Leinster v Treviso
When: Thursday 19:05
Where to watch (if not the RDS): RTE 2.
The story so far: Leinster proudly sit top of the table, nine points clear of the Ospreys. With breaks imposed for inernational training and European weekends there’s been no Pr012 action for over a month.
This is the eastern province’s first home Rabo fixture of the year after winning twice on their travels since the Stephens Day 42-13 trouncing of Ulster. Treviso hold a decent cushion above the bottom four sides and they lie just three points behind Ulster.
When the sides met in Stadio di Mongi last November, Leinster ran out 20-30 winners thanks to tries from Fionn Carr, Eoin O’Malley and Leo Auva’a.
Auv’a and Carr, are available to Joe Schmidt once again, but O’Malley and Fergus McFadden (who added 15 points with the boot) are part of the raft of Heineken Cup champions on duty with Ireland.
Shane Jennings has been allowed return to the province. He was sin-binned on the trip to north Italy and is available to bolster the pack once again. Colm O’Shea makes his debut as part of an inexperienced midfield with Brendan Macken.
Treviso have their own absentees to the Six Nations most notably the backs, Luke McLean, Kristopher Burton and Tobie Botes. And also in the pack where Paul Derbyshire, Allesandro Zanni and Lorenzo Cittadini are on duty with the Azzuri.
Leinster: Nacewa; Hudson, Macken, O’Shea, Carr; Madigan, Boss; van der Merwe, Strauss, White; Browne, Toner; McLaughlin (c), Jennings, Auva’a.
Replacements:Sexton, McGrath, Hagan, Flanagan, Murphy, Cooney, Reid, Boyle.
Benetton Treviso: Nitoglia; De Jager, Galon, Pratichetti, Williams; Di Bernardo, Chillon; Filippucci, Vermaak, Padrò; Bernabò, Minto; Fernandez Rouyet, Ceccato, Muccignat.
Replacements: Vidal, Fazzari, Di Santo, Fuser, E. Pavanello, Picone, Garcia, Iannone.
Ulster v Dragons
When: Friday 19:05
Where to watch (If not Ravenhill): RTE 2/ BBC 2 NI
The story so far: The red hand’s grapple with the Heineken Cup has put a dent in their league campaign, though their last two fixtures at this level evidently were ramping up towards the European test. Ulster have managed 75 points in their last two games – an impressive tally when the opponents were Munster (home) and Edinburgh (away).
Since then however, the province have confirmed that coach Brian McLoughlin will be withdrawn from first team duties at the end of the season and it will be interesting- leading up to a Heinieken Cup quarter final – to see how he and his team reacts to that.
Team news: Ulster contribute less players to the Irish set up than Leinster and Munster, but they remain hampered. Andy Trimble, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris will start in Paris. Tom Court and Chris Henry have also remained on the international scene, but Paddy Wallace and Dan Tuohy have been cleared to return to their province and will start in Belfast.
Simon Danielli is allowed away from Scotland training to take a place on the bench while Declan Fitzpatrick, Jared Payne, Pedrie Wannenburg and Darren Cave are all unavailable to McLaughlin through injury.
The Dragons meanwhile will be hampered by their own international call-ups: Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate and Luke Charteris.
Ulster: A D’Arcy; C Gilroy, I Whitten, P Wallace, S Terblanche; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; C Black, A Kyriacou, J Afoa (capt), L Stevenson, D Tuohy, M McComish, W Faloon, R Diack.
Replacements: N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, T Barker, A Birch, P Marshall, N Spence, S Danielli.
Dragons: M Thomas, J Smith, A Hughes, A Smith (capt), A Brew, J Tovey, W Evans, N Williams, S Jones, N Buck, A Jones, R Sidoli, J Groves, D Waters, G Thomas.
Replacements: R Buckley, P Price, D Way, H Ellis, T Brown, J Bedford, A Tuilagi, L Robling.
Cardiff Blues v Connacht
When: Friday 19:30
Where to watch: Not on TV.
The story so far: Connacht ended their much-discussed 14 game losing steak with the breathless Heineken Cup win over Harlequins last month. Now the challenge for Eric Elwood and company is to translate that relief into the Pro12.
September remains their last four-pointer in this competition, but with European commitments out of the way, Connacht must use the Six Nations period as a means to take advantage of weakened teams and slowly work their way towards mid-table.
It is almost four years since the western province won in Wales, a trend they’ll have to reverse to avoid their 10th consecutive Pro12 defeat.
Team news: Having announced a shock retirement from international rugby, Dan Parks was available in theory, but will sit this one out.The Blues will also be missing Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton, Alex Cuthbert and Gavin Henson to the Welsh squad.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair R Mustoe C Laulala G Evans T James C Sweeney R Rees. X Rush M Williams M Molitika P Tito (capt) M Paterson S Hobbs R Thomas J Yapp.
Replacements: R Tyrell N Trevett R Harford C Hill M Cook L Jones G Davies T Williams.
Connacht: G Duffy, F Vainikolo, K Tonettie, D McSharry, T O’Halloran; N O’Conner, P O’DOnohoe: B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney; M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu.
Replacements: E Reynecke, D Buckley, S Maguire, D Gannon, M Kearney, D Moore, M Jarvis, H Fa’ili.
Aironi v Munster
Postponed until March 11th due to heavy snow in Italy.
Back to the start as Kidney prepares to name team for France