Ulster v Cardiff Blues
When: Friday, 7.05pm
Where to watch: BBC2 from 7.00
The story so far: Ulster, the league’s only unbeaten team, return to the field following the postponement of last weekend’s away date with Zebre. With the tragic death of teammate Nevin Spence still very much in the minds of most Ulster players and supporters, coach Mark Anscombe’s task of motivating his troops will be huge.
Last time out: Ulster held on for a 20-19 win over Munster at Ravenhill. Blues, having played an extra match, are two points ahead in third place and have won their last two games. They defeated Benetton Treviso 34-18 six days ago.
Team news: Tommy Bowe’s inclusion on the right wing was the major news and the Ulster backline is now a formidable unit. Paddy Jackson and Paul Marshall continue as half backs and Iain Henderson, fresh from the Ireland training camp, takes his place in the back row with Nick Williams and captain Chris Henry.
Cardiff’s team features former Ulster player Andi Kyriacou and big international guns in the form of Jamie Roberts, Lloyd Williams, Bradley Davies and captain Sam Warburton.
Ulster: J Payne; T Bowe, M Allen, D Cave, A Trimble; P Jackson, P Marshall; T Court, N Brady, J Afoa; N McComb, D Tuohy, I Henderson, C Henry (c), N Williams. Replacements: R Herring, C Black, A Macklin, L Stevenson , M McComish, M Heaney, P Wallace, C Gilroy.
Cardiff: D Fish; H Robinson, D Hewitt, J Roberts, T James; J Tovey, L Williams; N Trevett, A Kyriacou, T Filise; B Davies, J Down; R Copeland, S Warburton (c), A Pretorius. Replacements: R Williams, C Ma’afu, S Andrews, L Reed, R Watts-Jones, R Lewis, G Davies, Tom Williams.
Connacht v Leinster
When: Friday, 8pm
Where to watch: TG4
The story so far: The Leinster engine is starting to purr and three successive wins have followed an opening weekend defeat to Scarlets. Joe Schmidt’s men looked impressive in the first half against Edinburgh last week but allowed the Scots back into the contest and holding on for a 22-16 win. Connacht have a solitary win, away to Zebre, this season but they showed in the opening half against Scarlets, when they led 8-0, that they can compete effectively against top sides.
Team news: Rob Kearney will make his first start of the season at full-back and Gordon D’Arcy has recovered from his rib injury to partner Brendan Macken in the centre. The pack features a lot of new faces, some fresh, some… not so much. Quinn Roux and Tom Denton will face the experienced Connacht duo of Mike McCarthy and Michael Swift in the second-row.
Eric Elwood was bemoaning his team’s injuries earlier in the week but replacement from the other provinces are not yet required. Dan Parks will make his first start of the season beside young scrum-half Kieran Marmion.
Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, B Macken, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; I Madigan, J Cooney; H van der Merwe, T Sexton, J Hagan; Q Roux, T Denton; B Marshall, S Jennings (c), L Auva’a. Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, M Ross, D Toner, J Murphy, L McGrath, N Reid, F Carr.
Connacht: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; D Buckley, A Flavin, N White (c); M Swift, M McCarthy; E McKeon, J O’Connor, G Naoupu. Replacements: J Harris-Wright, B Wilkinson, R Loughney, D Gannon, W Faloon, D Moore, M Nikora, M Fifita.
Ospreys v Munster
When: Saturday, 6.30pm
Where to watch: RTÉ Two from 6.15pm
The story so far: Munster have won three from four outings this season and looked fantastic last week in a 33-13 win over Newport Gwent Dragons. Rob Penney’s attacking philosophy will be tested in this tough away encounter. from Ospreys – the reigning Pro12 champions – registered their first win of the season against Scarlets last Friday and will be looking to rapidly climb the table.
Simon Zebo starts on the left wing. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Team news: Keith Earls partners Casey Laulala in the centre while Wian du Preez lines up in the front row alongside Mike Sherry and Stephen Archer. Conor Murray, a try-scoring sub last week, starts at scrum-half.
Ospreys lost a number of big names, such as Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams, over the summer but the Welsh side still have plenty of fearsome operators. Justin Tipuric is the danger-man in the back row while out-half Dan Biggar is the current holder of the Pro12 Golden Boot.
Munster: D Hurley; D Howlett (c), K Earls, C Laulala, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; W Du Preez, M Sherry, S Archer; D O’Callaghan, B Holland, T O’Donnell, N Ronan, P Butler. Replacements: D Varley, D Kilcoyne, BJ Botha, D Ryan, P O’Mahony, P Stringer, I Keatley, J Downey.
Ospreys: R Fussell; H Dirksen, A Bishop, A Beck, T Isaacs; D Biggar, K Fotuali’i; R Bevington, R Hibbard, A Jarvis; A Wyn Jones (c), I Evans; R Jones, J Tipuric, J Bearman. Replacements: S Baldwin, D Jones, A Jones, J Thomas, G Stowers, R Webb, M Morgan, R Jones.