Round 16 of the Pro12 is the last of a run of four straight rounds that could help define the teams' seasons before international rugby takes centre stage once more.
The focus will now be on achieving a top four placing, thereby qualifying for the end of season play-offs and the chance to be crowned champions.
The third and fourth placed teams are both in action on Friday night, with Ulster welcoming Newport Gwent Dragons to Ravenhill whilst Ospreys travel to Edinburgh to play at Boroughmuir’s Meggetland ground.
At present six teams appear to be contesting the play-off places and two of those are in action against each other in the last game of the round on Saturday night, when Glasgow Warriors travel to Dublin to face Leinster.
The Warriors have already beaten their hosts once this season, and a victory could start them off on another run of away wins after the Dragons ended their record run last time out.
Also on Saturday evening, table topping Munster travel to sixth placed Scarlets, and the home team must claim the points if they are to have any chance of making a successful late bid for the play-off zone.
The Dragons may have defeated Ulster in Wales, but will find it a much tougher prospect in Belfast as the home side have lost there just once in 12 months. Ospreys are another team not afraid to travel and will hope their ratio of more wins on the road that at home will continue for this trip.
We look at all the Round 16 matches!
Friday, February 28:
Ulster v Newport Gwent Dragons
(Ravenhill – Kick-off: 19.05, 19.05 GMT)
Ulster’s only defeat in any competition since early November was 6-19 to Leinster at the RDS in the Pro12 on December 28. The Ulstermen have not managed to tally a try bonus point in the competition since round 8, whilst their only defeat at Ravenhill in the last twelve months was to Glasgow on September 13. Last week Ulster edge Treviso 14-12 away from home.
Newport Gwent Dragons' last five fixtures in the Pro12 have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst the Welshmen’s solo victory on the road in the competition since round 16 last season came at Glasgow in November. They come off a 24-23 triumph over Glasgow Warriors last Sunday.
The Men form Gwent have lost their last five contests with Irish provinces and have won just once away from home against an Irish
team since October 2004 – a 16-14 victor over Ulster at Ravenhill in September 2008. The Dragons were victorious 15-8 at Rodney Parade when the two teams met in round one but have not achieved a season’s double over the Ulstermen since 2008/09.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Tom Court, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart McCloskey, 23 David McIlwaine.
Dragons: 15 Rhys Jones, 14 Matthew Pewtner, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Ashley Smith (captain), 11 Ross Wardle, 10 Steffan Jones, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Jevon Groves, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Bruce Douglas, 2 T. Rhys Thomas, 1 Owen Evans.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Williams, 17 Hugh Gustafson, 18 Duncan Bell, 19 Rob Sidoli, 20 Ieuan Jones, 21 Wayne Evans, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Jack Dixon.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Edinburgh v Ospreys
(Meggetland – Kick-off: 19.35, 19.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have lost their last three matches in the Pro12 and have dropped two places in the table in as a consequence.
This match is the Scotsmen’s first at home since they beat Perpignan in the European Cup on January 11, but this game will be played at Boroughmuir’s Meggetland venue which thus becomes the 38th different venue to stage a Pro12 encounter. They will be looking to bounce back after their 21-25 loss to the Scarlets last weekend.
Ospreys have slipped to defeat in two of their last three Pro12 matches, but have also lost fewer games away from home this season than they have at home.
The Welsh region’s only victory in their last seven visits to Scotland was a 15-14 win over Edinburgh at Murrayfield in February 2012. Edinburgh have won only one of their last five fixtures with the Ospreys – a 23-13 triumph at Murrayfield in November 2012. Ospreys were well-beaten 11-25 against Munster in their previous match.
Edinburgh: 15 Carl Bezuidenhout, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Alex Cuthbert, 10 Harry Leonard, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Mike Coman (captain), 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Alex Allan, 18 WP Nel, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Tomas Leonardi, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Ben Atiga, 23 Joaquin Dominguez.
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Jonathan Spratt (captain), 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Hanno Dirksen, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Lewis, 5 James King, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Dan Suter, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Duncan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dwyer, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Joe Rees, 19 Dan Baker, 20 Ryan Jones, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Aisea Natoga.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: James Matthew (Scotland), Stephen Ward (Scotland)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)
Saturday, March 1:
Zebre v Cardiff Blues
(Stadio XXV Aprile – Kick-off: 16.00, 15.00 GMT)
Zebre have the opportunity to achieve their first season’s double over any opponent in the Pro12, having beaten the Blues 30-25 at the Arms Park in round three. They come onto the game off the back of a 19-27 reverse at the hands of Connacht.
Cardiff Blues have won just one of their last eight matches in the Pro12 – a 21-13 victory at home over The Dragons on New Year’s Day. Last week they were defeated 22-34 by Leinster at home.
The Blues are one of only three sides remaining in the Pro12 who have failed to win an away game in the competition this season. The Welshmen were victorious on their first eight visits to Italy in all tournaments before losing and then drawing with Treviso in the Pro12 in both visits in 2013.
Zebre: 15 Guglielmo Palazzani, 14 Giulio Toniolatti, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Tommaso Iannone, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Kelli Haimona, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Filippo Ferrarini, 5 George Biagi 4 Andries van Schalkwyk (captain), 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Luigi Ferraro 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Sami Panico, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 David Ryan 19 Filippo Cazzola, 20 Emiliano Caffini, 21 Luciano Orquera, 22 Tommaso Castello, 23 Ruggero Trevisan.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Tom Williams, 14 Harry Robinson, 13 Isaia Tuifua, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Dan Fish, 10 Gareth Davies, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Rory Watts-Jones, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Chris Dicomidis, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs (captain).
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Benoit Bourrust, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Simon Humberstone, 23 Dafydd Hewitt.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: James Matthew (Scotland), Stephen Ward (Scotland)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)
Connacht v Treviso
(The Sportsground – Kick-off: 17.00, 17.00 GMT)
Connacht have won their last two fixtures in the Pro12, at home 11-7 over Edinburgh and 27-19 away at Zebre, but have not won three in a row in the tournament for 12 months.
Connacht have faced Italian opponents on five occasions this season in all tournaments and lost only once – a 3-23 reverse at the hands of Treviso in round five of the Pro12. Just one Italian side has ever beaten Connacht at the Sportsground in any competition – Treviso, who did so 15-13 in the Pro12 in December 2011.
Treviso have won just once in the Pro12 since round five, when they won 20-15 at home against Zebre on December 28 and have not won on the road in the tournament since their victory at the Scarlets in round 22 last season. The two sides have met on seven previous occasions in the Pro12 with honours even at three wins apiece plus one draw.
Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 John Muldoon (captain), 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Aly Muldowney, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 Nathan White, 19 Michael Swift, 20 Andrew Browne, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Danie Poolman.
Treviso: 15 Angelo Esposito, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Alberto Sgarbi, 12 Joe Van Niekerk, 11 Andrea Pratichetti, 10 Mat Berquist, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Marco Filippucci, 7 Paul Derbyshire, 6 Manoa Vosawai, 5 Corniel Van Zyl, 4 Antonio Pavanello (captain), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Giovanni Maistri, 1 Matteo Muccignat.
Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Romulo Acosta, 18 Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Valerio Bernabò, 21 Robert Barbieri, 22 Fabio Semenzato, 23 Brendan Williams.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Will O'Connor (Ireland)
Scarlets v Munster
(Parc y Scarlets – Kick-off: 18.30, 18.00 GMT)
Scarlets have won their last two matches in the Pro12, in Treviso (41-33) and at home to Edinburgh (25-21), but have not won three in a row in the tournament since last April.
The Welshmen have won three of their last four fixtures against Irish provinces at Parc y Scarlets.
Munster’s single defeat in the Pro12 since round three was a 19-29 loss against Ulster at Ravenhill on January 3. The Munstermen are going for a clean sweep of 8 successive wins over Welsh regions this season, a feat that has never been accomplished by any side before. Last week they enjoyed a 25-11 success over Ospreys.
The Scarlets 18-10 victory over Munster at Parc y Scarlets in February 2013 ended an impressive run of success for Munster in matches played in Llanelli with the home side never having won on their own park since March 2007.
Scarlets: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Frazier Climo, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 John Barclay, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Johan Snyman, 4 George Earle, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Richard Kelly, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Gareth Maule, 23 Adam Warren.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Denis Hurley, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 James Coughlan (captain), 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Duncan Casey, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Ger Slattery, 17 James Cronin, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Sean Dougall, 21 Gerry Hurley, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Ronan O'Mahony.
Referee: Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies (Wales), Rhys Thomas (Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Leinster v Glasgow Warriors
(Royal Dublin Society – Kick-off: 20.30, 20.30 GMT)
Leinster’s only defeat in the Pro12 since round five came away at Edinburgh on December 20. The Leinstermen have not been defeated at the RDS in any tournament since last March.
They have lost their last two fixtures with Scottish opponents but the only team from Scotland to have won at the RDS remains Glasgow, who did so in September 2011.
They come into the match with some form after beating Cardiff Blues 34-22 last time out.
Glasgow Warriors’ record breaking sequence of seven successive away victories in the Pro12 ended last Sunday with their narrow 23-24 defeat at the hands of the Dragons.
Glasgow have won four of the five encounters they have played against Irish provinces this season. The Warriors were successful 12-6 when the two sides met at Scotstoun in round three and are going for a first ever season’s double over the Leinstermen.
Glasgow’s only previous victory on Leinster soil in 18 previous visits in all tournaments was a 23-19 win at the RDS in the Pro12 in September 2011.
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Darragh Fanning, 13 Fergus McFadden, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Leo Cullen (captain), 3 Martin Moore, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Michael Bent, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Tom Denton, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Darren Hudson.
Glasgow: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Finn Russell, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Chris Cusiter (captain), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Rob Harley, 6 James Eddie, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Mike Cusack, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Ed Kalman, 19 Leone Nakarawa, 20 Tyrone Holmes, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Mark Bennett, 23 Lee Jones.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Stuart Gaffkin (Ireland), Richard Kerr (Ireland)
TMO: Alan Rogan (Ireland)