Connacht's Kieran Marmion has been in fine form this season. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
bread and butter

Pro12 Cheat Sheet: Your guide to this weekend's inter-provincial rugby action

Ulster look to make it eight in a row against the Dragons, while Munster will target a hefty win over Zebre.

Dragons v Ulster

When: Tonight, 7:05

Where can I watch? BBC Northern Ireland.

The story so far: Ulster have surpassed all expectations so far to record seven wins, in the Pro12 and Heineken Cup, in succession. They proved last time out, against Glasgow Warriors, that they can tough it out in filthy conditions. Added to the try-scoring devastation that they have wreaked on Castres and Cardiff in recent weeks and there is reason to believe that Mark Anscombe’s men can challenge for honours on both fronts this season. Dragons have defeated Zebre and Edinburgh this season but have lost four other matches by big margins.

Team news: Jared Payne’s excellent start to the season is halted due to the necessity to move Tommy Bowe, with international duty in mind, to fullback. Louis Stevenson takes the place of injured captain Johann Muller in the second row. Craig Gilroy is given a start on the wing while Declan Fitzpatrick will be hoping to prove a propping point to the national selectors.

Ulster: T Bowe; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; R Pienaar, P Marshall; T Court, R Best, D Fitzpatrick; L Stevenson, D Tuohy; I Henderson, C Henry (c), N Williams. Replacements: N Brady, C Black, J Afoa, M McComish, R Wilson, P Jackson, L Marshall, J Payne.
Dragons: T Prydie; W Harries, A Hughes, A Tuilagi, T Chavhanga; L Robling, J Evans; O Evans, S Jones (c), N Buck; A Jones, R Sidoli; T Brown, J Groves, T Faletau. Replacements: S Parry, N Williams, D Way, I Nimmo, N Cudd, L Davies, S Jones, P Leach.

Munster v Zebre

When: Tonight, 7:45

Where can I watch? TG4

The story so far: The much-needed sense of optimism is back at Munster Rugby after their bonus-point win over Edinburgh last Sunday. Coach Rob Penney remarked that his players are emerging from ‘a pit’ following his off-season revolution that is attempting to provide a Plan B to pack driven rugby. They are three from three in the Pro12 and last won, 33-13 over Dragons, in late September. Zebre, on the other hand, are seven matches into their season without a win and with 221 points conceded.

Ronan O’Gara will be eager for game time ahead of the November Series. (©INPHO/James Crombie)

Team news: Felix Jones gets the opportunity to prove to the Irish coaching set-up that he is worthy of a call-up as Rob Kearney’s replacement at full-back. JJ Hanrahan gets his first start, in the centre, while Peter O’Mahony shifts to the Number 7 jersey. Paul O’Connell is rested and the game comes too soon for a Keith Earls injury comeback.

Munster: F Jones; L O’Dea, C Laulala, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, D Ryan; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, P Butler. Replacements: D Varley, M Horan, BJ Botha; B Holland, T O’Donnell; C Murray, J Murphy, D Hurley.

Zebre: R Trevisan; D Odiete, G Garcia (c), D Halangahu, M Pratichetti; A Chiesa, L Martinelli; S Perugini, A Manici, L Redolfini; E Caffini, J Sole; F Ferrarini, F Cristiano, A V. Schalkwyk. Replacements: D Giazzoni, M Aguero, D Ryan, F Cazzola, N Belardo, T Tebaldi, L Orquera, L Sarto.

Ospreys v Connacht

When: Saturday, 2:30

Where can I watch? Not on TV.

The story so far: Without looking at the league table, one might make the assumption that Connacht are going well in the Pro12. The reality is an away win over Zebre and an emphatic victory over Leinster stacked meekly against four defeats. A 25-0 reverse by Ulster at Ravenhill tempered expectations ahead of the Heineken Cup campaign before another Zebre win was followed with a hard-fought loss to Harlequins. Ospreys, who won the league last season, started with three defeats on the bounce but have since hit form with wins over Scarlets, Munster and Zebre.

Team news: Darragh Leader has been handed his first start for Connacht, while Mata Fifita plays at centre. Brett Wilkinson and Jason Harris-Wright both start in the front row, while Mike McCarthy’s injury grants Eoin McKeon an opportunity at number eight.

Ospreys: TBC

Connacht: Darragh Leader; Tiernan O’Halloran, Robbie Henshaw, Mata Fifita, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White (c); Michael Swift, George Naoupu; John Muldoon, Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon. Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You, Dave Gannon, Johnny O’Connor, Dave Moore, Miah Nikora, Danie Poolman.

Leinster v Cardiff Blues

When: Saturday, 6:30

Where can I watch? RTÉ Two, from 6:15

The story so far: The Aviva Stadium victory over Munster steeled the Heineken Cup champions going into their European campaign but there are some creases in the Leinster squad in urgent need of smoothing. Ian Madigan is covering the depleted fullback position, the backline is altering on a weekly basis and no-one seems set to stake a definitive claim for the second-row spot alongside Leo Cullen.  The wheels are in danger of falling off the Blues’ season with four defeats in succession.

Team news: David Kearney makes his first competitive start of the season on the wing, with Isa Nacewa absent. Devin Toner is given an opportunity at second row, and Richardt Strauss plays at hooker.

Leinster:15: Ian Madigan 14: David Kearney 13: Brian O’Driscoll 12: Gordon D’Arcy 11: Fergus McFadden 10: Jonathan Sexton 9: Eoin Reddan 1: Cian Healy 2: Richardt Strauss 3: Mike Ross 4: Leo Cullen (CAPTAIN) 5: Devin Toner 6: Kevin McLaughlin 7: Jordi Murphy 8: Jamie Heaslip Replacements: 16: Sean Cronin 17: Heinke van der Merwe 18: Jamie Hagan 19: Damian Browne 20: Rhys Ruddock 21: Isaac Boss 22: Brendan Macken 23: Fionn Carr

Cardiff Blues: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Dafydd Hewitt, Jamie Roberts, Tom James, Jason Tovey, Lloyd Williams; Andries Pretorius (captain), Sam Warburton, Josh Navidi, James Down, Bradley Davies, Scott Andrews, Marc Breeze, Tafa’ao Filise Replacements: Rhys Willimas, Nathan Trevett, Campese ma’afu, Lou Reed, Robin Copeland, Lewis Jones, Ceri Sweeney, Tom Williams.

Additional reporting by Paul Fennessy.

* will be covering the games live this weekend. Do join us.

Analysis: Is Brian O’Driscoll still the right man to captain Ireland?

Strauss is the real deal for Ireland – Bernard Jackman

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