Four PRO14 games take place on Friday as Connacht, Ospreys, Glasgow and Ulster host Zebre, the Kings, Cheetahs and Edinburgh respectively.
Connacht v Zebre
Tighthead prop Finlay Bealham is set to make his 100th appearance for the Irish province in this fixture.
Kieran Keane’s Connacht side are aiming to make it eight home wins in a row in all competitions in a run that stretches back to September.
Bealham is one of four changes to Connacht’s starting XV from the side that beat Ospreys last week. With Tiernan O’Halloran sidelined with a hamstring injury, Darragh Leader comes in at full-back to join a back three that includes wingers Cian Kelleher and Matt Healy.
Sean O’Brien’s return from injury is a further boost as he starts at number eight after picking up a shoulder injury in the win over the Southern Kings in September. O’Brien will be joined in the back row by openside flanker Naulia Dawai and blindside Eoghan Masterson who captains the side.
The only other change is the inclusion of lock Gavin Thornbury who came on as a substitute in the victory over Ospreys.
Keane has named a strong squad with Ireland internationals Kieran Marmion and Quinn Roux named among the replacements. Also named on the bench is John Muldoon and Conor Carey who continues his record of being named in every match day squad for Connacht so far this season.
Meanwhile, Zebre have been boosted by the return of three Italian internationals who were part of the Azzurri's matchday squad in their Six Nations clash with Ireland in Dublin last weekend.
Fly-half Carlo Canna, flanker Maxime Mbandà and hooker Oliviero Fabiani are selected as starters along with three other internationals, Giulio Bisegni (centre), George Biagi (lock) and Renato Giammarioli (number eight), who will head to Rome on Sunday to Italy’s training camp ahead of the third round of the Six Nations.
There will be a total of five changes to Zebre's side for this encounter. In the backline, Rory Parata (wing) is one of the two former Connacht players who will face their former side. The other being Galway-born full-back Ciaran Gaffney.
In the pack, the good news is that James Tucker, the New Zealand-born lock, will be back in action after his recovery from the injury that occurred in his overall PRO14 debut back in November.
On the bench, the only new face is the tighthead prop Dario Chistolini, who is set to earn his 98th official cap with Zebre.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Craig Ronaldson, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Sean O’Brien (c), 7 Naulia Dawai, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Coulson Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 John Muldoon, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Pita Ahki
Zebre: 15 Ciaran Gaffney, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Faialaga Afamasaga, 11 Rory Parata, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Johan Meyer, 5 George Biagi (c), 4 James Tucker, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 David Sisi, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Riccardo Raffaele, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti
Date: Friday, February 16 Venue: The Sportsground Kick-off: 19:35 GMT Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland) Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy) TMO: Andrew Cymene (Scotland)
Ospreys v Southern Kings
Ospreys interim head coach Allen Clarke has included Wales internationals Justin Tipuric and Owen Watkin in his side to face the Kings.
He is however without Dan Biggar, Alun-Wyn Jones and Bradley Davies while 20 others are currently injured and unavailable for selection.
Dewi Cross makes his PRO14 debut while Watkin starts with Kieron Fonotia in midfield and Tom Habberfield and Sam Davies are at half-back.
"There were positive signs in Connacht last Friday. We played the game with the right intent but failed to make the most the of the possession and territory that we had, hence the disappointing outcome on the night," said Clarke.
"We want to approach Friday night and Southern Kings with a similar outlook, but knowing that we must finish off the opportunities we create. There’s been plenty of positivity around the place this week but with the realism of where we are at the moment and what we need to do if we want to qualify for the Champions Cup next season, starting this Friday night at the Liberty Stadium.
"These next three weekends are crucial for us, with back to back home games before we go to Zebre at the start of next month. Our focus is fully on delivering the best performances and outcomes that we can, before we regroup and take stock of our position for the final push."
More to follow…
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Dewi Cross, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 Rob McCusker (c), 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 James King, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Rhodri Jones Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Guy Mercer, 20 Will Jones, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Price, 23 Hanno Dirksen
Southern Kings: TBC
Date: Friday, February 16 Venue: Liberty Stadium Kick-off: 19:35 GMT Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland) Assistant referees: Stuart Gaffkin (Ireland), Richard Kerr (Ireland) TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Glasgow Warriors v Cheetahs
Glasgow Warriors welcome back second-rows Scott Cummings and Tim Swinson and centre Sam Johnson for the visit of the Cheetahs on Friday.
Scotland international Swinson has been out of action with a hand injury since November, Johnson suffered a broken jaw in the game against Montpellier in December and Cummings has been out since the beginning of the year.
All three come straight into the starting XV, Swinson and Cummings starting behind a front-row of Alex Allan, James Malcolm and Siua Halanukonuka.
Behind them Rob Harley captain’s the side and equals Graeme Morrison’s record for all time Glasgow Warriors appearances, playing his 177th game for the club.
Chris Fusaro and Matt Fagerson are the other loose forwards.
It is an unchanged half-back pairing from last weekend’s draw against the Dragons and Nick Grigg joins Johnson in the midfield.
Niko Matawalu starts on the wing, joining Lee Jones and Ruaridh Jackson in the back three.
This is the Cheetahs' first and only visit to Scotland this season. The two sides met in Bloemfontein in Round 6 with Glasgow handing the South Africans their only home defeat of the campaign so far.
"Glasgow is obviously a quality team who have proven that they are tough to beat on their home turf. This week we have made some exciting changes to the line-up that we believe suit our style of play intended for this weekend." said coach Rory Duncan.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 James Malcolm, 1 Alex Allan Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Matt Smith, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Ratu Tagive
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Craig Barry, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Luther Obi
Date: Friday, February 16 Venue: Scotstoun Kick-off: 19:35 GMT Referee: George Clancy (Ireland) Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Sam Grove-White (Scotland) TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Ulster v Edinburgh
Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes has named his squad for Friday's PRO14 clash versus Edinburgh at Kingspan Stadium.
The starting XV shows just four changes from the side that defeated Southern Kings 59-10 last weekend, as Louis Ludik, Tommy Bowe and Jean Deysel replace the injured Charles Piutau, Rob Lyttle and Sean Reidy, while Rob Herring is released from Ireland duty to start at hooker.
With just three points separating Ulster in third and Edinburgh in fourth in the Conference B standings, Friday's game will be another hugely important clash as both sides aim to book a place in the play-offs.
Ludik and the fit-again Bowe are straight swaps for full-back Piutau and left wing Lyttle, as they come in to join last week's Man of the Match Craig Gilroy in the back three.
The Irish international midfield partnership of Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall are retained, as are the half-back combination of John Cooney and Johnny McPhillips.
In the pack, Deysel will wear the number eight jersey, with Nick Timoney shifting to openside flanker and Matty Rea continuing at blindside.
Andy Warwick and Wiehahn Herbst will scrum down either side of Herring in the front row, with Alan O'Connor captaining the side for the second game in succession alongside Kieran Treadwell at lock.
John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Rodney Ah You will provide the front row backup on the bench, with Matthew Dalton and Chris Henry the additional forward options.
Jonny Stewart, Darren Cave and David Busby will offer backline cover, with Busby in line to make his first appearance of the season if called upon.
As Edinburgh search for their 15th win of the season in all competitions, the team selection includes five changes to the side who secured a last-gasp victory over Leinster last weekend.
In the back-three, Dougie Fife once again gets the nod at full-back. The Scotland sevens star is joined by wings Duhan van der Merwe and Jason Harries, who starts his first league encounter since crossing the whitewash against Scarlets in round four of the competition.
An unchanged midfield sees Chris Dean partner last weekend’s match winner Mark Bennett, whilst Sam Hidalgo-Clyne returns to the starting XV to link-up with Jaco van der Walt at half-back.
In the front-row, Jordan Lay is named at loosehead and packs down alongside Murray McCallum and experienced hooker Neil Cochrane. Club captain Fraser McKenzie keeps his position in the second-row, as does Lewis Carmichael after his Man-of-the-Match performance against Leinster last weekend.
Number eight Cornell du Preez is welcomed back into the side from Scotland duty, whilst John Hardie returns to the fray to partner Bill Mata in the back-row.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O'Connor (c), 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Warwick Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Matthew Dalton, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Jonny Stewart, 22 Darren Cave, 23 David Busby
Edinburgh: 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Jason Harries, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 John Hardie, 6 Bill Mata, 5 Lewis Carmichael 4 Fraser McKenzie (c), 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Neil Cochrane, 1 Jordan Lay Replacements: 16 Cameron Fenton, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Eliot Millar Mills, 19 Magnus Bradbury, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Glenn Bryce
Date: Friday, February 16 Venue: Kingspan Stadium Kick-off: 19:35 GMT Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales) Assistant referees: Andy Brace (Ireland), Adam Jones (Wales) TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
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