Edinburgh v Ulster
When: Tonight 7.30pm.
Where can I watch? BBC NI, but you’ll need the red button facility.
The Story so far: You all know Ulster, right?
13 wins on the trot to begin the season, runaway leaders, early qualifiers for the Heineken Cup quarters… and then injury and form turned against them.
Mark Anscombe this week admitted to that the Pro12 interval arrived at an ideal time for his side after one win from their last four games – or two from six – allowed Glasgow to erase the 11-point cushion and overtake them at the league’s summit on points difference.
Tonight, the northern province are in Scotland, hoping to get back on track against an Edinburgh side on a run of seven straight league defeats and led by an interim coach (Steve Scott) after Michael Bradley and his staff were shown the door early.
Team news: After his first ever Six Nations, Tim Visser will be given limited game-time tonight as he is given the number 23 shirt as cover on the bench.
Ulster have been able to recall captain Johann Muller and Jared Payne to the starting line-up after spells out with injury. Nick Williams is also fit again, but the big number eight will have to wait his turn as lock Dan Tuohy has been named in the back row alongside Mike McComish and Robbie Diack.
Edinburgh: G Toinks, L Jones, D Fife, B Atiga, T Brown; P Francis, S Kennedy: A Jacobsen, S Lawrie, W Nel; G Gilchrist, S Cox (capt.); S McInally, R Rennie, N Talei.
Replacements: R Ford, J Yapp, G Cross, P Parker, H Watson, R Rees, H Leonard, T Visser
Ulster: J. Payne, A Trimble, D Cave, S Olding, M Allen, P Jackson, P Marshall: T Court, R Herring, J Afoa; J Muller (capt.), L Stevenson; D Tuohy, M McComish, R Diack.
Replacements: N Annett, C Black, R Lutton, N Williams, A Birch, M Heaney, R Andrew, P Nelson.
Munster v Connacht
When: Saturday, 5.45pm.
Where can I watch? TG4.
The story so far: Connacht go into this inter-pro on the back of not one, not two, but three wins on the trot, a trinity that began with the scalp of the reigning champion Ospreys.
In Musgrave Park tomorrow, a win could push them into seventh, just one place behind Munster who have endured a woeful time in Cork this season, with their first try and first win at the ground coming at the third attempt against Edinburgh last month.
Now three games without a win, Rob Penney’s side are in danger of being cut adrift from the sides chasing the Pro12 semi-final places. They are six points off Ospreys and seven behind Scarlets in fourth. Four points from a fiercely contested inter-pro will be essential to their hopes in this competition.
Team news: Second row swings and roundabouts. Eric Elwood has held Mike McCarthy in reserve meaning the Ireland international might not come up against Paul O’Connell who will play his first league fixture of the season. The last Lions captain will be in harness with his long-term cohort Donncha O’Callaghan with the returning George Naoupu and Mick Kearney in opposition.
Outside the engine room, Dave McSharry returns to the Westerners’ midfield for the first time since January with captain Gavin Duffy preferred to Fetu’u Vainikolo on the wing.
On home turf, Ronan O’Gara will be out to put a traumatic international period behind him on a platform provided by the impressive looking back row of Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall and James Coughlan.
Munster: F Jones; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, D Hurley; R O’Gara, C Sheridan; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; T O’Donnell, S Dougall, J Coughlan.
Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, B Holland, N Ronan, D Williams, I Keatley, I Dineen.
Connacht: R Henshaw, D Poolman, E Griffin, D McSharry, G Duffy (capt.); D Parks, K Marmion: B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White; M Kearney, G Naoupu; A Browne, W Faloon, J Muldoon.
Replacements: A Flavin, D Buckley, R Loughney, M McCarthy, E McKeon, P O’Donohoe, M Nikora, F Vainikolo
Leinster v Glasgow
When: Saturday 19.45.
Where can I watch? RTE 2.
The Story So Far: The RDS is in for a hell of a game tomorrow. This first versus third clash features the two form teams in the Pro12. Glasgow have won seven on the spin – including putting a record 60 points on the Blues in Cardiff – and Leinster have redoubled their efforts since losing to Ulster in Ravenhill six games ago.
If that’s not appetising enough, then how about this possibly being the third last time you get the see the wondrous Isa Nacewa play the game?
‘I’m not shaving ’til I see the Tasman.’ ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Depending on how Ulster get on in Scotland, Joe Schmidt’s side could have the extra incentive of top spot with a win in this game, but this Warriors side are growing in belief with each passing week. And having given Leinster plenty to chew on in the Pro12 semi-final last May, will be confident of giving another powerful signal of their title credentials.
Team news: Gordon D’Arcy is back from the stress fracture which ended his Six Nations after two games. The province’s most-capped player has Ian Madigan and Eoin O’Malley on either side of him – both of whom are hoping to show their ability to be long-term successors to Schmidt’s current key men in the back line.
In the pack, Quinn Roux returns from injury in the second row with Michael Bent preferred to Jamie Hagan at tight-head.
Gregor Townsend has again preferred Duncan Weir to Ruaridh Jackson at fly-half with the marauding Niko Matawalu continuing at scrum-half. Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland’s absence through injury will weaken the visitors’ attacking threat, but up front the presence of Ali Kellock and back row of Rob Harley, John Barclay and Josh Strauss will ensure nothing comes easily for last year’s beaten finalists.
Leinster: I Nacewa, D Kearney, E O’Malley, G D’Arcy. A Conway; I Madigan, I Boss: H van der Merwe, S Cronin, M Bent; L Cullen (capt.), Q Roux; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Murphy.
Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, J Hagan, D Toner, D Ryan, J Cooney, B Macken, F Carr.
Glasgow Warriors: P Murchie, T Seymour, A Dunbar, P Horne, DTH Van der Merwe, D Weir, N Matawalu: M Low, D Hall, E Kalman; T Ryder, A Kellock (capt.); R Harley, J Barclay, J Strauss.
Replacements: P MacArthur, G Reid, J Welsh, J Eddie, R Wilson, H Pyrogos, R Jackson, S Lamont.