PRO14 is back in full swing and this weekend we have again some great clashes.
With all the international players back at their clubs we can expect the standard to be lifted again from this weekend.
Munster v Edinburgh
Two sides in differing form meet at Irish Independent Park on Friday night as Edinburgh Rugby look to put things right in the Guinness PRO14, while Munster will hope to continue their impressive form.
A battle of two Guinness PRO14 stalwarts, this inter-Conference clash pits two giants of Celtic rugby against one another in what is a mouth-watering fixture for the neutral.
With five wins on the spin in all competitions, Johann van Graan’s men are bang in form heading into this one as they attempt to gain ground on Glasgow Warriors at the summit of Conference A.
Eight points back from their divisional rivals as things stand, now is no time to let up as the chase continues for supremacy, so a win over Edinburgh is a must for Munster.
Edinburgh will have to be at their best if they are to become the first side to emerge victorious in Munster since last December.
For the Scots’ part, two defeats in their last three Guinness PRO14 matches doesn’t make for pretty reading, and Richard Cockerill will be looking for a reaction from his side if they are to avenge last week’s loss to the Dragons and drag themselves back into Conference B’s top three.
Van Graan makes 11 changes to the XV that ran out bonus-point winners in Zebre last weekend, with a host of Ireland internationals making their returns after the Autumn Tests drew to a close.
Chris Farrell starts for the first time this season and is partnered in the centres by Rory Scannell, as JJ Hanrahan plays at fly-half, while Ireland and Lions superstar Conor Murray continues his return from injury by getting the nod at scrum-half.
Peter O’Mahony comes in to captain the side, with only Arno Botha and Chris Cloete keeping their places in the pack.
Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan start in the front row, while Tadhg Beirne gets the nod at lock after impressing on Ireland duty, where he is partnered by Billy Holland.
Among the backs, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls slot in out wide, with Mike Haley keeping his place at full-back.
With a number of notable injuries to star players, Cockerill has also been forced to ring the changes, making nine to the side that fell to the Dragons.
George Taylor gets his competitive debut for the club at outside centre alongside Juan Pablo Socino, while Nathan Fowles and Jaco van der Walt start in the half-back pairing and Tom Brown comes in on the right wing.
It’s all change in the front row, with Rory Sutherland, David Cherry and Murray McCallum getting the nod, supported by Lewis Wynne who makes his first start for Edinburgh in the back row.
Munster: 15. Mike Haley, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Rory Scannell, 11. Keith Earls, 10. JJ Hanrahan, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Niall Scannell, 3. John Ryan, 4. Tadhg Beirne, 5. Billy Holland, 6. Peter O’Mahony (capt), 7. Chris Cloete, 8. Arno Botha
Replacements: 16. Kevin O’Byrne, 17. Jeremy Loughman, 18. Ciaran Parker, 19. Fineen Wycherley, 20. Gavin Coombes, 21. Duncan Williams, 22. Tyler Bleyendaal, 23. Sammy Arnold
Edinburgh Rugby: 15. Dougie Fife, 14. Tom Brown, 13. George Taylor, 12. Juan Pablo Socino, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Nathan Fowles, 1. Rory Sutherland, 2. David Cherry, 3. Murray McCallum, 4. James Hodgson, 5. Callum Hunter-Hill, 6. Ally Miller, 7. Lewis Wynne, 8. Luke Hamilton (capt)
Replacements: 16. Ross Ford, 17. Darryl Marfo, 18. Pietro Ceccarelli, 19. Callum Atkinson, 20. Senitiki Nayalo, 21. Sean Kennedy, 22. Jason Baggott, 23. Chris Dean
Ospreys v Zebre
Ospreys and Zebre Rugby will be aspiring to put defeats right when they meet on Friday night to mark a special occasion for Alun Wyn Jones.
Neither team has hit their peak this campaign with Zebre propping up the Conference A table, while Ospreys will hope to climb back into third place with a win.
Allen Clarke’s Ospreys will put an undefeated home record against Zebre on the line when they arrive at the Liberty Stadium.
The Italians have never beaten the Swansea outfit in 22 visits but will be hoping to rip up the history books with a fourth win of the season.
Ospreys came out on top in the previous meeting this season – winning 22-8 in Parma.
And Michael Bradley’s men can take heart knowing that they got the better of Ospreys last April with a 22-8 blitz at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Both sides boast a raft of internationals back in the set-up after enduring their own gruelling autumn international campaigns.
Alun Wyn Jones is set to move clear at the top of his region’s all-time appearance list as he starts his 233rd Ospreys game against Zebre.
Five of the Welsh internationals that featured against South Africa last weekend are back in action at the Liberty Stadium.
George North starts on the wing along with Justin Tipuric at openside flanker, while Adam Beard and Owen Watkin are handed starts by Clarke.
Scott Williams will also make his first start since September, although Dan Lydiate is out injured.
Zebre make five changes from the defeat against Munster with Italian internationals Edoardo Padovani, scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani and flanker Johan Meyer all starting.
In the pack, tight-head prop Eduardo Bello will start, while in the second-row captain George Biagi will join David Sisi.
On the bench, Italian international Giosuè Zilocchi is named along with permit player Jacopo Bianchi.
15. Dan Evans, 14. George North, 13. Scott Williams, 12. Owen Watkin, 11. Luke Morgan, 10. Sam Davies, 9. Aled Davies, 1. Nicky Smith, 2. Scott Baldwin, 3. Tom Botha, 4. Adam Beard, 5. Alun Wyn Jones, 6. Olly Cracknell, 7. Sam Cross, 8. Justin Tipuric (capt)
Replacements: 16. Scott Otten, 17. Gareth Thomas, 18. Alex Jeffries, 19. Lloyd Ashley, 20. James King, 21. Harri Morgan, 22. James Hook, 23. Cory Allen
15. Edoardo Padovani, 14. Paula Balekana, 13. Giulio Bisegni, 12. Tommaso Boni, 11. Jamie Elliott, 10. Francois Brummer, 9. Guglielmo Palazzani, 1. Cruze Ah-Nau, 2. Massimo Ceciliani, 3. Eduardo Bello, 4. David Sisi, 5. George Biagi (capt), 6. Maxime Mbandà, 7. Johan Meyer, 8. Giovanni Licata
Replacements: 16. Luhandre Luus, 17. Daniele Rimpelli, 18. Giosuè Zilocchi, 19. Apisai Tauyavuca, 20. Samuele Ortis, 21. Joshua Renton, 22. Maicol Azzolini, 23. Jacopo Bianchi
more to follow….