Preview: Pro12, Round 17
Round 17 of the Pro12 kicks off with five games on Friday, with both contenders for the top spot in action.
Round 17 of the Pro12 kicks off with five games on Friday, with both contenders for the top spot in action.
Leaders Ulster, who have been at the top since round five, welcome Benetton Treviso to Ravenhill whilst Glasgow Warriors host Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun.
Having lost out to their nearest rivals, Glasgow Warriors, the last time out, Ulster are now only three points clear at the top and must be hoping for a victory over Treviso to help them hold on to the top spot for the remaining six rounds and claim one of the coveted home Play-Off berths.
The only time Glasgow Warriors have topped the table was over the Christmas/New Year period in 2009/10, but they are the form team of the moment, having claimed bonus point wins in their last four outings, and will be hoping to continue that roll against Cardiff Blues.
There is a settled look to the top of the table, the first three places have been the same for the last four rounds, but should Warriors slip up, Leinster are poised to claim advantage, if they are able to overcome Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade.
Scarlets meanwhile, who dropped out of the Play-Off zone following their defeat in Leinster last weekend, welcome Edinburgh to Parc y Scarlets, a venue the visitor have won at just once, in 2009.
The round wraps up on Saturday when two of the protagonists for a top four finish, Munster and Ospreys, face each other at Thomond Park.
History suggests that Munster have the better record of these clashes at Thomond Park, but Ospreys have taken the spoils in the last four meetings between the teams, so this game is finely balanced.
We look at all the Round 17 action!
Friday, March 1
Newport Gwent Dragons v Leinster
(Rodney Parade - Kick-off: 19.00; 19.00 GMT)
Newport Gwent Dragons' only loss in their last five fixtures in all competitions was 3-60 at home to Glasgow Warriors in their most recent contest at Rodney Parade.
Dragons have won just three of their last eleven home games in the Pro12.
The Men from Gwent's only victory over an Irish province since September 2011 was 14-3 at home to Connacht on 23 November 2012.
Leinster have won their last seven matches in all competitions since their 19-27 defeat in Ulster in the Pro12 on 21 December.
The Leinstermen have won six of their last seven encounters against Welsh regions in all competitions.
Leinster have won their last five fixtures against Newport Gwent Dragons since Dragons were last victorious on 6 December 2009 at Rodney Parade.
Dragons: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Steffan Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 Phil Price, 7 Sam Parry, 6 Nathan Buck, 5 Ian Nimmo, 4 Jevon Groves, 3 Lewis Evans (captain), 2 Nic Cudd, 1 Ieuan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Aaron Coundley, 18 Dan Way, 19 Rob Sidoli, 20 Adam Jones, 21 Wayne Evans, 22 Tom Prydie, 23 Will Harries.
Leinster: 15 Luke Fitzgerald, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Fergus McFadden, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Shane Jennings (captain), 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Mark Flanagan, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack O'Connell.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Leo Cullen, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Andrew Goodman, 23 Eoin O'Malley.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Sean Brickell (both Wales)
Scarlets v Edinburgh
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 19.05; 19.05 GMT)
Scarlets' three game winning run in all competitions ended with their 5-32 reversal in Leinster on Saturday.
The Welshmen have won their last three fixtures at Parc y Scarlets since Clermont Auvergne won there, 29-0, in the European Cup on 19 January.
Scarlets have won their last four home games against Scottish visitors.
Edinburgh have slipped to ten successive defeats in all tournaments - their worst run in the professional era.
Edinburgh's only win on their last 14 visits to Wales in all competitions since December 2009 was 21-19 over Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park in the Pro12 on 7 September 2012.
Scarlets have taken four of their last five encounters with Edinburgh, whilst the Scotsmen's only previous victory at Parc y Scarlets was 17-16 in the Pro12 on 4 December 2009.
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Nick Reynolds, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Johan Synman, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Kieran Murphy, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Kristian Phillips.
Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Ben Cairns, 12 Ben Atiga, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Harry Leonard, 9 Richie Rees, 8 David Denton, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Stuart McInally, 5 Sean Cox (captain), 4 Perry Parker, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Steven Lawrie, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Andy Titterrell, 17 John Yapp, 18 Alex Allan, 19 Robert McAlpine, 20 Netani Talei, 21 Chris Leck, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Tom Brown.
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, Greg Morgan (both Wales)
TMO: Paul Adams (Wales)
Ulster v Benetton Treviso
(Ravenhill - Kick-off: 19.05; 19.05 GMT)
Ulster still find themselves atop the Pro12 table despite losing three of their last five games in the tournament.
The Ulstermen's only home Pro12 defeat this season remains the 12-16 scoreline to Ospreys at Ravenhill in round 14.
Ulster have lost only one previous match to an Italian opponent in any competition: 12-23 to Treviso in Belfast in the Pro12 on 7 October 2011.
Benetton Treviso's three game losing run in the Pro12 ended with their 34-10 victory over Munster at Stadio Monigo on Sunday.
Treviso's only win outside of Italy this season in any competition was 27-22 against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in round six of the Pro12.
The Italian's are going for a second successive win over an Irish province for the first time.
Ulster have won eight of their nine previous encounters with Treviso in all tournaments, whilst the Italians won 23-12 on their most recent visit to Ravenhill.
Ulster: 15 Ricky Andrew, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Mike McComish, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rob Herring, 1 John Afoa.
Replacements: 16 Neil Brady, 17 Calum Black, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Ali Birch, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Niall O'Connor, 23 Chris Cochrane.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Brendan Williams, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Andrea Pratichetti, 12 Gideon La Grange, 11 Giulio Toniolatti, 10 Alberto Di Bernardo, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Christian Loamanu, 7 Filippo Giusti, 6 Dean Budd, 5 Corniel Van Zyl (captain), 4 Valerio Bernabò, 3 Jacobus Roux, 2 Giovanni Maistri, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Matteo Muccignat, 18 Pedro Di Santo, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Marco Filippucci, 21 James Ambrosini, 22 Luca Morisi, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, David Keane (both Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Glasgow Warriors v Cardiff Blues
(Scotstoun Stadium - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have now recorded four successive maximum point victories in the Pro12 - equalling the tournament record set by Dragons in 2003/04.
Warriors are the current form team in the Pro12 having won their last six contests and securing 28 league points in the process.
The Scotsmen have lost just once to a Welsh region in their last eight such encounters.
Cardiff Blues have won five of their last seven away games in the Pro12, whilst their only defeat in their last six visits to Scotland in the tournament was 3-31 to Glasgow at Firhill in this equivalent fixture last March.
This is the 4th different venue in the last four Warriors-Blues contests with Glasgow winning the last three.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Peter Horne, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Niko Matawalu, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 John Barclay, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Al Kellock (captain), 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Ofa Fainga'anuku, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tom Ryder, 20 James Eddie, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Scott Wight, 23 Graeme Morrison.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Chris Czekaj, 14 Owen Williams, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Gavin Evans (captain), 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Alex Walker, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Rory Watts-Jones, 5 James Down, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Benoit Bourrust, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Taufa'ao Filise.
Replacements: 16 Marc Breeze, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Tamba Petru, 19 Maauley Cook, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Cory Allen.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Andy Macpherson, Graeme Marshall, (both Scotland)
Connacht v Zebre
(Sportsground - Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Connacht have won three of their last four games in the Pro12, whilst the Irishmen have been victorious in their last three fixtures at the Sportsground in all competitions.
Connacht have won their last five matches against Italian opponents in all tournaments.
Zebre recorded their second loss by the narrowest of margins in being defeated 13-14 by Newport Gwent Dragons in Parma on Sunday - it was the fifth occasion in the Pro12 that Zebre have been leading inside the final quarter of a game only to eventually lose the match.
The two sides have met on three occasions this season - once in the Pro12 and twice in the European Cup - with Connacht victorious every time.
Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Brian Murphy, 11 Gavin Duffy (captain), 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 TJ Anderson, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Fetu'u Vainikolo.
Zebre: 15 Alberto Benettin, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Matteo Pratichetti, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Paolo Buso, 9 Alberto Chillon, 8 Andries van Schalkwyk, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Filippo Ferrarini, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Josh Sole, 3 David Ryan, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Andrea De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Luciano Leibson, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Nicola Belardo, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Alberto Chiesa, 23 Samuele Pace.
Referee: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Michael Black, Ed Kenny (both Ireland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Saturday, March 2
Munster v Ospreys
(Thomond Park - Kick-off: 18.30; 18.30 GMT)
Munster have slipped to three defeats in their last four Pro12 fixtures.
The Munstermen's only two home losses in any competition this season have both been to Welsh opponents at Musgrave Park in the Pro12.
The last Welsh region with win at Thomond Park were Ospreys themselves on 8 October 2011.
Ospreys only reversal in their last seven Pro12 contests was 10-22 to Connacht in Galway on 15 February in their most recent away game in the tournament - they have not lost back to back Pro12 away fixtures since Christmas-New Year 2011-12.
Ospreys have won their last four encounters with Munster since the Munstermen were victorious at Thomond Park in the 2011 semifinal of the Pro12.
The Welsh region have won on two of their nine previous visits to Thomond Park in all competitions.
Munster: Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Doug Howlett (captain), 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Denis Hurley, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Cathal Sheridan, 8 James Coughlan. 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Paddy Butler, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Ian Nagle, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Damien Varley, 1 David Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Sean Dougall, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Ivan Dineen.
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Tom Habberfield, 13 Jonathan Spratt, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Issacs, 10 Matthew Morgan, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Jonathan Thomas, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 James King, 5 Lloyd Peers, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 3 Cai Griffiths, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Duncan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dwyer, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Ian Gough, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Arthur Ellis/Sam Davies, 22 Rhyss Webb, 23 Tom Grabham
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Eanna O'Dowd (both Ireland)
TMO: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)