Leinster out to continue surge
December 22, 2011
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip celebrates one of seven tries against Bath in last weekend's Heineken Cup action © PA Photos
Munster 24 - 9 Connacht Edinburgh 23 - 23 Glasgow Leinster 42 - 13 Ulster Scarlets 22 - 14 Ospreys Cardiff Blues 28 - 9 Dragons Aironi 27 - 13 Benetton Treviso
Following a mixed bag in Europe, the RaboDirect PRO12's big guns are out to secure some festive cheer in the coming days in their traditional Christmas derby fixtures.
League leaders Leinster were big winners in last weekend's Heineken Cup action - routing Bath at Lansdowne Road - and they have another tough assignment as Ulster visit the RDS on Boxing Day.
For Leinster Gordon D'Arcy starts at inside centre, while David Kearney is on the right wing with Eoin Reddan and Ian Madigan forming the half-back partnership. Shane Jennings leads the side. Ulster include five debutants in their starting line-up with Chris Farrell and Michael Allen appearing in the backline and Callum Black and Ali Birch starting up front.
The Ospreys kissed goodbye to their Heineken Cup hopes with back-to-back losses to Saracens over recent weekends, but they remain in a healthy position on the domestic stage. Scott Johnson's side are five points clear in second place, but they will need to be at their best as they travel to face the Scarlets in Boxing Day's opening game.
Prop Adam Jones is set to become only the sixth Ospreys player to make 150 appearance for the region, following Paul James, Jonathan Thomas, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop and Duncan Jones. The Ospreys are without the suspended Ian Gough and injured duo Richard Fussell and Ian Evans.
For the Scarlets, George North has recovered from a dead leg to line up on the wing and Rhys Priestland continues at fly-half. However, second-row Damian Welch is unavailable after fracturing his thumb against Munster last weekend.
After their recent European adventures, Munster are again at Thomond Park, with Connacht the visitors. The hosts are currently in third spot and will be confident of closing the gap on the Ospreys with a win against a side whose domestic form has been patchy to date.
John Hayes will make his 217th and final appearance for Munster and is one of 11 changes to the side that beat the Scarlets last weekend. Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Donncha O'Callaghan and Niall Ronan are the only players retained. Connacht make just one change with Fetu'u Vainikolo replacing Mark McCrea on the wing.
Glasgow will have to do it the hard way if they are to secure vital league points and first-leg bragging rights over Scottish rivals Edinburgh. The hosts will hope for a big crowd at Murrayfield, which their recent European form warrants, and a vital home win as they seek to climb the table.
Glasgow Warriors fly-half Duncan Weir has been handed the opportunity to stake his claim for Scotland selection after being picked ahead of Ruaridh Jackson while Graeme Morrison is back at inside centre, David Lemi on the wing and Rob Harley at blindside flanker. Greig Laidlaw is set to continue at fly-half for Edinburgh with their one change seeing Ross Rennie called up to start at flanker in place of Roddy Grant.
Edinburgh defeated Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup last time out, and the Welsh side - complete with Gavin Henson - have another tough encounter on the slate for Friday night, when the Dragons visit Cardiff City Stadium.
Henson's inclusion at fullback sees Leigh Halfpenny switch to the wing. The other three changes to the side beaten at Murrayfield also occur in the back-line. Alex Cuthbert returns on the left wing having recovered from a hamstring injury, Dafydd Hewitt takes over from Jamie Roberts in midfield and Ceri Sweeney gets the nod at fly-half ahead of Dan Parks. The big news for the Dragons is that centre Lewis Robling has been handed what will be just his second start for the region.
Friday's first game is the Italian derby in Viadana, when Aironi host Benetton Treviso. The visitors certainly had the best of the recent Heineken Cup action, beating Biarritz, and a win would slingshot them into play-off contention in the league.
Treviso, though, have named a much-changed line-up for the game. The most significant inclusion is that of Ezio Galon, who will make his first appearance of the season after injuring himself just before the start of the season. As for Aironi, Mauro Bergamasco is in line to make his debut for the club after being named among the replacements.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
"If there was a cross breed of canine called an Underdogdoodle it would win best in show at Crufts." Mark Durden-Smith looks at the Aviva Premiership Final
With the Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel
"We were only five metres away in the last Test of getting that try and with Jonny's inevitable conversion, we'd have won it." Tom Hamilton talks to Lions fullback Matt Perry