The second round of festive local derbies take place over the New Year weekend, appropriately signalling the halfway point of the league phase of the competition with most teams now having played 11 out of 22 games.
Once again the round opens in Italy on Friday with hosts Aironi still looking for their inaugural Magners League win, They did however claim their third losing bonus point last time out against Benetton Treviso, so must be targetting this rematch as a four-pointer.
Also on Friday, the Cardiff Blues host the Ospreys at the City Stadium. The Blues’ last game fell foul of the weather which meant they dropped out of the play-off zone for the fist time since September.
Meanwhile, the Ospreys’ record victory over the Scarlets saw the two teams swap places in the Magners League table, the Ospreys having risen from seventh to second in the space of four rounds.
The New Year is ushered in with two games in Ireland and one in Wales. Leinster will be looking to maintain their impressive home record when they face Connacht at the RDS.
Joe Schmidt’s side have crept into the play-off positions for the first time this season and will be hoping to maintain that coveted top four spot.
In the other all-Irish fixture, Munster host Ulster at Thomond Park. Results elsewhere last weekend mean that Munster have in fact extended their lead at the top of the table, and are now seven points clear of their nearest rivals, the Ospreys.
The final New Year’s Day game sees the Newport Gwent Dragons travel to the west of Wales to play the Scarlets in Llanelli.
Both teams will be hoping to put events last weekend behind them, the Dragons’ game being called off and the Scarlets victims of a record defeat, but as always there can only be one winner. History does not favour the visitors who have won just once on Scarlets’ soil.
The round wraps up in Scotland on Sunday with the second leg of the 1872 Challenge. Edinburgh need to overhaul a 12-point deficit if they are to have any chance of stopping Glasgow Warriors retaining the honours this year.
MAGNERS LEAGUE – ROUND 12 FIXTURES:
Friday, December 31 –
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, Cardiff City Stadium, 2.05pm (live BBC 2 Wales)
Aironi Rugby v Benetton Treviso, Stadio Zaffanella, 2.30pm local time (live Dahlia TV)
Saturday, January 1 –
LEINSTER v CONNACHT, the RDS, 5.30pm (live TG4)
Scarlets v Newport Gwent Dragons, Parc y Scarlets, 6.30pm (live S4C)
MUNSTER v ULSTER, Thomond Park, 7.30pm (live RTE Two/BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Sunday, January 2 –
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors, Murrayfield, 5.35pm (live BBC ALBA)