Preview: Pro12, Round Nine
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Pro12 season continues to go from strength-to-strength as Round Eight saw all 12 outfits maintain the record-setting pace when it came to scoring tries.
Already 247 tries have been scored in 47 games, which averages out at over five tries a game and supporters are clearly reacting to the action on the pitch with an increase in attendances reported this season as well as a 25 percent surge in broadcast viewers.
A number of intriguing fixtures take place this weekend - starting with Cardiff Blues' trip to face Connacht in Galway.
Danny Wilson's men are looking to recover their form after falling off in recent rounds against a Connacht side desperate to get themselves back in the hunt for a top-six place.
Ulster will look to arrest their three-game losing streak when they host Zebre while Scarlets entertain Leinster with the Welsh region eager to continue their run of victories at Parc y Scarlets.
With year-end internationals taking place this weekend Munster will take on Zebre in Thomond Park on Saturday, while Newport-Gwent Dragons go up against Edinburgh on Sunday.
The Welsh-Scottish clash comes after both sides upset Irish provinces (Connacht and Ulster) in Round Eight.
After Round Eight, four-time title holders Leinster have cemented their place at the top of the Championship table with a bonus-point win over Zebre where Adam Byrne scored a hat-trick of tries.
The province are three points clear of their oldest rivals Munster, who are second, while the chasing pack includes four former title winners in Ospreys, Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and Scarlets.
Top Performers in Round Eight - powered by Opta Statistics
Metres Gained: Tiernan O'Halloran (Connacht) 168
Carries: Bundee Aki (Connacht) 20
Clean Breaks: Ronan O'Mahony (Munster) three
Defenders Beaten: Willis Haloholo (Cardiff Blues) 11
Tackles Made: Nick Crosswell (Newport-Gwent Dragons) 25
Offloads: Noel Reid (Leinster) 4
Turnovers won: Multiple Players - 3
Try Assists: Steffan Evans (Scarlets) 2
We look at all the Round Nine matches!
Friday, November 25
CONNACHT v CARDIFF BLUES
(Sportsground - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Connacht have won just two games in the Pro12 this season, both at home, to Edinburgh and Ulster in rounds five and six - the only occasions they have scored four tries.
Connacht have already been defeated by the other three Welsh regions this season.
Cardiff Blues 34-28 victory in Treviso in round 8 ended a three game losing run in the Pro12.
The Blues only away defeat in the Championship since March came when they visited Ospreys on 7 October.
Cardiff Blues solitary defeat to Connacht in their last six encounters was 31-36 at The Sportsground in this equivalent fixture in Round Three last season.
Connacht: 15 Cian Kelleher, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Jack Carty, 9 John Cooney, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Danie Poolman.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Ellis Jenkins (captain), 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Taufa'ao Filise, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Rhodri Davies, 22 Alex Cuthbert, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v OSPREYS
(Scotstoun Stadium - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors 3-27 reversal at Scarlets in round 8 ended their three game winning run in the Pro12.
The Warriors have suffered only one defeat at Scotstoun in any competition in the last twelve months: 17-22 to Ulster in the Pro12 on 23 September.
Ospreys last six matches in the Pro12 have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst the Welshmen have not won on the road in the Championship since their round 2 victory at Connacht.
Ospreys have lost on their last eight visits to Scotland.
Warriors only defeat in their last ten fixtures against Ospreys was 10-21 at Liberty Stadium on 8 May 2015.
Ospreys are the only Welsh region not to have tasted success so far at Scotstoun.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Lewis Wynne, 5 Brian Alainu'uese, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 D'arcy Rae, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Adam Nicol, 19 Robert McAlpine, 20 Langilangi Haupeakui, 21 George Horne, 22 Patrick Kelly, 23 Junior Bulumakau.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Dafydd Howells, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Grabham, 10 Josh Matavesi, 9 Tom Habberfield (captain), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Rob McCusker, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Luke Price, 23 Tom O'Flaherty.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland) Bob Nevin (Scotland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
SCARLETS v LEINSTER
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Scarlets have won their last five Pro12 encounters since their 8-19 defeat in Ulster in Round Three.
The Welshmen have won their last five matches in all competitions at Parc y Scarlets since Munster won there on the opening weekend of the new season - their only defeat by an Irish province in the last three years.
Leinster have lost just one of their last eight matches in all tournaments: 16-22 in Montpellier in the European Champions Cup on 23 October.
The Leinstermen have won their last three away games in the Pro12 but have not won four in a row on the road in the Championship since 2013.
Leinster's solitary defeat to a Welsh region in the last twelve months was 13-23 at Newport Gwent Dragons at the end of January.
The last five encounters between the two sides have all gone the way of the home side on the day, whilst Leinster's most recent success at Parc y Scarlets was 42-19 on the opening round of the 2013/14 campaign.
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Johnny Mcnicholl, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Hadleigh Parkes (captain), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 Will Boyde, 7 James Davies, 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 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Gareth Owen.
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa (captain), 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12. Noel Reid, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Andrew Porter, 18 Oisín Heffernan, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Peadar Timmins, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Elgan Williams (Wales)
ULSTER v ZEBRE
(Kingspan Stadium - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Ulster's only victory in their last five matches in all tournaments was 19-18 at home to Exeter in the European Champions Cup on 22 October.
The Ulstermen's single point defeat to Munster in their most recent encounter at Kingspan Stadium ended a seven game winning run at the venue.
Zebre's only victory so far this season was 19-14 against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round Seven of the Pro12.
Zebre have never won successive away games in the history of the tournament and have yet to record a victory when visiting an Irish province.
Ulster's only defeat to Zebre in eight previous meetings was 6-13 in Parma in September 2014.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Brett Herron, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Black, 18 Andy Warwick, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Craig Gilroy, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Simone Balocchi, 13 Matteo Pratichetti, 12 Tommaso Castello (captain), 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Alberto Chiesa, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Giovanni Pettinelli, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Bruno Postiglioni.
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Maicol Azzolini, 23 Lloyd Greeff.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Davies (Wales), Helen O'Reilly (Ireland)
TMO: Paul Adams (Wales)
Saturday, November 26
MUNSTER v BENETTON TREVISO
(Thomond Park - Kick-off: 14.00; 14.00 GMT; 15.00 Italian time)
Munster's solitary defeat in any competition since September was 14-25 to Leinster at Aviva Stadium in round 6 of the Pro12.
The Munstermen are undefeated in any tournament at Thomond Park since Leinster were the visitors in the Pro12 at Christmas 2015.
Benetton Treviso have won just one game in any competition this season: 27-11 at home to Newport Gwent Dragons in Round Four of the Pro12.
The Italians have not won outside Italy since a trip to Scarlets in May 2013, whilst their most recent victory at an Irish province was on a trip to Galway in December 2011.
Munster have won their last seven fixtures against Treviso in all competitions since the Italians 29-19 success at Stadio Monigo in the Pro12 three years ago.
Treviso have never won in nine previous visits to Munster in all competitions.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal,9 Duncan Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Tommy O’Donnell (captain), 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Darren O’Shea, 4 Dave Foley, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Billy Holland, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Alex Wootton.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Michael Tagicakibau, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Marco Barbini, 7 Filippo Ferrarini, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Michael Van Vuren, 4 Filippo Gerosa, 3 Matteo Zanusso, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Roberto Santamaria, 20 Federico Conforti, 21 Enrico Francescato, 22 Andrea Pratichetti, 23 David Odiete
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
Sunday, November 27
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS v EDINBURGH
(Rodney Parade - Kick-off: 15.30; 15.30 GMT)
Newport Gwent Dragons 21-16 victory at home to Connacht in Round Eight ended a five game losing run in the Pro12.
The Welshmen have not won back-to-back contests in the tournament since April 2015.
Dragons have won just one of their past eleven encounters with Scottish sides: 19-5 at home to Edinburgh in May 2015.
Edinburgh's only defeat in their last five fixtures in all tournaments was 14-19 at home to Zebre in Round Seven of the Pro12.
Edinburgh are one of just four sides who have yet to record an away victory in the Championship this season, with their most recent success on the road coming in this equivalent fixture last season.
Edinburgh have lost only one of their last eight encounters with Dragons, whilst their record at Rodney Parade in the Pro12 is won four, drawn one, lost nine.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Pat Howard, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Ollie Griffiths, 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 Nic Cudd, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Geraint Rhys Jones, 23 Tyler Morgan
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Sean Kennedy, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Neil Cochrane (captain), 1 Jack Cosgrove
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Kyle Whyte, 18 Felipe Arregui, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Viliame Mata, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Glenn Bryce
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Rhys Thomas (Wales)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)