Preview: Pro12, Round 10
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The battle to reach the Pro12 final is closing in on the halfway point and already it is impossible to project just who will reach the semi-finals come May.
Munster go into Round 10 as table toppers, the fourth team to do so this season, but former champions Leinster and Ospreys are in hot pursuit.
Entertainment has been the calling card of the Pro12 this season, with the 277 tries scored pointing towards a record-setting campaign, but clubs now will look to their returning international starts to further lift the intensity of their title challenges.
During November, 84 players combined for Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to take wins over all of the 2015 World Cup semi-finalists – Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In addition, 17 rising talents from the won their first caps between all four competing nations.
Round 10 is the last weekend of action until the Festive fixtures begin and all 12 clubs are looking to consolidate their positions in the Championship table before returning to European action. Cardiff Blues and Ulster will play out an intriguing game at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday, where both early title contenders are looking to arrest losing streaks.
Ulster have lost three in a row and have not lost four in succession since 2011, but Blues, too, need to break a run that has seen just one win in five fixtures. Ospreys, unbeaten at Liberty Stadium this season, will be looking to capitalise on an Edinburgh team that has just one road victory to their name in over a year.
Opposing records clash at the RDS, too, where Leinster have won their last 16 Championship fixtures and come up against a Newport-Gwent Dragons team that has lost on their last 16 away trips. Connacht host Benetton Treviso, who are searching for their first win outside of Italy since 2013, meanwhile, Zebre host surging Scarlets who are looking to make it seven wins in a row.
All the weekend's action!
Friday, December 2
Ospreys v Edinburgh
(Liberty Stadium, Kick-off: 19.35 GMT)
Ospreys' only defeat in the last four rounds was 0-33 in Munster in Round Eight. Ospreys have won their last four games at Liberty Stadium since Ulster beat them there in Round 22 last season.
Edinburgh have won just two of their last seven fixtures, both at home, to Benetton Treviso and Ulster. The Scotsmen's only victory outside of Scotland in the Championship since September 2015 was by a single point on a trip to Newport Gwent Dragons in March.
The last eight encounters between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Edinburgh's most recent success at Liberty Stadium was 32-30 in April 2009.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Rory Thornton, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Will Helu, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Kyle Whyte, 18 Felipe Arregui, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Viliame Mata, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Sean Brickell (Wales)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Glasgow Warriors v Munster
(Scotstoun Stadium, Kick-off: 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have slipped to two straight defeats, at Scarlets and at home to Ospreys, but have not lost three in a row in the Championship in the same season since 2010-11. The Warriors have not lost back-to-back games at Scotstoun since going down to Munster and Newport Gwent Dragons there in October/November 2013.
Top of the table Munster have won their last five matches in all tournaments since their 14-25 reversal to Leinster at Aviva Stadium in October. Since the start of last season, Munster's only defeat to a Scottish side was 24-27 to Glasgow Warriors at Kilmarnock in February.
The two sides have already met in the European Champions Cup this season with Munster winning 38-17 at Thomond Park on October 22. The last seven meetings have produced just two Munster victories whilst the Munstermen's only previous victory at Scotstoun came in October 2013.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Rory Hughes, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Mark Bennett, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson (captain), 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Rob Harley, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D'arcy Rae, 19 Rob McAlpine, 20 Langilangi Haupeakui, 21 Nemia Kenatale, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Lee Jones.
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 (captain), 5 Bill Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Te Aihe Toma, 22 Dan Goggin, 23 Alex Wootton.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Dunx McClement (Scotland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Saturday, December 3
Connacht v Benetton Treviso
(The Sportsground, Kick-off: 15.00 GMT)
Connacht have won their last four matches at The Sportsground in all tournaments since Ospreys beat them there on September 10. Connacht's only defeat to an Italian side since October 2013 came when they visited Treviso in Round 21 last season.
Benetton Treviso have lost their last five fixtures since beating Newport Gwent Dragons at Stadio Monigo in Round Four. The Italians are without a win on the road since beating Zebre in Parma in December 2014.
Each side won its respective home game when the two teams met last season, whilst Treviso's only previous success in Galway was 15-13 in December 2011.
Benetton Treviso: TBC
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 54th competition game)
Assistant referees: Gareth Newman (WRU), John Carvill (IRFU)
Zebre v Scarlets
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Kick-off: 15.05 local time; 14.05 GMT)
Zebre's only victory so far this season was 19-14 against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in Round Seven. The Italians have not won at home in Parma since beating Newport Gwent Dragons 47-22 on May 7.
Scarlets have won their last six matches, and three of the last four with a try bonus point. Scarlets have won their last two away games in the Championship but have not been victorious in three in a row on the road in the same season since the end of the 2014-15 campaign.
Scarlets have not lost to an Italian side since Benetton Treviso visited Parc y Scarlets in May 2013. The Welshmen have never been defeated by Zebre, although the two did play out a 16-all draw in Parma in October 2013.
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 47th competition game)
Assistant referees: Kieran Barry (IRFU), Filippo Bertelli (FIR)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
Cardiff Blues v Ulster
(Cardiff Arms Park, Kick-off: 17.15 GMT)
Cardiff Blues have won just one of their last five matches. The Blues have lost their last two home games in the Championship, to Leinster and to Scarlets, but have not lost three in a row in the Championship at Cardiff Arms Park since the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
Ulster have lost their last three fixtures and have not been defeated in four successive matches in the Championship since 2011. The Ulstermen have not won away from home since defeating Glasgow at Scotstoun at the end of September.
The Ulstermen have won their last four encounters with Welsh Regions. Each side won its respective home game when the two teams clashed last season whilst Ulster have been successful in Cardiff on two of their last four visits.
Cardiff Blues: TBC
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU), Aled Evans (WRU)
TMO: Charles Samson (SRU)
Leinster v Newport-Gwent Dragons
(RDS Arena, Kick-off: 19.35pm)
Leinster's six match winning run ended on Friday evening in Llanelli, although they did come away with their fourth try bonus point in that sequence. The Leinstermen have won their last 16 home games and are unbeaten in 18 matches at home since Newport Gwent Dragons beat them at the RDS Arena in February 2015.
Newport Gwent Dragons have won their last two matches, at home to Connacht and Edinburgh, but have not won three in a row in the Championship since April 2015. Dragons have lost their last 16 away games in the Championship, their worst ever losing run.
The Welshmen have lost just one of their last four fixtures against Leinster: 13-37 at the RDS Arena in Round Three last season, whilst Dragons' only success on Leinster soil was 16-14 at RDS Arena in February 2015.
Newport-Gwent Dragons: TBC
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 58th competition game)
Assistant referees: Matteo Liperini (FIR), Stuart Douglas (IRFU)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)