Preview: Pro12, Round 15
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Pro12 championship takes centre stage this weekend as the focus returns to club rugby.
Two massive fixtures taking place teams from the top six - with Ospreys hosting Munster and Ulster taking on Glasgow Warriors - will play a pivotal role in the race to reach the Pro12 Final in Dublin on May 27.
The meeting between Ulster and Glasgow Warriors at Kingspan Stadium will see both these heavyweights go toe-to-toe in a bid to gain some momentum and force their way back into the semifinal places.
The Warriors are coming off a costly loss at home to Scarlets while Ulster are back to winning ways after their victory over Edinburgh in Round 14.
The sides overall Championship history against each other is evenly matched with Ulster claiming 15 wins to Glasgow's 14 which adds to a solitary draw between the clubs.
Leinster and Scarlets are ahead of Ulster and the Warriors in the Pro12 table and they will be out to ensure that they gain ground on whoever drops points between front-runners - Ospreys and Munster.
Leinster will host Edinburgh at the RDS on Friday, as Leo Cullen's team aims to extend their winning home record to 19 games in all competitions.
Scarlets welcome Zebre to west Wales and they will be banking on their stout form at Parc Y Scarlets where they haven't lost at home in the Championship since Munster's win in Round One.
Connacht will look to build on their win in Cardiff last weekend when they take on Newport-Gwent Dragons in a game that will have a bearing on qualification for the top six and the Champions Cup play-offs.
Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues entertain Benetton Treviso at the Cardiff Arms Park where the visitors have never won.
We look at all the Round 15 action!
Friday, February 17
LEINSTER v EDINBURGH
(RDS Arena - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Leinster are unbeaten in their last five matches since their 17-29 reversal at Munster in the Pro12 on 26 December.
The Leinstermen have won their last 18 home games since their 16-20 defeat by Toulon at Aviva Stadium in December 2015.
Edinburgh have slipped to two straight defeats in the Pro12, both to Irish provinces, Ulster and Munster.
Edinburgh have not been victorious in Ireland since a trip to Connacht in January 2015.
Leinster have lost just one of their last six encounters with Edinburgh: 9-16 at Meggetland in September 2015, whilst the last time Edinburgh were victorious in Dublin was at Donnybrook in November 2005.
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Barry Daly, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Mike Ross, 2 James Tracy, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Andrew Porter, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Adam Byrne.
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell Du Preez, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Neil Cochrane (captain), 1 Jack Cosgrove.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Nick Beavon, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Lewis Carmichael, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Leo Colgan (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
SCARLETS v ZEBRE
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 Italian time; 19.35 GMT)
Scarlets have lost just once in the last eleven rounds of Pro12 play: 9-19 at Ospreys on 27 December.
The Welshmen have won their last six home games in the Championship since Munster defeated them at Parc y Scarlets in Round One this season.
Zebre have lost their last six Pro12 matches since beating Edinburgh at Murrayfield on 28 October.
The Italian's only previous success in Wales came when they beat Cardiff Blues at Cardiff Arms Park in September 2013.
Scarlets have never lost in nine previous encounters with Zebre although the two teams did draw 16-all in Parma in October 2013.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Hadleigh Parkes (captain), 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans, 8 Will Boyde 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Tom Price, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Luke Garrett, 18 Nicky Thomas, 19 Tom Phillips, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Owen, 23 Steff Evans.
Zebre: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Thomas Boni, 11 Lloys Greeff, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Federico Ruzza, 7 Oliviero Fabiani, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Gideon Koegelenberg, 4 Joshua Furno, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Tommaso D’Apice, 1 Andrea De Marchi (captain).
Replacements: 16 Bruno Postiglioni, 17 Guillermo Roan, 18 Bartholomeus Le Roux, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Dario Zanetti, 21 William Palazzani, 22 Matteo Pratichetti, 23 Dion Berryman.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Simon Mills (Wales)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Saturday, February 18
CARDIFF BLUES v BENETTON TREVISO
(Cardiff Arms Park - Kick-off: 14.30; 15.30 Italian time; 14.30 GMT)
Cardiff Blues have won just once in the last six rounds of the Pro12: 27-16 at home to Dragons on Boxing Day.
The Blues have won their last three matches against Italian opponents since tripping up against Treviso at Stadio Monigo last February.
Benetton Treviso have won just one of their last ten Pro12 fixtures: 23-12 at home to Zebre on 23 December.
Treviso's only away win in the last two years came on a trip to Bayonne in the European Challenge Cup in December.
The last eight encounters between the two sides have been fairly evenly split with Blues gaining four wins, Treviso three and one match was drawn.
Treviso have visited Cardiff on six previous occasions and lost them all.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Willis Halaholo, 12 Steve Shingler, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams (captain), 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sion Bennett, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Down, 20 Kirby Myhill, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Tom James.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Michael Tagicakibau, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Tommaso Allan, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Jody Rossetto, 19 Jean Francois Montauriol, 20 Guglilemo Zanini, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Andrea Pratichetti, 23 David Odiete.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland, 60th competition game)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Gareth Newman (Wales)
ULSTER v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Kingspan Stadium - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Ulster's 24-18 victory over Edinburgh at the weekend ended a four-game losing streak in all tournaments.
The Ulstermen have lost only once at Kingspan Stadium in their last nine Pro12 matches: 14-15 to Munster in Round Seven.
Glasgow Warriors 14-26 home defeat to Scarlets in round 14 ended a three-game winning run in the Championship.
Warriors have won their last four away games in all competitions since slipping up at Scarlets in the Pro12 on 5 November.
Ulster beat Glasgow 22-17 at Scotstoun in round 4 and have not achieved a Pro12 season's double over the Scotsmen since 2010/11.
Warriors have won just once in Belfast since 2009: 13-12 in September 2013.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Peter Nelson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Sean Reidy, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 John Andrew, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Jacob Stockdale, 23 Jack Owens.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Brandon Thomson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Nick Grigg, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Brian Alainu'uese, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 James Malcolm, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 D'Arcy Rae, 19 Tjiuee Uanivi, 20 Lewis Wynne, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Richie Vernon, 23 Rory Hughes.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Davies (Wales), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
OSPREYS v MUNSTER
(Liberty Stadium - Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Ospreys are the best team in the Pro12 on current form having tallied 28 of a possible 30 league points from the last six rounds.
Ospreys have won all ten encounters played at Liberty Stadium this season and have only missed out on maximum points when Scarlets visited the venue on 27 December.
Munster have won their last eight matches in the Pro12 since Leinster beat them at Aviva Stadium on 8 October.
The Munstermen's only defeat to a Welsh Region this season was by a single point to Cardiff Blues in Cork in Round Two of the Pro12.
Munster's only defeat in their last four encounters with Ospreys was 17-21 in Cork last February.
Munster have won on two of their last three visits to Liberty Stadium.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Hanno Dirksen, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield (captain), 8 James King, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Paul James, 18 Daniel Suter, 19 Tyler Ardron, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Luke Price, 23 Ben John.
Munster: 15 Ian Keatley, 14 Ronan O'Mahony, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal (captain), 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O'Donoghue, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Darren O'Shea, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O'Byrne, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Abrie Griesel, 22 Dan Goggin, 23 Andrew Conway.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Claudio Blessano (Italy), Stuart Kibble (Wales)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)
CONNACHT v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
(Sportsground - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Connacht victory in Cardiff on Sunday ended a three-game losing run in the Pro12, whilst the Irishmen's only home loss in their last eight matches in all tournaments was to Munster in the Pro12 on New Year's Eve.
Newport Gwent Dragons have won only one of their last five Pro12 fixtures: 26-8 at home to Treviso in round 13.
Dragons have not won away from home in the Pro12 since a visit to Treviso in March 2015.
Dragons beat Connacht in round 8 in Newport and have only once before achieved a Pro12 season's double over the Irishmen, in the inaugural home and away season of 2003/04 - the only previous time Dragons have won in Galway.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 JP Cooney, 19 James Cannon, 20 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Rory Parata.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Tom Prydie, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Dorian Jones, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Lewis Evans (captain),7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ollie Griffiths, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Nick Crosswell, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Darran Harris, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Angus O'Brien, 23 Sam Beard.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Shane Kierans (Ireland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)