Despite their loss to Munster at Thomond Park last Saturday, Ulster remain clear at the top of the Pro12 table as we start the New Year.
Ulster have a nine-point lead over second placed Scarlets, who they welcome to Ravenhill on Friday.
That is just one of four games on Friday, two in Scotland and one in Wales, as the teams leave behind the festive local derbies and once more take to the road.
Edinburgh welcome Irish opposition in the form of European champions Leinster, whilst fourth placed Glasgow Warriors face Benetton Treviso at Scotstoun knowing the Italians defeated them on their last trip to the city.
The fourth game on Friday sees the second Italian outfit, Zebre, who are still looking for their first win in the tournament, take on champions Ospreys at Liberty Stadium.
There are two games on Saturday, both in Ireland, for Connacht and Munster.
Newport Gwent Dragons travel to Galway to take on Connacht, while the round wraps up in Cork on Saturday when Cardiff Blues will be hoping to improve on their record when travelling to play Munster as they have not won in the province since 2007.
Ulster stand-in captain Chris Henry admits he is relishing the chance to get 2013 going with a bang as the Pro12 leaders bid for glory on two fronts.
Henry’s troops return to Pro12 action on Friday, having lost their first league match of the season – against Munster in the absence of a number of first-team players.
On Friday they will look to get back to winning ways against the second-placed Scarlets before looking to reach the knock-out stages of the European Cup.
And Henry cannot wait for this weekend’s top-of-the-table clash.
“It couldn’t be any better at the start of the new year, first against second,” Henry told the Irish Independent.
“I suppose it will be a good time to meet them after their big defeat against the Ospreys and they will be hurting. They have had a bit of a dip the way we had ours in Italy.
“They will be desperate to get the points and obviously we will be desperate to keep or extend the nine-point lead at the top.
“We have to try and get a bit of momentum. We are back at Ravenhill, the crowd will be out in force, and there has been a lot of talk of where we are at present, and the players are loving it.
“But we need to win the game at home and that will lead us – with a positive frame of mind – into Europe. But first things first.
“Last week, even in defeat, we had more players putting their hands up wanting to be in the squad, so I just hope we get it together and produce a good performance.
“The two games following – against Glasgow and Castres in Europe – are also massive and there will be chances for people to claim a place.”
We look at all the Round 13 action!
Friday, January 4:
OSPREYS v ZEBRE
(Liberty Stadium – Kick-off: 19.05; 19.05 GMT)
Ospreys visit Newport Gwent Dragons on New Year’s Eve. Ospreys have won their last eight games at Liberty Stadium in all competitions.
Ospreys suffered a first ever loss to an Italian side when they visited Benetton Treviso on 31 August.
Zebre are still attempting to open their winning account, the new franchise slipping to a dozen straight reversals in the Pro12 so far.
Ospreys won 34-16 when the two sides met in round six.
Ospreys: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Ross Jones, 13 Tom Issacs, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Jonathan Thomas, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Jamies King, 5 Lloyd Peers, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones (captain), 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Duncan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Campbell Johnstone, 19 George Stowers, 20 Morgan Allen, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Jonathan Spratt, 23 Richard Fussell.
Zebre: 15 Alberto Benettin, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Gonzalo Garcia (captain), 11 Samuele Pace, 10 Paolo Buso, 9 Alberto Chillon, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Nicola Belardo, 6 Filippo Ferrarini, 5 Michael Van Vuren, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 David Ryan, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Andrea De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Carlo Fazzari, 18 Luciano Leibson, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Daniel Halangahu, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Alberto Chiesa, 23 Ruggero Trevisan.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy (Wales), Neil Perkins (Wales)
ULSTER v SCARLETS
(Ravenhill – Kick-off: 19.05; 19.05 GMT)
Ulster’s perfect start to the Pro12 season ended at the 12th hurdle in Munster last Saturday.
The Ulstermen’s only home defeat in the competition since October 2011 was 8-16 to Leinster on 20 April.
Ulster are going for a sixth straight win over a Welsh region.
Scarlets only victory in their last five matches in all competitions was 9-6 at Cardiff Blues on 21 December. The only side who have a better away record than Scarlets in the Pro12 this season are Ulster themselves.
Ulster have won four of their last five encounters with Scarlets, whilst the Welshmen have not triumphed at Ravenhill since 5 September 2008.
Ulster: 15 Adam D’Arcy, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry (captain), 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Louis Stevenson, 3 Adam Macklin, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Callum Black, 18 John Afoa, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Paddy Wallace, 23 Ricky Andrew.
Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton 14 George North, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Jonathan Davies (captain), 11 Kristian Phillips, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Richard Kelly, 4 Sione Timani, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Craig Price, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Scott Williams, 23 Adam Warren.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Brian Macneice (Ireland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
GLASGOW WARRIORS v BENETTON TREVISO
(Scotstoun Stadium – Kick-off: 19.30; 19.30 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have won eight of their last ten matches in the Pro12, whilst their solo defeat at Scotstoun in their last five matches in the Pro12 was to Leinster in round nine.
The Warriors have won their last five fixtures against Italian opponents.
Benetton Treviso have won their last three Pro12 games – their best run for twelve months. Treviso have already won in Scotland this season, beating Edinburgh 27-22 at Murrayfield on 5 October.
Interestingly, the last three meetings between the two sides have all been won by the away side on the day. Warriors have won their last two games against Treviso,
Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 DTH Van der Merwe, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Rob Harley, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Al Kellock (captain), 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Moray Low, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 German Araoz, 19 Tom Ryder, 20 James Eddie, 21 Nico Matawalu, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Peter Murchie.
Treviso: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Christian Loamanu, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Andrea Pratichetti, 10 Kristopher Burton, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Manoa Vosawai, 5 Corniel Van Zyl, 4 Francesco Minto, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (captain), 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Matteo Muccignat, 18 Alberto De Marchi, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Dean Budd, 21 Simone Favaro, 22 Tobias Botes, 23 Alberto Di Bernardo.
Referee: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Changleng, Graeme Marshall (both Scotland)
EDINBURGH v LEINSTER
(Murrayfield – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Edinburgh have lost their last four matches in all competitions, whilst their only victory in their last six matches at Murrayfield was 23-13 over Ospreys in the Pro12 on 23 November.
Leinster’s three game losing run in all tournaments ended with their 17-0 victory over Connacht at the RDS on Saturday.
The Leinstermen have not been defeated by a Scottish side since Glasgow Warriors beat them 23-19 at the RDS on 17 September 2011.
Leinster have won their last four encounters with Edinburgh, and have won on three of their last four visits to Murrayfield, including the 2009 European Cup final triumph over Leicester.
Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Ben Atiga, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 David Denton, 7 Dimitri Basilaia, 6 Stuart McInally, 5 Sean Cox, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Andy Titterrell, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Steven Lawrie, 17 Robin Hislop, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Perry Parker, 20 Netani Talei, 21 Richie Rees, 22 James King, 23 September Visser.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Leo Cullen (captain), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Tom Denton, 20 Shane Jennings, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Andrew Conway.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Peter Allan (Scotland), Bob Nevins (Scotland)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Saturday, January 5
CONNACHT v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
(Sportsground – Kick-off: 17.00; 17.00 GMT)
Connacht have slipped to four straight Pro12 defeats following their 0-17 loss to Leinster on Saturday – the second time this season they have failed to tally a point on a visit to a fellow Irish province. The Irishmen have lost all four encounters with Welsh regions so far this season.
Newport Gwent Dragons host Ospreys on New Year’s Eve. Dragons’ only away win in any competition since March was 33-0 at Mogliano in the European Challenge Cup on 8 December.
Dragons have visited the Galway Sportsground on nine previous occasions and won only once: 32-14 on 1 May 2004 on their first ever visit to the venue.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Will Harries, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Andy Tuilagi, 11 Mike Poole, 10 Dan Evans, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans (captain), 5 Rob Sidoli, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Dan Way, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Nathan Buck, 19 Adam Jones, 20 Tom Brown, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Lewis Robling, 23 Jack Dixon.
Referee: Andrew MacMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Kevin Beggs (both Ireland)
MUNSTER v CARDIFF BLUES
(Musgrave Park – Kick-off: 19.30; 19.30 GMT)
Munster have won five of their last six matches in the Pro12.
The Munstermen have won just one of their last ten home games in all competitions: 6-13 to Scarlets at Musgrave Park on 25 November.
Cardiff Blues’ four game losing run in all competitions ended at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on Boxing Day, whilst the Blues’ solo away win since September came against Zebre in Parma on 25 November.
Cardiff Blues have lost three of their four clashes with Irish provinces this season.
Munster have taken their last five encounters with the Blues since the Welshmen won 13-12 at Cardiff City Stadium on 9 May 2010. The Blues have not won on Munster soil since a visit to Musgrave Park on 5 October 2007.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Doug Howlett (captain), 13 Keith Earls, 12 James Downey, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Tommy O’Donnell, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Dave Foley, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Sean Henry, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Billy Holland, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Casey Laulala.
Cardiff Blues: TBC
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Michael Black (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Table after Twelve Rounds