Preview: Pro12, Round 18
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Pro12 resumes with the focus firmly on the business end of the season as teams compete to reach the Final Series and secure Champions Cup qualification berths.
Games take place across all four countries this weekend as players return to their clubs after battling in their national colours during the Six Nations.
Just five rounds remain ahead of the Final Series which will decide who will reach the Pro12 Final in Dublin on May 27.
The competition at the top of the Pro12 table is intense with leaders Leinster acutely aware that any slip-up at home to Cardiff Blues will be capitalised on by either Ospreys or Munster who both face trips to Italy this weekend.
Behind the top three Ulster and Scarlets appear to be vying for a top four place but Gregor Townsend's Glasgow Warriors could yet mount a late charge in order to retain the title they won in 2015 when Connacht come to town.
Ulster face a tricky trip to face Newport-Gwent Dragons as they look to keep up their superb scoring form which as seen them collect 24 match-day points from a possible 25 in the last five rounds. However, Dragons boast a reasonable overall record against the province with 10 wins from 27.
Scarlets welcome Edinburgh to Llanelli where they have won seven games in the Pro12 this season but the visitors will be boosted by the return of their Scottish internationals at they bid to arrest their recent form.
We look ahead to all the Round 18 action!
Friday, March 24:
Newport Gwent Dragons v Ulster
(Rodney Parade - Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Newport Gwent Dragons have lost their last four matches in the Pro12 since beating Benetton Treviso 26-8 at Rodney Parade on January 6.
Dragons only victory over an Irish Province in the last 14 months was 21-16 at home to Connacht in Round Eight this season.
Ulster have won their last five matches in the Pro12 since they were beaten by Scarlets in Llanelli in Round 13. That reversal to Scarlets ended a five game winning run against Welsh regions in the tournament.
Ulster's only defeat in their last six fixtures against Dragons was 22-26 at Rodney Parade in March 2015.
Ulster won on their most recent visit to Newport, but have not won successive matches at Rodney Parade since 2005-2006.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Sam Beard, 11 Tom Prydie, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Lewis Evans (captain), 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ollie Griffiths, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Nick Crosswell, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Rhys Buckley, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Darran Harris, 17 Phil Price, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Dorian Jones, 23 Adam Warren.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Stuart Olding, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Black, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Jacob Stockdale.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Dan Jones (Wales)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Scarlets v Edinburgh
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 19.05; 19.05 GMT)
Scarlets defeat to Leinster in Dublin in Round 17 of the Pro12 ended a five-game winning run in the competition.
The Welshmen have won their last seven home games in the Pro12 since they were defeated by Munster at Parc y Scarlets in Round One.
Edinburgh have slipped to five straight defeats in the Pro12 since beating Zebre in Parma on new year's eve.
The Scotsmen have not been victorious in Wales since a visit to Newport Gwent Dragons on March 27 2016.
Edinburgh have lost just one of their last five encounters with Scarlets, and that by just a single point, in this equivalent fixture at Llanelli in February last year.
Edinburgh have won just once in their last six visits to Parc y Scarlets: 26-15 in March 2015.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes (captain), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Will Boyde, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Tom Price, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 John Barclay, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 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 Viliame Mata, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford (captain), 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Murray McCallum, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Viliami Fihaki, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Glenn Bryce.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Wayne Davies
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Saturday, March 25:
Benetton Treviso v Ospreys
(Stadio Monigo - Kick-off: 20.35; 19.35 GMT)
Benetton Treviso's most recent victory in the Pro12 was 23-12 against Zebre on December 23.
Treviso's other home win in the tournament this season was against Dragons in Round Four.
Ospreys only loss in the last nine rounds of the Pro12 was 23-25 at home to Munster on February 18.
Ospreys have not lost to an Italian side in the Pro12 since a visit to Zebre in May 2014.
Treviso's most recent victory over Ospreys was in the European Champions Cup in January 2015, whilst their only win over the Welshmen in the Pro12 was in August 2012.
Treviso: 15 David Odiete, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Marco Lazzaroni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Filippo Gerosa, 3 Simone Ferrari, Luca Bigi 2, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, Alberto Porolli 17, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Guglielmo Zanini, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, Tommaso Benvenuti, 23 Luke McLean.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield (captain), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 James King, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Tyler Ardron, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Jay Baker, 23 Jonathan Spratt.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Glasgow Warriors v Connacht
(Scotstoun Stadium - Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors 47-17 victory at home to Newport Gwent Dragons in Round 17 ended a three game losing run in the Pro12.
The Warriors home record in the Pro12 this season is an even won four, lost four.
Connacht have won their last four Pro12 matches, the last two with maximum points.
Connacht have lost only one of their last six matches against Scottish opponents: 5-41 at home to Warriors in Round One this season.
Connacht have won only one of their last eleven encounters with Warriors in the regular season of the Pro12: 14-7 in Galway last May, whilst Connacht’s only victory on Glasgow's "turf" since 2003 came at Firhill in September 2010.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Peter Horne (captain), 11 Rory Hughes, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Matt Smith, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Brian Alainu'uese, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Alex Allan.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 D'arcy Rae, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Lewis Wynne, 21 George Horne, 22 Alex Dunbar, 23 Peter Murchie.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 James Cannon, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 John Cooney, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Josh Rowland.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Bob Nevins (Scotland)
Leinster V Cardiff Blues
(RDS Arena - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Leinster have won their last six Pro12 fixtures since losing out to Munster in Limerick at Christmas.
The Leinstermen have won their last 20 home games in all competitions sine their defeat to Toulon in the Champions Cup at Aviva Stadium in December 2015, whilst the last side to lower their colours at the RDS Arena was Newport Gwent Dragons in the Pro12 in February 2015.
Cardiff Blues 18-17 victory at Edinburgh in their most recent away game ended a three game losing streak on the road in the Pro12.
The Blues have lost their last five matches against Irish provinces since winning against Munster in Cork in Round Two.
Leinster have won their last twelve matches against The Blues in all competitions, whilst the Welshmen's only victory over the Leinstermen since 2007 was 11-3 at the Cardiff City Stadium in February 2011.
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O'Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Isa Nacewa (captain), 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Steven Shingler, 11 Blaine Scully (captain), 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Sion Bennett, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Tom James.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Richard Kerr (Ireland)
Zebre v Munster
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Zebre's most recent victory in the Pro12 was 19-14 against Edinburgh at Murrayfield at the end of October.
Zebre have not beaten an Irish Province since winning 13-6 against Ulster in Parma in September 2014.
Munster have lost just once in the Pro12 since Round Six: 21-13 at home to Scarlets on February 24.
Munster's away record in the Pro12 this season is an impressive won eight, lost one, the defeat being to Leinster at Aviva Stadium on October 8.
The two sides have met on nine previous occasions with Muster victorious in every instance, seven times with a try bonus, whilst Zebre have managed just two losing bonus points, both in Parma, in 2013 and 2016.
Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Kayle Van Zyl,13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Valerio Bernabò (captain), 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Bartholomeus Le Roux, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Bruno Postiglioni.
Replacements: 16 Sydney Tobias, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Matteo Pratichetti, 23 Guglielmo Palazzani.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O'Mahony, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Dave O'Callaghan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 David Johnston, 23 Dan Goggin.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Correll (Ireland), Elia Rizzo (Italy)