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

Ulster and Munster kick the league weekend off while Connacht have Italian visitors and Leinster play the champions.

Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran is tackled by Ashley Beck of Ospreys.
Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran is tackled by Ashley Beck of Ospreys.
Image: ©INPHO/Huw Evans

Ulster v Edinburgh

When: Tonight, 7:05

Where can I watch? BBC Northern Ireland.

The story so far: The only way you could get a more odds-on bet for a home win would be if Edinburgh were Italian. As it stands, Ulster will put their unbeaten record on the line against a side that has lost six matches on the spin – many of them by hefty deficits. Ulster’s assistant coach Neil Doak spoke about the importance of making a good start at Ravenhill. If the league leaders can put early scores on the board they may be in bonus point territory before the customary substitute parade on 60 minutes.

Team news: Ireland released Paul Marshall, Stephen Ferris and Craig Gilroy for tonight’s match. Ulster coach Mark Anscombe liked the hand he was dealt and said ‘stick’. The trio go straight in from the start and are joined by South African Ruan Pienaar, who will play out-half. Nigel Brady captains the side in absence of Jahann Muller [injured] and Chris Henry [international duty]. Edinburgh are a much depleted outfit due to international call ups. Eight players are off with Scotland but there is one bright spot as Izak van der Westhuizen, signed from the Cheetahs, should feature off the bench.

Ulster: R Andrew; C Cochrane, J Payne, P Wallace, C Gilroy; R Pienaar, P Marshall; R Wilson, M McComish, S Ferris; N McComb, L Stevenson; J Afoa, N Brady (c), C Black. Replacements: N Annett, R Lutton, A Macklin, R Diack, N Williams, N O’Connor, S Olding, P Nelson.

Edinburgh: G Tonks; L Jones, J Houston, J King, T Brown; G Hunter, C Leck; J Yapp, A Titterrell, W Nel; G Gilchrist, R McAlpine; S Cox (c), R Grant, R McInally. Replacements: A Walker, A Jacobsen, L Niven, I van der Westhuizen, H Watson, R Rees, D Fife, S Visser.

Cardiff Blues v Munster

When: Tonight, 7:05

Where can I watch? TG4

The story so far: Two bonus point wins in succession for Munster but they know they are far from the finished article. JJ Hanrahan misses out but Munster have not released any statements on his fitness or lack thereof. With Scarlets and Glasgow given relatively simple home ties by the fixture fairies, Munster will be aware that an away win, by any margin, is imperative to keep in touch with the top four at this early stage of Pro12 proceedings.

Team news: Eight players on international duty for Cardiff, including Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts, Bradley Davies and Leigh Halfpenny. Munster are missing the likes of Paul O’Connell, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan but, on paper, Rob Penney looks to have assembled a better XV and a handy replacements bench. Felix Jones starts at fullback while Ronan O’Gara takes the 10 jersey. Sean Dougall will look to continue a fine start to his season at Number 8 while former Leinster player Robin Copeland will be at blindside flanker for Cardiff.

Munster: F Jones; D Howlett (c), C Laulala, I Keatley, L O’Dea; R O’Gara, D Williams; M Horan, M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, S Dougall, T O’Donnell. Replacements: D Varley, J Ryan, W du Preez, I Nagle, P Butler, P Stringer, D Barnes, J Murphy.

Cardiff Blues: D Fish; T Williams, G Evans, D Hewitt, T James; J Tovey, L Jones; C Ma’afu, R Williams, T Filise; L Reed, J Down; R Copeland, J Navidi, A Pretorius. Replacements: A Kyriacou, S Hobbs, R Harford, M Cook,  L Hamilton, R Lewis, C Sweeney, O Williams.

Connacht v Treviso

When: Saturday, 5:00

Where can I watch? Not on TV.

The story so far: Not many people that were in the Sportsground, or watching on TV, in late September, when they battered Leinster 34-6, would have predicted it would be Connacht’s only win from five Pro12 encounters. Eric Elwood’s men have an away win over Zebre to keep that home victory company but a momentum changer is vital. After seven games, Benetton Treviso are four points better off. Franco Smith’s side have already accounted for Ospreys, Scarlets and Edinburgh and were denied a Leinster upset by a late Jonny Sexton drop goal.

Team news: There are six changes to the Connacht team for this weekend’s clash with Treviso. Dennis Buckley, Mike McCarthy and Andrew Browne all start. Dave McSharry and Danie Poolman also come in, while Dan Parks and Kieran Marmion both retain their places. Robbie Henshaw will also be looking to back up the recent high praise he’s received from Billy Millard. For Treviso, Marco Fuser, Corniel Van Zyl and Angelo Esposito all make their debuts.

Connacht: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Danie Poolman, Dave McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White (captain); Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy; Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Eoin McKeon. Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Ronan Loughney, John Muldoon, Mick Kearney, Dave Moore, Miah Nikora, Gavin Duffy.
Treviso: Brendan Williams; Andrew Vilk, Christian Loamanu, Andrea Pratichetti, Angelo Esposito; Alberto Di Bernardo, Fabio Semenzato; Marco Filippucci, Valerio Bernabò, Manoa Vosawai; Corniel Van Zyl (captain), Marco Fuser; Jacobus Roux, Franco Sbaraglini, Matteo Muccignat. Replacements: Enrico Ceccato, Alberto De Marchi, Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, Giovanni Maistri, Enrico Targa, Giulio Toniolatti, James Ambrosini, Luca Morisi.

Ospreys v Leinster

Jordi Murphy caused Cardiff endless problems at the RDS. (©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)

When: Sunday, 4:00

Where can I watch? RTÉ Two

The story so far: Cardiff Blues’ players may receive a lovely basket of muffins for kick-starting Leinster’s season for the second time running. Joe Schmidt’s men pummelled the Welsh side but their opponents on Sunday are a lustier foe. Three opening Ospreys defeat have been counteracted by four wins on the bounce. Ospreys have the wood over the Heineken Cup champions of late and Dan Biggar has been the kicking hero ad nauseam. Both sides will be tested by losses of key internationals but Leinster, in theory, have a deeper squad to do damage.

Team news: There is a decidedly youthful look about the Leinster side this week, with David Kearney, Ian Madigan and Devin Toner the only three to remain from last week’s defeat of Cardiff Blues, on account of a number of the visitors’ players being away on international duty. Ospreys are also missing nine internationals, so Matthew Dwyer starts at hooker for the first time.

Leinster: Leinster: David Kearney; Andrew Conway, Brendan Macken, Andrew Goodman, Fionn Carr; Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss; Heinke van der Merwe, Thomas Sexton, Jamie Hagan; Damian Browne, Devin Toner; Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings (c), Leo Auva’a. Replacements: James Tracy, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Ben Marshall, Jordi Murphy, John Cooney, Noel Reid, Sam Coghlan-Murray.
Ospreys: Richard Fussell; Hanno Dirksen, Tom Isaacs, Andrew Bishop, Eli Walker; Matthew Morgan, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Matthew Dwyer, Joe Rees; Lloyd Peers, Jonathan Thomas (c); George Stowers, Sam Lewis, Joe Bearman. Replacements: Arthur Ellis, Marc Thomas, Daniel Suter, James King, Morgan Allen, Kahn Fotuali’i, Jonathan Spratt, Ross Jones.

Additional reporting by Paul Fennessy

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

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Patrick McCarry

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