PREVIEW: Pro12, Round 22
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The regular Pro12 season will be capped off by Super Saturday in Round 22 as traditional derby games take place right across the Championship with all games kicking off at the same time.
The semifinal teams are all but set with Ulster still possessing a mathematical chance of pipping Ospreys while the Italian derby in Parma will decide whether Zebre or Benetton qualify for the Champions Cup.
The Championship's all-time try-scoring record for a season was broken last week by Leinster's Rory O'Loughlin against Glasgow Warriors at the RDS Arena; by the time Round 21 had finished the total number of tries scored this season stood at 683 which means that try No.700 is likely to be recorded this weekend.
Ulster entertain Leinster at a sold-out Kingspan Stadium knowing that a bonus-point victory would give them a slim chance of reaching the semifinals depending on Ospreys' result in Llanelli. Leinster, meanwhile, will need to pick up points in order to ensure they finish in 1st place with Munster lying just three points behind in second place.
Munster welcome the 2016 Pro12 champions Connacht to Thomond Park. Connacht have secured their place in the Champions Cup play-offs, but depending on Cardiff Blues result a victory here may allow Pat Lam's team to finish the season in 7th position.
The Blues travel to Caerphilly where Newport-Gwent Dragons will host their regional clash at the Constructaquote Stadium while in Scotland Glasgow Warriors will host Edinburgh at a sold-out Scotstoun to decide who will win the 1872 Cup. The Warriors take a lead 13 point lead into the game after their 25-12 win over Edinburgh in December.
Finally, Zebre and Benetton will meet at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma with Champions Cup qualification on the line. Both teams are level on 19 points but in the event of a draw Benetton have an advantage having won more games and boast a superior points difference.
The big West Wales derby at Parc y Scarlets will play an influential role in deciding the line-ups for the semifinals. In the current standings Scarlets would be away to Munster and Ospreys would be away to Leinster. However, this fixture and the Munster v Connacht and Ulster v Leinster games will decide that order.
The game will also provide vital momentum for the winner going into the Pro12 Final Series and with as many as seven British and Irish Lions tour selections on the pitch the crowd in Llanelli and those watching on television are in for a cracker.
We look ahead to all Round 22's action!
Saturday, May 6:
Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh
(Scotstoun Stadium - Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors may have failed to reach the Pro12 semifinals for the first time in six years, but they will be out to wrestle the 1872 out of Edinburgh's hands for the first time since 2014, the capital side having taken the trophy for the last two seasons.
Warriors have won their last three matches at Scotstoun, all with maximum points, as Gregor Townsend takes charge of his 116th and final Pro12 match, with only Joe Schmidt having a better winning percentage as head coach in the history of the competition.
Edinburgh ended an eight-game losing streak in the Pro12 with their 24-20 home win over Newport Gwent Dragons in Round 21.
Edinburgh's only away win in the Championship this season came when they beat Zebre in Parma on New Year's Eve.
Warriors won 25-12 at Murrayfield on December 26 in the first leg of the 1872 Cup whilst Edinburgh have not won on Glasgow soil since a trip to Hughenden in December 2003. Edinburgh's 14-11 victory last year was switched from Scotstoun to Murrayfield because of weather concerns.
Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray (captain), 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Nick Grigg, 23 Sean Lamont.
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Blair Kinghorn, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Murray McCallum, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 George Turner, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Junior Rasolea, 23 Rory Scholes.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Keith Allen (Scotland)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)
Munster v Connacht
(Thomond Park - Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Munster have secured a home semifinal for only the second time in the last seven seasons but if they are to overhaul Leinster to become top seeds they will need a win in this game and hope that their rivals trip up.
The Munstermen have won their last five Pro12 encounters, whilst their only defeat since Round Six was at home to Scarlets on February 24.
Connacht have made the European Champions Cup play-offs but their only win in the last five rounds of the Pro12 was at Edinburgh on April 7.
Connacht have become just the third reigning Pro12 Champions to have failed to make the semifinals in the year of their defence, the others being Ospreys in 2012 and Leinster in 2014.
Connacht have won three of their last five fixtures with Munster, but did slip up 9-16 in Galway in Round 12.
Last season Connacht won at Thomond Park for the first time since 1986.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Alex Wootton, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Angus Lloyd, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Jean Deysel, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Darren O’Shea, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Peter O’Mahony, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Francis Saili.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 James Connolly, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Sean O’Brien, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 John Cooney, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Darragh Leader.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Newport Gwent Dragons v Cardiff Blues
(Virginia Park, Caerphilly - Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Caerphilly hosts its first Pro12 game since Ulster were the visitors in October 2002.
Newport Gwent Dragons have not tasted victory in the Pro12 since beating Benetton at Rodney Parade on January 6.
Dragons have not beaten a fellow Welsh Region in the Pro12 since their 23-17 victory at Cardiff Blues in December 2014.
Cardiff Blues have made the European Champions Cup play-offs and are unbeaten in their last three Pro12 matches since tripping up by a single point to Leinster at the RDS Arena on March 25.
The Blues have won just once away from home in the Championship since November: 18-17 in Edinburgh in Round 16.
Blues have won their last four fixtures against Dragons in the Pro12 whilst this is the Region's first ever visit to Caerphilly.
Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Sam Beard, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Ollie Griffiths, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans (captain), 5 Cory Hill, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Ellis Shipp, 17 Phil Price, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Rynard Landman, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Geraint Rhys Jones, 23 Jack Dixon.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Rhun Williams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins (captain), 6 Sion Bennett, 5 Macauley Cook, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Anton Peikrishvili, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Kirby Myhill, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Tom James.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)
TMO: Paul Adams (Wales)
Scarlets v Ospreys
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 17.15; 16.16 GMT)
Realistically Scarlets and Ospreys are vying for who will finish third and fourth in the Pro12 table. However, there is an outside chance that mathematically Ulster could finish fourth.
For Ospreys to finish in third place they need to beat Scarlets and gain four more league points than their rivals from this match.
Scarlets have reached only their second ever semifinal, the other being in season 2012/13, and have won their last four Pro12 matches since losing in Leinster on March 4.
Scarlets only home defeat in the Pro12 this season was way back in Round One when Munster were the visitors.
Ospreys are almost certain to have made the semifinals for only the second time in the last five years.
Ospreys ended a three-game losing run in the Pro12 with their victory over Ulster in Round 21, they have not won away from home in the Championship since they visited Edinburgh on March 3.
The last four fixtures between the two regions have been equally shared with two wins apiece, with each side winning and losing at home and away.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny Mcnicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Will Boyde, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Tom Price, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Hadleigh Parkes, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Tom Habberfield, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Underhill, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Paul James, 18 Dan Suter, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Jonathan Spratt, 23 Dafydd Howells.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Dan Jones (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Ulster v Leinster
(Kingspan Stadium - Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15)
For Ulster to make a fifth successive Pro12 semifinal they would need a big bonus point win in this fixture and then hope that Ospreys are soundly beaten in Llanelli.
The Ulstermen are winless in the last three rounds of the Pro12 since beating Dragons in Newport on March 24.
Ulster have lost just once in Belfast in the Pro12 since February 2016: by a single point to Munster in Round Seven this season.
Leinster have already secured a home semifinal for the seventh time in the past eight season, but need to take three league points from this game to ensure they will finish as No.1 seeds.
The Leinstermen have won their last ten Pro12 matches since Munster beat them in Limerick on 26 December – their only defeat to an Irish Province this season.
Ulster's only victory over a fellow Irish Province this season came when Connacht visited Belfast in Round 11.
Leinster have lost just two of their last ten encounters with Ulster, both in Belfast, in April 2015 and April 2016.
Ulster: 15 Craig Gilroy, 14 Andrew Trimble (captain), 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Chris Henry, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 Jacob Stockdale.
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa (captain), 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 James Tracy, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rory O’Loughlin.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Zebre v Benetton Treviso
(Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi - Kick-off: 18.15; 16.15 GMT)
This is a winner takes all match for the Italian qualifier for next season's Champions Cup.
Zebre have lost their last two Pro12 matches versus Glasgow Warriors and Cardiff Blues.
Zebre have won their last two home games, against Connacht and Newport Gwent Dragons but have never won three in succession at home in the Championship.
Benetton have won twice in the last four rounds, both at home, against Ospreys and Edinburgh, but have not been victorious away from home in the Championship since they visited Zebre in December 2014.
Zebre achieved the season's double over Benetton in 2015/16, but Benetton won 23-12 in Treviso in Round 11.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Kurt Baker, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Kayle van Zyl, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Jacopo Sarto, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Tommaso D’Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Johan Meyer, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Boni, 23 Mattia Bellini
Treviso: 15 David Odiete, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Tommaso Benvenuti, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto Porolli, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Teofilo Paulo, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tito Tebaldi, 23 Andrea Pratichetti.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Emanuele Tomo (Italy), Simone Boaretto (Italy)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)