Preview: Pro12, Round Seven
BIG WEEKEND SPOTLIGHT: The second of the Pro12's big weekends arrives in Round Seven and looks set to cap off a massive month of high-stakes as the Championship recommences after two weeks of European action.
The Pro12 clubs have made a strong start in both the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup with six clubs - Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh - all topping their pools in their respective continental competitions.
Carrying on from Round Six where a record 45 tries were scored the Pro12 clubs have shown attacking intent in Europe as they have contributed 81 tries in just 23 fixtures.
Wins against non-Pro12 opposition in both tournaments has backed up the top-class rugby seen in the Championship this season with Pro12 teams winning five of the nine fixtures against teams from other leagues.
This weekend will see the resumption of more familiar rivalries with derby games fixed for Ireland and Wales as part of the Big Weekend concept.
Ulster's unbeaten start to the season finally came to an end in Round 6 where they met a resurgent Connacht side who used their interprovincial victory as a springboard into the European Champions Cup where they won their first two games.
Back in the Pro12 the fiercely competitive race to reach the Championship decider at Aviva Stadium on May 27, 2017 sees just four points separating the top six teams while Connacht and Scarlets are looking to regain lost ground after a slow start to season.
Connacht will visit Leinster at the RDS Arena but they have not won in the Irish capital since 2002 while Scarlets travel to the Welsh capital to take on Cardiff Blues having picked up three wins in their last four fixtures against the other regions.
Home records will be a big strength this weekend with Cardiff Blues having suffered just one defeat in almost three years to the other regions, Leinster are 18 games unbeaten at home in the Pro12 while Ospreys have racked up 31 tries in all competitions at Liberty Stadium this season.
Kingspan Stadium in Belfast will host the clash between teams in the top six of the Pro12 as Ulster host Munster. It promises to be an exciting affair with Charles Piutau of Ulster claiming some of the most eye-catching performances of the season so far and he should have the world-class talents of Ruan Pienaar beside him.
However, Munster will be eager to put their best foot forward to help cope with the tragic loss of head coach Anthony Foley and they will look to Tyler Bleyendaal, Jaco Taute and Pro12 top tackler Billy Holland to steer them back towards to the top of the table.
Top Performers in Round Six - Powered by Opta Statistics
Metres Gained: Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues) 140
Carries: CJ Stander (Munster) 22
Clean Breaks: Adam Warren (Newport Gwent Dragons) four
Defenders Beaten: Garry Ringrose (Leinster) & Johan Meyer (Zebre) seven
Tackles Made: James King (Ospreys) 20
Offloads: Tiernan O'Halloran (Connacht) four
Turnovers won: Robbie Henshaw (Leinster) & Ben Toolis (Edinburgh) two
Try Assists: Scott Williams (Scarlets) & Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors) two
We look at all the Round Seven matches!
Friday, October 28
CARDIFF BLUES v SCARLETS
(Cardiff Arms Park - Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 GMT)
Cardiff Blues made a great start to their European Challenge Cup campaign beating Bristol and Pau to head the pool four table after two rounds.
Blues have lost their last two Pro12 encounters but have not lost three in a row in the Championship since November 2015.
The Capital side's only defeat to a fellow Welsh region at Cardiff Arms Park since December 2013 was to Newport Gwent Dragons in the Pro12 on Boxing Day 2014.
Scarlets have won their last three matches in the Pro12 but have not won four in a row in the competition since this time last year.
Scarlets only victory in their last five away games in all tournaments was 22-6 in Treviso in the Pro12 Round Five.
The west Walians have won three of their last four fixtures against fellow Welsh regions.
The Blues achieved the season's double over Scarlets last year for the first time since season 2009/10.
Scarlets have not been successful on Cardiff soil since a 9-6 victory at Cardiff Arms Park in December 2012.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Cam Dolan, 7 Josh Turnbull (captain), 6 Macauley Cook, 5 James Down, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Seb Lewis, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Dan Fish.
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 DTH van der Merwe, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Hadleigh Parkes (captain), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 John Barclay, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Tom Price, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 James Davies, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Ioan Nicholas.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Cammy Rudkin (Scotland), Dai Cambourne (Wales)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Ireland)
EDINBURGH v ZEBRE
(Murrayfield - Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have won their last three matches, the two most recent in the European Challenge Cup taking them to the top of pool five in that tournament.
The Scotsmen's only defeat to an Italian opponent in their last eight such meetings was 11-19 to Zebre in Parma in October 2015.
Zebre are still without a win this season with their most recent victory in the Pro12 being against Newport Gwent Dragons in Parma in Round 22 last season.
The Italians have not been victorious on the road since a trip to Worcester in the European Challenge Cup in January, and have never won in eight previous visits to Scotland.
The five most recent meetings between the two sides have been shaded by Zebre by three wins to two, with all three victories being at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Sean Kennedy, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 John Hardie, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Felipe Arregui, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Jack Cosgrove, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Michael Allen, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Andries van Schalkwyk, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Matteo Pratichetti, 23 Giovanni D'Onofrio.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Emanuele Tomo (Italy), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v BENETTON TREVISO
(Scotstoun Stadium - Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors last three matches in the Pro12 have all curiously been won by the away side on the day.
Warriors solitary defeat at Scotstoun in the Championship since September 2015 being when Ulster were the visitors in Round Four of this campaign.
The Scotsmen have won their last twenty matches against Italian opponents since their reversal to Treviso at Firhill in September 2011.
Benetton Treviso's only win so far this season was 27-11 at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on 23 September.
Treviso are without a victory outside of Italy since round 22 of the 2012/13 season when they were successful at Scarlets.
The Warriors have won their last nine matches against Treviso, whilst the Italian's most recent success in Scotland was when they beat Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield in October 2012.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Henry Pyrgos (cc), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Jonny Gray (cc), 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Alex Allan
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 D'Arcy Rae, 19 Brian Alainu'uese, 20 Langilangi Haupeakui, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Lee Jones
Treviso: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 David Odiete, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Andrea Pratichetti, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Abraham Steyn, 7 Alessandro Zanni (c), 6 Dean Budd, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 Filippo Gerosa, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Francesco Minto, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Angelo Esposito
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Kevin White (Scotland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
ULSTER v MUNSTER
(Kingspan Stadium - Kick-off: 19.05; 20.05)
Ulster were defeated by Connacht in Galway in round 6, their first loss of this campaign, and have not lost successive Pro12 encounters since February.
Ulster have won their last seven matches in Belfast in all tournaments since Scarlets were successful there by a single point in the Pro12 on 21 February.
Munster tripped up at Leinster in round 6 of the Pro12 but have not lost back-to-back fixtures in the Championship since April.
Munster's only success against a fellow Irish province in their last six such encounters was 9-7 in this equivalent fixture in Ulster last season.
Munster are unbeaten in their last four meetings with Ulster since the Ulstermen triumphed 19-17 at Thomond Park in the Pro12 in May 2014.
Munster are unbeaten on their last two visits to Kingspan Stadium and have not gone three matches without defeat in Belfast since the Second World War.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Andy Warwick, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Conor Joyce, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Jacob Stockdale.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O'Mahony, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O'Donoghue, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Peter O'Mahony (c), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Vincent O'Brien, 17 Brian Scott, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Darren O'Shea, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Abriel Griesel, 22 Alex Wootton, 23 Dan Goggin.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Saturday, October 29
LEINSTER v CONNACHT
(RDS Arena - Kick-off: 17.15; 18.15 GMT)
Leinster's only defeat in the Pro12 this season was 25-33 to Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun on Round Two.
The Leinstermen are unbeaten in their last 18 home games in the Pro12, including a run of 16 successive victories.
The Leinstermen have only ever lost twice to a fellow Irish province at the RDS Arena: to Munster in September 2008 and to Ulster in March 2013.
Connacht have won their last four matches with the two most recent taking them to the top of pool two in the European Champions Cup.
Connacht's only defeat in their last five encounters with an Irish opponent was 10-18 in Ulster in April.
Connacht have won their last two matches against Leinster including last season's Pro12 final and have never tallied three successive wins against their neighbours since the two first locked horns in 1931, however Connacht have not been victorious in Dublin since a 26-23 win at Donnybrook in the Pro12 in September 2002.
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa (captain), 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rob Kearney.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Peter Robb, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 JP Cooney.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 James Cannon, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Bundee Aki, 23 Stacey Ili.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andy Brace, Jonathan Peak (both Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
OSPREYS v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
(Liberty Stadium - Kick-off: 15.00; 16.00 GMT)
Ospreys have won their last three matches, the most recent two taking them to the top of their pool in the European Challenge Cup.
Ospreys have won all four home games at Liberty Stadium this season in all tournaments, tallying 31 tries and conceding just five.
Ospreys only defeat in their last nine encounters with fellow Welsh regions was 16-25 at home to Scarlets in March.
Newport Gwent Dragons' only victory in their last six matches was 37-16 at home to Brive in the European Challenge Cup.
Dragons have lost their last four Pro12 encounters since beating Zebre at Rodney Parade in Round Two. They have not won away from home in the Championship since a trip to Treviso in March 2015.
Dragons most recent success over a fellow Welsh region in the Pro12 came on a trip to Cardiff on Boxing Day 2014.
Ospreys have won their last nine fixtures against Dragons since their neighbours to the east won by a single point at Rodney Parade on 6 January 2012. Dragons' only previous victory at Liberty Stadium was 21-16 in October 2010.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Ben John, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Josh Matavesi, 9 Tom Habberfield (captain), 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Rob McCusker, 20 Scott Otten, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Jonathan Spratt, 23 Dafydd Howells.
Dragons: 15 Tom Prydie, 14 Pat Howard, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Adam Warren, 10 Nick Macloed, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans (captain), 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Nick Crosswell, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Phil Price, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Ollie Griffiths, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Geraint Rhys Jones, 23 Ashton Hewitt.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ian Davies, Wayne Davies (both Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)