RaboDirect PRO12 log leaders Glasgow Warriors face second-placed Munster in a tantalising top-of-the-table clash at Scotstoun on Friday.
As the competition gets back into full swing with Round Six this weekend after a successful European double header, it’s clear that the Pro12 is going from strength to strength.
When it comes to the European Cup, three Pro12 sides – Leinster, Ulster and Scarlets – top their respective groups. What’s more, Ulster and Leinster are two of only three teams across the European Cup who managed to secure back-to-back victories.
The success on the field has been represented in the stands with supporters flocking to support their PRO12 sides. There has been an upward trend in footfalls through the turnstiles, most notably at Treviso, where attendances are up 24 percent; Warriors’ attendances are up 14 percent and Ulster’s attendances seven-and-a-half percent.
The growing popularity can also be witnessed in television audiences where there is a six percent increase in viewing figures with an audience of 240,000 for Munster’s recent clash with Leinster while there is an average viewership of 355,000 per weekend across the UK and Ireland.
Most of the Pro12 action this week takes place on Friday night, with five games scheduled to open the weekend.
Warriors are the only team left with a 100 percent winning record this season and are building a formidable record at home, so Munster will have their work cut out if they are to topple the leaders. Success, however, would see the Munstermen climb to the top of the table.
Elsewhere on Friday night, last season’s finalists Ulster welcome Cardiff Blues to Ravenhill. Both teams will be buoyed by their notable successes in Europe last weekend.
Meanwhile, the all-Welsh affair in Swansea between Ospreys and Newport Gwent Dragons will see referee Nigel Owens take charge of his 100th Pro12 (formerly Celtic League) game.
Both Italian teams are in action on Friday, Zebre hosting Scarlets in Parma and Treviso travelling to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. Zebre and Edinburgh must both be hoping that home advantage will help them claim a second victory in this season’s competition.
The round wraps up with current champions Leinster hosting fellow Irish province Connacht at the RDS on Saturday evening, a ground where the hosts remain unbeaten since March. And to show support for all the fundraising activities that the Pro12 teams get involved with, the match officials this weekend will (where practical) be wearing pink.
We look at all the Round Six matches!
Friday, October 25:
Edinburgh v Treviso (Murrayfield – Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Edinburgh’s only victory in their last five fixtures in all competitions came at home to Munster in the European Cup on October 12. The Scotsmen have won three of their last four games at Murrayfield in all tournaments, but have not been victorious in the Pro12 since beating the Dragons in Round Two and have lost tow of the last three games they have played against Italian opponents.
Treviso’s last four games in the Pro12 have been won by the home side on the day. Treviso’s only home victory in their last 10 fixtures in all tournaments was 41-17 at Scarlets on May 3. Treviso won both encounters with Edinburgh last season including a 27-22 victory when they visited Murrayfield in Round Six last year.
Edinburgh: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Harry Leonard, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 David Denton, 7 Cornell Du Preez, 6 Dimitri Basilaia, 5 Sean Cox, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson. Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Wicus Blaauw, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Izak van der Westhuizen, 20 Roddy Grant, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Joaquin Dominguez, 23 Jack Cuthbert.
Treviso: 15 Brendan Williams, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Christian Loamanu, 10 James Ambrosini, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Manoa Vosawai, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Dean Budd, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 Antonio Pavanello (captain), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Enrico Ceccato, 1 Michele Rizzo. Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, 18 Pedro Di Santo, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Marco Filippucci, 22 Tobias Botes, 23 Luke McLean.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland) Assistant referees: Peter Allan (Scotland), Stephen Hart (Scotland)
Glasgow Warriors v Munster (Scotstoun Stadium – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
Glasgow Warriors’ only defeat in any tournament this season came two weeks ago at Toulon in the European Cup. The top-of-the-table team in the Pro12 have won their last 10 games at Scotstoun in all competitions and have won all three games against Irish provinces played at Scotstoun in 2013.
Munster’s only defeat in their last six Pro12 encounters was 19-29 at Treviso in Round Three. The Munstermen have lost on their last two visits to Scotland in all tournaments. Glasgow’s 51-24 victory over Munster in March ended a six-game losing run to the Irishmen.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Byron McGuigan, 12 Sean Lamont, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Chris Cusiter (captain), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Moray Low, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Ryan Grant. Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Tom Ryder, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Mark Bennett.
Munster: 15 Johne Murphy, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Ivan Dineen, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander. 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 James Cronin. Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Billy Holland, 20 James Coughlan, 21 Cathal Sheridan, 22 James Downey, 23 Casey Laulala.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales) Assistant referees: David Changleng (Scotland), Bob Nevins (Scotland) TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Ospreys v Newport Gwent Dragons (Liberty Stadium – Kick-off: 19.05; 18.05 GMT)
Ospreys have slipped to three straight defeats in all competitions, two of those encounters being played at Liberty Stadium, where they have not lost three in a row since 2004. The Swansea-based side had the better of their last eight encounters with fellow Welsh regions in the Pro12, whilst the last Welsh region to beat Ospreys at Liberty Stadium were the Dragons themselves in October 2010.
The Dragons’ last 10 fixtures in all competitions have been won by the home side on the day. The Dragons have not won on the road since a 14-13 victory at Zebre in February. The men from Gwent have only ever won three away games at fellow Welsh regions in 33 attempts in all competitions. The Dragons have not beaten Ospreys in the Pro12 since January 6, 2012 at Rodney Parade, but did do so in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last season. The Dragons have won only one of their previous eight visits to Liberty Stadium.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Biggar, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Jonathan Spratt, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Matthew Morgan, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 Morgan Allen, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Tyler Ardron, 5 James King, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Adam Jones, 19 Lloyd Peers, 20 Joe Bearman, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Ben John, 23 Sam Lewis.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Ross Wardle, 12 Lewis Robling, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Kris Burton, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Lewis Evans, 6 Jevon Groves, 5 Andrew Coombs (captain), 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Dan Way, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Owen Evans. Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Nathan Williams, 18 Francisco Chaparro, 19 Adam Jones, 20 Ieuan Jones, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Will Harries, 23 Adam Hughes.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales) Assistant referees: Leighton Hodges (Wales), Jon Mason (Wales) TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Ulster v Cardiff Blues (Ravenhill Stadium – Kick-off: 19.05; 18.05 GMT)
Ulster are on an impressive run of five successive victories in all competitions. The Ulstermen’s only reversal at Ravenhill Stadium since February came by the narrowest of Margins, 12-13, to table-topping Glasgow in Round Two.
Ulster have won four of their last five contests with Welsh regions, whilst the only Welsh side to have won at Ravenhill in the last four seasons have been Ospreys.
Cardiff Blues have won two of their last three fixtures in all competitions, but away from home have not been successful since they visited Murrayfield and beat Edinburgh 17-16 in February. The Blues have won just one of their last five encounters with Irish provinces: 21-10 over Connacht at the Arms Park in Round Two.
Cardiff Blues’ only win in their last six fixtures with Ulster was 21-14 at the Arms Park on February 17, 2012, whilst they have not been victorious at Ravenhill since April 2010.
Ulster: 15 Stuart Olding, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (captain), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Callum Black Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Tom Court, 18 John Afoa, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Michael Allen
Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Richard Smith, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Marc Breeze, 1 Gethin Jenkins (captain). Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Taufa’ao Filise, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Rory Watts-Jones, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Chris Czekaj
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy) Assistant referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Eanna O’Dowd (Ireland) TMO: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Zebre v Scarlets (Stadio XXV Aprile – Kick-off: 19.30; 18.30 UK & Ireland; 17.30 GMT)
Zebre have already won in Wales this season, having beaten Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park 30-25 in Round Three.
Scarlets’ only defeat in their last four matches in all competitions was 12-17 at the hands of Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 on October 5. Scarlets have won three of their last four games against Italian opponents but have lost on two of their last four visits to Italy.
Scarlets won both encounters with Zebre last season by a margin of four match points to nil, however, both sides managed to accumulate three tries apiece over the two games.
Zebre: 15 Ruggero Trevisan, 14 Leonardo Tailor, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Dion Berryman, 10 Tommaso Iannone, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Andries van Schalkwyk, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami (captain), 4 Michael van Vuren, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 David Giazzon, 1 Salvatore Perugini. Replacements: 16 Andre Handles, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Luciano Leibson, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Philip Christian, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 David Odiete.
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Nick Reynolds, 13 Jon Davies (captain), 12 Scott Williams, 11 Kristian Phillips, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 John Barclay, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Jo Snyman, 4 George Earle, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John. Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Horatiu Pungea, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Gareth Maule.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland) Assistant referees: Stefano Pennè (Italy), Stefano Roscini (Italy) TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Saturday, October 26
Leinster v Connacht (RDS Dublin – Kick-off: 18.45; 17.45 GMT)
Leinster have won three of their last four matches in all competitions and are unbeaten at the RDS since Ulster were the visitors in March. The Leinstermen were defeated in their only fixture so far with a fellow Irish province this season: 15-19 away to Munster in Round Five.
Connacht’s five-game losing run in all tournaments ended with their 33-6 victory against Zebre in Parma in the European Cup. Connacht’s most recent away victory in the Pro12 was 32-24 at Edinburgh in April.
Connacht have been defeated in their last six contests with fellow Irish provinces and have not beaten an Irish side on their own soil since winning 26-23 against Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002.
Connacht’s only victory in their last six fixtures with Leinster was 34-6 in Galway last September.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland) Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Barrie O’Connell (Ireland) TMO: Alan Rogan (Ireland)