With the RBS Six Nations taking a break it’s back to Magners League action this weekend with a crucial top of the table tie taking the spotlight.
Cardiff Blues, five points behind Leinster in second place, travel to Dublin, knowing a big win could take them equal on points with the home side, however you have to go back to March 2004 for a Blues League win in Dublin.
That game is one of two on Saturday, with the Ospreys, much lauded as providing the bulk of the Welsh team which won at Twickenham but at the wrong end of the Magners League table, looking to put some space between themselves and the bottom two when Connacht travel to the Liberty Stadium.
Friday’s three games include Matt Williams’ first match in charge of Ulster, with the bottom side facing the Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill. Scotland’s two teams are also in action on Friday night, Edinburgh Rugby, who are looking to set a new record for successive League wins, at home to a Munster side with Paul O’Connell likely to appear, and Glasgow Warriors travelling to Llanelli Scarlets determined to overcome their poor record at Stradey Park. Should Cardiff Blues lose in Dublin, depending on the outcome of these two games Edinburgh, Scarlets or Munster could overtake them into second place in the table.
EDINBURGH v MUNSTER
At Murrayfield, 7.30pm. Live on Setanta Sports
Referee: Tim Hayes (WRU). Touch Judges: David Changleng (SRU), Peter Carruthers (SRU).
TMO: Ian Heard (SRU).
Edinburgh Rugby have won their last four matches in the Magners League and another victory will set a new Edinburgh record for successive league wins – the only previous time that they have won four consecutive league games was in 2002-03 en route to that season’s quarter-finals. Edinburgh have won their last four games at Murrayfield in all competitions.
Munster have lost just one of their last five games in the Magners League: 3-10 at home to Leinster on 30 November. Munster’s only away victory in any competition since September was 29-16 at Llanelli Scarlets in the European Cup on 8 December.
Edinburgh have won just one of their last eight encounters with Munster in all competitions: 21-10 at Limerick in the Magners League on 13 October 2006. Munster have won on all three previous visits to Murrayfield.
ULSTER v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
At Ravenhill, 7.30pm Live on Setanta Sports
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU) Touch Judges: A Rogan (IRFU), L Colgan (IRFU).
TMO: Mark Hermin (IRFU).
This game is Matt Williams’ first as head coach of Ulster – Williams has the best winning percentage of any head coach in the history of the league, Leinster winning 13 of his 17 league games in charge between 2001-02.
Ulster have won just one of their last eight games in the Magners League: 30-13 at Connacht on 23 November.
Newport Gwent Dragons have won back to back matches in the Magners League but they have not won three in a row in the competition since season 2004-05. The Dragons have not won in Ireland since a 28-21 victory against Ulster at Ravenhill in October 2004.
The Dragons won 31-11 when the two sides met in the Magners League in October however the Welsh side has not recorded a league double over the Ulstermen since season 2004-05.
LEINSTER v CARDIFF BLUES
At RDS Dublin, 7.30pm. Live on Setanta Sports
Referee: Peter Allan (SRU). Touch Judges: Simon McDowell (IRFU), Ger English (IRFU)
TMO: Dudley Phillips (IRFU).
Table topping Leinster have won their last five matches in the Magners League since a 16-all draw against Ulster at Ravenhill on 26 October. The Leinstermen’s only home loss in any competition since November 2005 was 23-52 to the Scarlets at the RDS in the Magners League on 5 October.
Cardiff Blues have won their last two games – both in the European Cup, but in the Magners League the Blues have slipped to three defeats in their last four matches. Cardiff Blues’ last away win in the Magners League was 19-17 in Munster on 5 October.
Leinster won 30-19 when the two teams met at the Arms Park in September as the Irishmen strive for a first ever league double over the Blues.
OSPREYS v CONNACHT
At Liberty Stadium, 5.30pm. Live on S4C / Setanta Sports
Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU). Touch Judges: Matthew Alpin (WRU), Colin Kirkhouse (WRU).
TMO: Huw Lewis (WRU).
Ospreys have won three of their last four matches in all competitions, but in the Magners League they have won just one of their last four outings: 22-3 at home to the Blues on New Year’s Eve.
Connacht won their last game in the Magners League: 20-18 at home to the Scarlets on 4 January but have not won back to back matches in the league since September 2006. Connacht have not won away from home in the league since a 29-15 victory at Border Reivers on 1 September 2006, and are winless in Wales since a 10-9 victory over Ospreys at the Gnoll in November 2004.
Ospreys have won four of their last five encounters with Connacht.