Ulster v Aironi
When? Friday, 7.05pm
Where to watch? TG4 & BBC2 NI, 7pm
The story so far: With six wins from their last seven games in the competition, Ulster have powered up the table and are now fifth, one point outside the semi-final places. Aironi are bottom, with only win in their last five games — against Munster.
Team news: The return of Rory Best, Andrew Trimble and Stephen Ferris from national duty sees Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin make several changes to his starting line-up. Lewis Stevenson is preferred to Dan Tuohy alongside Johann Muller in the second row, while Pedrie Wannenburg has recovered from illness to take his place at number eight. Andrew Trimble’s inclusion on the right wing sees Stefan Terblanche move to full-back and Adam D’Arcy drop to the bench.
Ulster: S Terblanche; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (c), L Stevenson; S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg. Replacements: N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, D Tuohy, W Faloon, P Marshall, I Whitten, A D’Arcy.
Aironi: G Toniolatti; S Sinoti, R Quartaroli, M Pratichetti, G Venditti; N Olivier, T Tebaldi; Alberto de Marchi, F Ongaro, F Staibano; G Biagi, C del Fava (c); J Furno, N Cattina, M Bergamasco. Replacements: A Detni, Andrea de Marchi, S Perugini, Q Geldenhuys, F Ferrarini, L Orquera, G Pavan.
Newport Gwent Dragons v Connacht
When? Friday, 7.15pm
Where to watch? Nowhere, unfortunately.
The story so far: Connacht’s dismal run in the competition has yielded just one win and a draw since September; they’re in 10th place, six points off the bottom. The Dragons won last time out against Edinburgh in Murrayfield, but with only three games remaining after tonight, they won’t be challenging for a place in the semis.
Team news: After last weekend’s near miss against Munster, Eric Elwood has made just one change in the backs. Eoin Griffin is injured, so Fetu’u Vainikolo comes in on the wing and Kyle Tonetti shifts to a more familiar role in the centre.
Dragons: W Harries; T Chavanga, A Tuilagi, A Smith, A Brew; L Robling, W Evans; P Price, S Jones, N Buck; L Charteris (c), R Sidoli; D Lydiate, J Groves, T Faletau. Replacements: S Parry, N Williams, D Way, L Evans, T Brown, J Bedford, A Hughes, S Jones.
Connacht: G Duffy; F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, H Fa’afili, T O’Halloran; M Nikora, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, R Loughney; M Swift, M McCarthy; M Kearney, R Ofisa, J Muldoon. Replacements: A Flavin, F Bealham, R Ah You, E McKeon, E Grace, P O’Donohoe, M Jarvis.
Munster v Leinster
When? Saturday, 7.30pm
Where to watch? RTÉ 2, 7pm
The story so far: It’s first v second in Thomond Park as table-toppers Leinster look to extend the eight-point gap between themselves and Munster. Joe Schmidt’s side have experienced a slight blip in form, with just one win from their last three games. Munster’s shock reversal away to Aironi is their only defeat in the competition this side of Christmas.
Team news: With Keith Earls, Donnacha O’Callaghan, Peter O’Mahony and Ronan O’Gara all returning from international duty, Tony McGahan has made five personnel changes to the side which edged past Connacht last Saturday. Those four all slot back in to their usual roles, while up front, Marcus Horan is preferred to Wian du Preez at loose-head.
Gordon D’Arcy will join Shane Horgan as only the second member of Leinster’s 200 club when he hits the landmark in Thomond Park tomorrow night. Brian O’Driscoll, who came through almost an hour on his return from injury against the Ospreys last weekend, joins him in midfield. Brad Thorn and Devin Toner line out in the second row.
Munster: F Jones; J Murphy, K Earls, L Mafi, S Zebo; R O’Gara (c), T O’Leary; M Horan, D Varley, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan. Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, S Archer, B Holland, T O’Donnell, D Williams, I Keatley, D Barnes.
Leinster: R Kearney; I Nacewa, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; H van der Merwe, S Cronin, M Ross; B Thorn, D Toner; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip (c). Replacements: R Strauss, C Healy, J Hagan, L Cullen, S O’Brien, I Boss, I Madigan, F McFadden.