightning playoff game, I’ll be here to offer up my thoughts about the game. Some of these thoughts will be analytical, some emotional, and some just whatever. Sometimes these thoughts will be really nicely structured and thought out ahead of time. Sometimes, they’ll just be a stream of conscious talking. We’ll never know until I start writing.

So here’s our first one of the playoffs. The Lightning came out for the first period and Amalie Arena was rocking through the first 20 minutes. If you had a prop bet of Alex Killorn scoring a shorthanded goal as the first goal of the NHL playoffs…congratulations, you probably won like a million dollars or something. The Lightning went up 3-0 in the first period, controlling the play and the puck very well. Then the second period started and the Columbus Blue Jackets started to turn it around and they got their first goal. Then in the third period, the Lightning started coming apart, pushing too much for another goal, and gave up three more.

They blew it. They had the game in hand. A 3-0 start and a 3-1 lead after two periods in a playoff game? They should have had it. They should have closed it out. Simple as that. This team has been in the playoffs too many times. They should have known better. Unfortunately, they didn’t and they got slapped in the face for it.

BUT! And I say but…this was just game one. It’s a seven game series. Yeah, I know that’s not much comfort after a loss, but it’s true. There’s still a lot more hockey to be played. Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning have traditionally not played their best games after a longer break.

Losing the first game isn’t the end of the world either. In the previous 11 playoff series for the Lightning, going back to the 2013-14 playoffs, the team is 4-7 in game ones. Following four of those game one losses, the Lightning went on to win the series, include two Gentlemen’s Sweeps of winning the next four to finish the series out in five games. There’s still a chance for the Lightning to do that. Oh, by the way before I forget, two other home teams lost last night as well with the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets falling.

The Lightning will practice today, watch video, and come back at it Friday night for game two. I expect them to come out and play a much more determined 60 minutes of hockey. I also expect Vasilevskiy to be sharp and play out of his mind. He only lost two games in a row once this season, and never two games in a row in regulation. I expect he’ll play lights out in game two and it’s my hope that with the every other day rhythm going through game four, that he will get into a groove.So let’s talk about some individual players.

Victor Hedman – He did not look very good last night. He got turned around on Columbus’ second goal of the game. He was also out there for the game tying goal. He hadn’t played in a week and a half and he looked rusty. I expect that he’ll look better on Friday night.

Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, J.T. Miller – The third line was the Lightning’s best line for much of the night. So it’s weird for me to look at the stats today and see that Killorn and Cirelli played less than Cedric Paquette and Mathieu Joseph at even strength. J.T. Miller played a handful more even strength shifts, but still was down the line in EV ice time. Killorn picked up the shortie to open the scoring, and Cirelli got the second goal. They were aggressive, strong on the puck, and controlled it. I would like to see them get at least a little more ice time on Friday.

Jan Rutta – Rutta looked good and bad last night. He actually had the third highest EV TOI among the Lightning’s defensemen clocking in just 8 seconds less than Ryan McDonagh. Overall, his advanced stats ended up looking pretty decent though.

Dan Girardi – He did not look great. He took a bad check to the head penalty in the first period. Granted, that shift with the fourth line was getting chippy and a lot of big hits were being thrown in both directions. But he got stuck in his own zone quite a bit and had the worst possession stats on the team.

Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak – Once again, they looked like the Lightning’s best defensive pair. Cernak took a handful of shifts next to Hedman at even strength as the coaching staff kept Girardi’s minutes down

Braydon Coburn – Coburn got to watch the misery of this game from the press box. Or more likely a TV in the bowels of the arena. I won’t be surprised if he draws back in. Perhaps in place of Girardi, Sergachev, or Rutta. We might find out a little more of a hint today at practice. But I hope that he gets back into the line up.
Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point – Eight shots on goal. 16 shot attempts. No points. Stamkos’ possession numbers were fine, but Point and Kucherov were getting stuck in their own zone far too often.

The Blue Jackets didn’t give them much space. With that said, Kucherov hit a post. Stamkos had his one timers stopped on the power play. If not, this game might have turned out differently. In the playoffs, your best players need to be your best players. And these three weren’t. The depth players did their job last night. Put that together with the goalie and the top players doing their job, and you win games and series in the NHL playoffs.

Now, let me just finish this off talking about the officiating. The only zebras on the ice that did a good job last night were the linesmen. But this is the playoffs. We talk all the time about how the referees put their whistles away in the name of “not wanting to affect the game.” But in doing so, they affect the game. If they want to let borderline calls go, then ok. It’s the playoffs.

But they let some flagrantly obvious penalties go in the second period. One in particular where Hedman had his jersey grabbed, by two hands, and was pulled backwards while he had the puck and was trying to skate out of the zone. Kucherov also got away with an obvious crosscheck. I point these two out, because a lot of calls that should have been made to both teams didn’t get a rise out of the referees.

The officials did seem to realize how ridiculous the standard they set in the second period was. By how they called that period, there shouldn’t have been a single penalty called for the rest of the game, short of Happy Gilmore showing up to stab someone with his skate.

I have a feeling that the referees communicated to the teams that they wouldn’t be so lenient in the third period and they did end up calling a couple of legitimate penalties with the two high sticking calls to Brandon Dubinsky and Alex Killorn.

But let’s not blame the referees for this loss. It was not their fault. The Lightning’s special teams let them down being unable to score on the power play, giving up a short handed goal, and giving up a power play goal. The Lightning did get their one shorthanded goal, but overall, Columbus’ special teams showed up and ultimately were the deciding difference in the game.

To the Lightning, get to work today. Study tape. Get your heads on straight. I want to see you come out on Friday night and play the first period the same way you did in game one. But then carry that into the second and third period and play a full sixty minutes. Let’s take care of business here so that we can go into Columbus and take it to them in their home arena.