With leaders Leinster enjoying a free weekend Round 16 of the Magners League gives the sides chasing them the chance to close up at the top – with Champions Ulster targeting a return to top spot.
That opportunity will be presented on Saturday when Llanelli Scarlets entertain the Belfast based side at Stradey Park. The Scarlets are unbeaten in their last dozen home games in all competitions, but should Ulster buck the trend and win at Stradey they will return to the top spot they surrendered to Leinster at the end of December.
Friday night other also sees bottom two Connacht and Border Reivers come face to face at the Sportsground. The Reivers are adrift at the foot of the table but will be looking for a repeat of their last away league win – also over Connacht – back in October 2005.
The round’s fifth game sees another Heineken Cup repeat match up with Cardiff Blues travelling to Munster. A run of five wins in their last six games has seen Munster rise to mid table – but they are still a long way back from the leaders and will be keen to leap frog the Musgrave Park visitors and move to the business end of the table with a repeat of their European double over the Blues. The Welsh will be chasing their first league win in Ireland for over two years.
Coach Mark McCall has named four players- Bryan Young, Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris and Roger Wilson – featured in the High Performance Select Group announced by the IRFU and PwC earlier this week as well as four Irish Internationals involved in the historic victory over England last weekend, with Isaac Boss, Simon Best, Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble all starting for Ulster against the Scarlets.
15 – Bryn Cunningham ; 14 – Tommy Bowe; 13 – Paul Steinmetz; 12 – Paddy Wallace; 11 – Andrew Trimble; 10 – David Humphreys; 9 – Isaac Boss; 1 – Bryan Young; 2 – Paul Shields; 3 – Simon Best; 4 – Justin Harrison (Captain); 5 – Tim Barker ; 6 -Stephen Ferris; 7 – Kieron Dawson; 8 -Roger Wilson;
Replacements: 16 – Stuart Philpott; 17 -Justin Fitzpatrick; 18 – Ryan Caldwell 19 – Sam Harding; 20 – Kieran Campbell; 21 – Kevin Maggs; 22 – Paul McKenzie
There are three additional changes to the Connacht team to face Border Reivers at the Sportsground on Friday (kick off 6.30pm).
Andrew Farley has failed a late fitness test this morning, having aggravated a shoulder injury and will be replaced by Michael Swift, with his place on the bench being taken by Ryan Strudwick.
On the left wing, Daniel Riordan has not recovered from a bug he picked up training with the Irish team and will be replaced by Conor McPhillips.
Conor O’Loughlin has picked up a hip injury and will be replaced by Chris Keane, with Keane’s place on the bench being taken by Ted Robinson.
David Slemen; Darren Yapp, John Hearty, Mark McHugh (C), Conor McPhillips; Paul Warwick, Chris Keane; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Stephen Knoop; David Gannon, Michael Swift; John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney .
Replacements: Conor Muldoon, Ray Hogan, Ryan Strudwick, Matt Lacey, Ted Robinson, Peter Durcan, Gavin Williams.
Munster coach Declan Kidney makes four changes from the side that started against Border Reivers for Friday’s Magners League clash with Cardiff Blues.
Three of those changes are brought about because of the return from injury of Trevor Halstead, John Kelly and John O’Sullivan while Eoghan Hickey gets to start at out-half in place of Jeremy Manning.
C Cullen; S Payne, B Murphy, T Halstead, J Kelly capt; E Hickey, T O’Leary; D Hurley, F Sheahan, F Pucciariello; C Wyatt, M O’Driscoll; A Quinlan, T McGann, J O’Sullivan.
Replacements: T Buckley, D Fogarty, D Ryan, M Melbourne, B O’Meara, J Manning, J O’Sullivan.