PREVIEW: Pro12, Round 19
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Pro12 Championship resumes with just four rounds remaining in the hunt for glory.
Six clubs – all former Championship title winners – are chasing hard to take part in the Final Series while behind them teams from all four participating countries are competing to secure their places in next season's Champions Cup.
Connacht will make the trip to Myreside on Friday where Pat Lam's men will be looking to rebound from their loss away to Zebre last weekend. An Irish victory on Scottish soil would all but end Edinburgh mathematical hopes of making the Champions Cup play-offs depending on how Cardiff Blues get on against Ulster.
Les Kiss's team need to collect maximum points against the Blues at Kingspan Stadium before they face their final three games against Munster, Ospreys and Leinster.
On Saturday Zebre will look to put the pressure on Benetton Treviso in their contest to earn the right to represent Italy in the Champions Cup next season – Newport-Gwent Dragons will visit Parma to take on a Zebre team riding high after their win over Connacht.
Treviso makes the trip to west Wales to face Scarlets, who are also fighting to inch their way into the top four and take advantage of any points dropped between Munster and Glasgow Warriors who kick-off at the same time on Saturday.
Leaders Leinster face a tough trip to Swansea to take on Ospreys on Saturday. Ospreys are in third place and keen to earn a home semifinal and this result could prove pivotal between two teams who share the most Championship titles between them.
There is a serious history between the teams, with Ospreys winning two Finals at Leinster's home ground in the RDS and this result could put the pair on a collision course to meet once again in the knock-out rounds.
Leinster face a challenging run-in against Ospreys, Connacht, Glasgow Warriors and then Ulster and they will need every point they can get their hands on in order to remain in position to secure a home semifinal. This promises to be a tense and thrilling occasion between two teams who will have ambitions of running out at Aviva Stadium on May 27 at the Pro12 Final.
We take a look at all the Round 19 action!
Friday, April 7:
Edinburgh v Connacht
(Myreside - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have lost their last six Pro12 matches since losing to Zebre in Parma on December 31.
Edinburgh's only victory since their return to Myreside was 49-3 over Timisoara in the European Challenge Cup on January 20.
Connacht have slipped to back-to-back away defeats in the Pro12 at Glasgow and at Zebre, but did win twice in Scotland last season, over Edinburgh at Murrayfield and against Leinster in the pro12 Final at the same venue.
Connacht have won their last three matches against Edinburgh since the Scotsmen were victorious in Galway in January 2015. Connacht have never visited Myreside before.
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Damien Hoyland 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford (captain), 1 Murray McCallum.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Derrick Appiah, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Jamie Ritchie, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Tom Brown, 23 Junior Rasolea.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Steve Crosbie, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 James Cannon, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Josh Rowland.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Ulster v Cardiff Blues
(Kingspan Stadium - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Ulster have won their last six Pro12 matches and have not won seven in a row in the Championship since season 2012/13.
Ulster's only home defeat in the Pro12 since February 2016 was by a single point to Munster on October 28.
Cardiff Blues have lost their last two Pro12 matches, both to Irish provinces, at home to Munster
and away to Leinster.
The Blues only victory on a visit to an Irish province in their last eleven trips was 24-23 over Munster in Cork in September.
Ulster's only defeat in their last five fixtures against Blues was 13-23 in Cardiff in February 2016, whilst the Blues have not been victorious in Belfast since April 2010.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Alan O'Connor, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Nick Timoney, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Jacob Stockdale, 23 Andrew Trimble.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhun Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Kieron Assiratti, 19 James Down, 20 Nick Williams, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Shane Kierans (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)
Saturday, April 8:
Munster v Glasgow Warriors
(Musgrave Park - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Munster's only defeat in the last twelve rounds of the Pro12 was 21-13 at home to Scarlets at Thomond Park in February.
Munster have lost just twice in Cork since early 2013 - to Ospreys in February 2016 and to the Blues in September.
Munster have won all five matches they have played against Scottish opponents this season.
Glasgow Warriors have won their last two Pro12 matches, both with maximum points, at Scotstoun against Dragons and Connacht.
The Warriors have not won away from home in the Championship since visiting Treviso on December 31, whilst the Scotsmen's only victory over an Irish province in Ireland since the 2015 Pro12 Final was against Connacht in Galway in Round One this season.
The two sides have met three times this season in all tournaments with Munster victorious on each occasion. Glasgow's only previous victory in Cork was 21-18 in May 2008.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Jean Deysel, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Dave O’Callaghan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Simon Zebo.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Ryan Wilson, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray (captain), 4 Brian Alainu’uese, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Alex Allan, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Rory Hughes.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Ospreys v Leinster
(Liberty Stadium - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Ospreys have lost two of their last four matches in the Pro12, at home to Munster in Round 15 and away at Treviso in Round 18.
Ospreys have lost only one of their last twelve matches in all competitions at Liberty Stadium: 23-25 to Munster on February 18.
Leinster are unbeaten in all nine first team games they have played in 2017, their most recent reversal being on a visit to Munster in the Pro12 on December 26.
The Leinstermen have been defeated just once in their last nine fixtures against Welsh regions - on their visit to Scarlets in Round Nine.
Leinster's only defeat to Ospreys since November 2012 was 19-25 at Liberty Stadium in the Pro12 in April 2014.
Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Dan Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Paul James, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Tyler Ardron, 21 Sam Underhill, 22 Tom Habberfield, 23 Jonathan Spratt.
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa (captain), 14 Rory O’Loughlin, 13 Zane Kirchner, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Dave Kearney.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Rob Price (Wales)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Scarlets v Benetton Treviso
(Parc y Scarlets - Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT; 20.35 Italian Time)
Scarlets have lost just one of their last seven Pro12 encounters: 9-45 to Leinster in Dublin in Round 17.
The Welshmen have not lost at Parc y Scarlets in the Championship since Munster won there in Round One.
Benetton Treviso ended a six game losing streak in the Pro12 with their 13-5 victory at home to Ospreys in Round 18.
The Italian's have not won back-to-back matches in the Championship since February 2016.
Scarlets have won their last seven matches against Treviso since their 17-41 defeat at home to the Italians in Round 22 of the 2012/13 season.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 DTH van der Merwe, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Tom Price, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Liam Williams.
Treviso: 15 David Odiete, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 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 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Alberto Porolli, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Teofilo Paulo, 21 Abraham Steyn, 22 Edoardo Gori, 23 Luke McLean.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), Jonathan Hardy (Wales)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Zebre v Newport Gwent Dragons
Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi - Kick-off: 14.30; 13.30 British time; 12.30 GMT)
Zebre doubled their tally of victories this season with their 25-22 win at home to Connacht on Saturday in a rearranged Round Three fixture.
Zebre have not won back-to-back matches in the Pro12 since Christmas 2015.
Newport Gwent Dragons only victory in the last nine rounds of Pro12 was 26-8 over Treviso at Rodney Parade in Round 13.
The Welshmen have not won away from home in the Championship since a visit to Treviso in March 2015.
The last five fixtures between the two side have all been won by the home team on the day, whilst the Dragons only previous victory in Parma was by a single point on their first ever visit in February 2013.
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Kayle Van Zyl, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Federico Ruzza, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Johan Meyer, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Tommaso D’Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Maxime Mbandà, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Castello, 23 Serafin Bordoli.
Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Sam Beard, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Lewis Evans (captain), 7 Ollie Griffiths, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Rhys Buckley, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Darran Harris, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Nic Cudd, 20 Harrison Keddie, 21 Dorian Jones, 22 Adam Warren, 23 Tom Prydie.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland), Matteo Liperini (Italy)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)