With just seven rounds left in the regular season of the PRO12, the race is really on for a top four finish, and qualification for the play-offs. In the pick of the games this weekend first plays second when leaders Ulster travel to face Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun on Friday night.
Glasgow are one of the form teams of the moment, their 60-3 win over Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade last time out was the biggest ever away win in the history of the competition. However Ulster have an impressive record against the Scots, so there will be all to play for in this encounter.
Close on their heels comes the third versus fourth placed game on Saturday when Leinster host Scarlets at the RDS.
Currently there is just a three point gap between the teams, so victory is a must for either side; Leinster could pull away from their nearest rival, or should the result go the other way, Scarlets could take over Leinster’s position in the table.
Just outside the top four Ospreys and Munster know that every game counts in their push for a play-off spot. Having lost out on the road to Connacht last week, Ospreys will be hoping to maintain their home record when they face Edinburgh on Friday night.
Munster however have won their last three away games and must be hoping that their trip to Stadio Monigo to take on Benetton Treviso will end better that it did two years ago when they suffered their only loss to the Italian outfit.
We take a look at all of the weekend’s matches:
Friday, February 22
Cardiff Blues v Connacht
(Cardiff Arms Park – Kick-off: 19.30; 19.30 GMT)
Cardiff Blues’ last three games in the PRO12 have remarkably all been won by the away side on the day. The Blues have won just one of their last six games at the Arms Park in the PRO12: 12-10 over Dragons on Boxing Day.
Connacht beat Ospreys 22-10 in Galway in round 15 but have not won back to back contests in the tournament since April.
The Irishmen’s only away win in the PRO12 this season remains the victory at Zebre in Round Two.
Connacht have won just two in their 19 previous matches with the Blues, both in Galway, in September 2005 (13-9) and in September 2009 (18-16). Connacht’s only win at the Arms Park was 6-3 over Cardiff RFC on 18 August 2001.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Chris Czekaj, 14 Owen Williams, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Gavin Evans (captain), 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Rory Watts-Jones, 6 Michael Paterson, 5 James Down, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Benoit Bourrust, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Taufa’ao Filise.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Nathan Trevett, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Luke Hamilton, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Liam Davies, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Jason Tovey.
Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (captain), 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Brian Murphy, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 TJ Anderson, 21 Paul O’Donohoe, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Matthew Jarvis.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Jason Langdon (Wales)
Glasgow Warriors v Ulster
(Scotstoun Stadium – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors have won their last five PRO12 encounters since their 3-31 defeat in Munster on 1 December.
The Warriors’ only loss at Scotstoun in the tournament since early September was 0-6 to Leinster on 23 November. Glasgow have won just one of their last seven fixtures with Irish provinces: 27-17 at home to Connacht on 21 September.
Ulster remain at the top of the PRO12 table despite having a won two, lost two record from their last four contests.
The Ulstermen have lost only one away game in any competition this season: 10-24 at Munster in the PRO12 on 29 December, whilst they have won their last seven games against Scottish opponents in all tournaments.
The Warriors’ solitary victory over Ulster in their last seven meetings was 17-9 at Firhill on 25 November 2011.
Glasgow: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Niko Matawalu, 8 Ryan Wilson (captain), 7 John Barclay, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Tom Ryder, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Ed Kalman, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Ofa Fainga’anuku.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Luke Pettie, 18 Garry Mountford, 19 Nick Campbell, 20 James Eddie, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Scott Wight, 23 Graeme Morrison.
Ulster: 15 Ricky Andrew, 14 Michael Allen, 13 Andrew Trimble, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Neil Walsh, 10 Paddy Wallace, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Ali Birch, 6 Conor Joyce, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Neil McComb, 3 John Afoa (captain), 2 Nigel Brady, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Ricky Lutton, 18 Andrew Warwick, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Chris Cochrane.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: David Changleng (Scotland), Adrian Graves (Scotland)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)
Ospreys v Edinburgh
(Liberty Stadium – Kick-off: 20.00; 20.00 GMT)
Ospreys’ only win in their last six matches in all competitions was 16-12 against table-topping Ulster in the PRO12 on 8 February. The Welshmen have won their last six home games in the PRO12, but have not beaten a Scottish side this season.
Edinburgh have not won since a trip to Connacht in the PRO12 on 1 December, but have at least managed a victory in Wales this season, beating Cardiff Blues 21-19 at the Arms Park on 7 September.
Edinburgh beat Ospreys 23-13 when the two sides met at Murrayfield in round nine, but have not completed a league double over the Welshmen since season 2008/09.
Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Ben Atiga, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Harry Leonard, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Netani Talei, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Stuart McInally, 5 Sean Cox (captain), 4 Perry Parker, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Steven Lawrie, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Andy Titterrell, 17 Allan Jacobsen, 18 Alex Allan, 19 Robert McAlpine, 20 Chris Leck, 21 Piers Francis, 22 Ben Cairns, 23 Tom Brown.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Alan Jenkins (Wales)
TMO: Paul Adams (Wales)
Saturday, February 23
Leinster v Scarlets
(RDS – Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Leinster have won their last six matches in all competitions since losing 19-27 in Ulster on 21 December. The Leinstermen remain the only side with a 100% home winning record in the PRO12 this season.
Scarlets have won their last three games in all tournaments, but all three encounters have been played at home. The Welshmen have slipped to four successive away defeats and have not won outside of Wales since a trip to Munster on 25 November.
Scarlets only victory over Leinster in their last ten meetings in all competitions since 2009 was 45-20 at Parc y Scarlets in the PRO12 on 1 September 2012. Their only victory on Leinster soil is 52-23 at the RDS on 5 October 2007.
Leinster: 15 Dave Kearney, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Eoin O’Malley, 12 Andrew Goodman, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Noel Reid, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Ben Marshall, 4 Leo Cullen (captain), 3 Michael Bent, 2 Aaron Dundon, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Sexton, 17 Jack O’Connell, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Nick Reynolds, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (captain). 7 Josh Turnbull, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Johan Synman, 4 George Earle, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Kristian Phillips, 23 Dale Ford.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Michael Black (Ireland), Jonathan Peak, (Ireland)
TMO: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Sunday, February 24
Treviso v Munster
(Stadio di Monigo – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Treviso’s only win so far in 2013 was 17-14 at home to Ospreys in the European Cup on 20 January. The Italians have won three of their last four home games at the Stadio Monigo.
Munster have lost two of their last three games in the PRO12, but have won two of their last three away from home in the competition.
The Munstermen tripped up 17-21 in Aironi on their most recent visit to Italy.
Treviso’s only previous victory over Munster was 19-18 at Stadio Monigo in the PRO12 on 13 February 2011.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Denis Hurley, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Iain Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 James Coughlan. 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Paddy Butler, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Ian Nagle, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Mike Sherry (captain) 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 John Ryan, 18 BJ Botha, 19 D Foley, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Cathal Sheridan, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Ivan Dineen.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Stefano Traversi (Italy), Stefano Marrama (Italy)
TMO: Mauro Dordolo (Italy)
Zebre v Newport Gwent Dragons
(Stadio XXV Aprile – Kick-off: 15.05; 14.05 GMT)
Zebre continue to search for that elusive first ever victory in any competition.
Newport Gwent Dragons have won just one of their last six PRO12 contests: 23-14 at home to Treviso on 8 February 2013.
Dragons have not won away from home in the PRO12 since a visit to Edinburgh on 23 March 2012. The Welshmen have lost only one of their last five fixtures against Italian opponents.
Newport Gwent Dragons won the only previous meeting between the two sides, 37-6 at Rodney Parade in the opening round of this season.
Zebre: 15 Alberto Benettin, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Samuele Pace, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Sinoti Sinoti 10 Alberto Chiesa, 9 Alberto Chillon, 8 Andries van Schlakwyk, 7 Josh Sole, 6 Filippo Ferrarini, 5 Marco Bortolami (captain), 4 Michael van Vuren, 3 Luca Redolfini, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Andrea de Marchi, 18 Carlo Fazzari, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Filippo Cristiano, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Paolo Buso, 23 Andrea Bacchetti.
Dragons: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Ashley Smith, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Steffan Jones, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Phil Price, 7 Hugh Gustafson, 6 Nathan Buck, 5 Ian Nimmo, 4 Adam Jones, 3 Lewis Evans (captain), 2 Nic Cudd, 1 Ieuan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Dan Way, 19 Rob Sidoli, 20 Jevon Groves, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Tom Prydie, 23 Jack Dixon.
Referee: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Andrea Spadoni (Italy, Simone Boaretto (Italy)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Table after fiften rounds