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All four Irish provinces are in Celtic League action this weekend, with Munster – unbeaten in eight games in all competitions – aiming to close the gap on the idle Ospreys at the top.

All four Irish provinces are in Celtic League action this weekend, with Munster – unbeaten in eight games in all competitions – aiming to close the gap on the idle Ospreys at the top.

Friday 26 November
Edinburgh v MUNSTER, Murrayfield, 7.30pm

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In-form fly-half Paul Burke captains Munster as they hope to edge two points behind the Ospreys, at Murrayfield. Frank Hadden’s Edinburgh – although currently second-from-bottom – have offered stiff opposition in previous meetings, so much so that Munster are winless in this fixture since September 2002.

Scotland back row Allister Hogg touched down in both meetings last season (20-9, Meadowbank) and (17-28, Musgrave Park), and although he is on international duty, Hadden can call on the likes of experienced New Zealand-born duo Brendan Laney and skipper Todd Blackadder.

However with Burke – who has kicked his last 17 attempts at goal, running up an 80-point tally in nine games – around, Alan Gaffney’s visitors look too strong.

The Australian has been afforded the chance to recall full back Christian Cullen – who earned October’s award for Celtic League Player of the month with his glut of five tries – Shaun Payne takes the place of Paul Devlin on the right wing, and with skipper Jim Williams absent due to the arrival of his new son earlier this week, Ireland duo Alan Quinlan and David Wallace man the back row with 22-year-old Stephen Keogh.

Johnny O’Connor’s recovery from a knee injury for tomorrow’s Test against Argentina saw Denis Leamy fly over to Scotland last night, and the Cashel man is among the Munster replacements.

15 – Christian Cullen
14 – Shaun Payne
13 – Mike Mullins
12 – Rob Henderson
11 – Mossie Lawlor
10 – Paul Burke (Capt)
9 – Mike Prendergast
1 – Frankie Roche
2 – James Blaney
3 – Gordon McIlwham
4 – Trevor Hogan
5 – Tom Bowman
6 – Alan Quinlan
7 – David Wallace
8 – Stephen Keogh

16 – Eugene McGovern
17 – Denis Fogarty
18 – Tom Hayes
19 – Denis Leamy
20 – Eoin Reddan
21 – Jason Holland
22 – James Storey

LEINSTER v Glasgow, Donnybrook, 7.30pm

Fourth-placed Leinster defend a ten-match unbeaten home run at Donnybrook tonight, welcoming back David Quinlan and Gary Brown into their backline.

Last time out, the three-try Scarlets unravelled a three-game winning streak for Declan Kidney’s side (24-22, Wrexham) – but with both Emmet Byrne and Leo Cullen returning from Ireland squad duty, and a number of game breakers on their bench, Leinster look set for a morale-boosting win ahead of the visit of Bourgoin in the Heineken Cup next weekend.

Clontarf full back David Hewitt and two of tonight’s replacements – James Norton – scorer of three tries in six league appearances – and Niall Ronan travel to Dubai in a couple of days as part of Ryan Constable’s Ireland Sevens squad for the opening tournament of the 2004/05 IRB Sevens competition.

15 – David Hewitt
14 – Kieran Lewis
13 – Christian Warner
12 – David Quinlan
11 – Gary Brown
10 – David Howlett
9 – Brian O’Meara
1 – Emmett Byrne
2 – David Blaney
3 – Ricky Nebbett
4 – Leo Cullen (Capt)
5 – Ben Gissing
6 – Ciaran Potts
7 – Shane Jennings
8 – Des Dillon

16 – John Lyne
17 – Gavin Hickie
18 – Aidan McCullen
19 – Niall Ronan
20 – Brian O’Riordan
21- James Norton
22 – John McWeeney

Sunday 28 November
CONNACHT v Newport-Gwent Dragons, The Sportsground, 1.05pm

Connacht’s lunchtime date with the Dragons will only be the starter in a hectic four-week period for the western province with their European Challenge Cup second round double date with Montpellier certainly the main course.

With that in mind, coach Michael Bradley has freshened up his side for the visit of the Dragons – making five changes from the XV who edged the Ospreys 10-9 at the Gnoll.

Buccaneers flyer Justin Meagher makes his first start of the season on the right wing and four pack alterations see Dan McFarland, John Fogarty and Stephen Knoop replace Ray Hogan, Bernard Jackman and Peter Bracken in the front row, and flanker John Muldoon, 21, also in ahead of Michael Swift on the blindside. Although Montpellier are sure to be firmly in coach Michael Bradley’s thoughts already, the former Ireland scrum-half is adamant that Connacht must concentrate on league points.

“This match represents the halfway mark in the Celtic League and we need to get a result to ensure we meet our objectives,” insisted the 42-year-old. “We are looking to finish above one of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh provinces, and in our case a draw would put us back in line with our targets.”

A draw might have to suffice, as Connacht have only won once on the last seven occasions that Welsh outfits have travelled to Galway.

The Dragons – currently third – came out on top last season, winning both games – 28-19 in Newport in November 2003, and 32-14 at the Sportsground last May.

15 – Matt Mostyn
14 – Justin Meagher
13 – Darren Yapp
12 – James Downey
11 – Conor McPhillips
10 – Paul Warwick
9 – Chris Keane
1 – Dan McFarland
2 – John Fogarty
3 – Stephen Knoop
4 – Christian Short
5 – Andrew Farley (Capt)
6 – John Muldoon
7 – Matt Lacey
8 – John O’Sullivan

16 – Bernard Jackman
17 – Ray Hogan
18 – Pieter Myburgh
19 – Michael Swift
20 – Conor O’Loughlin
21 – Eric Elwood
22 – Ted Robinson

Llanelli Scarlets v ULSTER, Stradey Park, 6.00pm

Ulster’s away form – with 12 points from four away trips this autumn – has kept them competitive in the Celtic League. Another win against the off-form Scarlets could continue that trend, especially with 20-year-old Ireland winger Tommy Bowe’s return aiding their cause.

The Monaghan youngster’s inclusion marks the only change from Ulster’s 30-14 Ravenhill win over Cardiff, with Scott Young losing out.

With back-to-back Heineken Cup ties with Stade Francais to follow, coach Mark McCall is banking on another success – and a reversal of last May’s 23-16 defeat at Stradey Park.

“A win is so important for our momentum,” said former Ireland Under 21 coach McCall. “Stradey Park is not an easy place to play. They have had an up-and-down season but they still have some good players and are not too disrupted by Wales call-ups.

“They had a good victory against Leinster at home a couple of weeks ago and we will have to play well to beat them.”

Loosehead prop Simon Best, who picked up a dead leg on Ireland duty this week, is being given a chance to rest up for tomorrow week’s Pool 6 visit to the formidable Stade. But the reappearance of fit-again duo Roger Wilson and Tyrone Howe on the bench will raise Ulster hopes.

15 – Bryn Cunningham
14 – Tommy Bowe
13 – Jonny Bell
12 – Paul Steinmetz
11 – Andrew Maxwell
10 – Adam Larkin
9 – Kieran Campbell
1 – Ronan McCormack
2 – Paul Shields
3 – Rod Moore
4 – Rowan Forst
5 – Gary Longwell
6 – Matt McCullough
7 – Neil Best
8 – Campbell Feather (Capt)

16 – Nigel Brady
17 – Bryan Young
18 – Roger Wilson
19 – Gavin Pfister
20 – Neil Doak
21 – Scott Young
22 – Tyrone Howe