RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster and Leinster vie for playoff spots; Scarlets aim to seal European qualification
Last Updated: 02/05/14 10:48pm
Ulster host RaboDirect PRO12 leaders Leinster on Friday evening knowing a bonus-point victory will secure them a playoff berth.
The hosts could clinch a place in the last four for the second successive year, while a maximum point win for Leinster would cement a semi-final on home soil.
Ulster’s lone defeat at Ravenhill this season came in their opening home game, when they lost to Glasgow, but Leinster head into Friday’s encounter having lost just one of their last 10 league outings.
The hosts welcome back Jared Payne following his suspension, picked up for tackling Alex Goode in the air during the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat against Saracens.
Mark Anscombe has named the 28-year-old, usually a full-back, at outside centre for the sold-out clash, which will also act as the official opening of the newly redeveloped Ravenhill.
Ulster’s only other changes to the side which lost to Glasgow two weeks ago come in the pack, where Andrew Warwick takes the tighthead spot, while Roger Wilson, returning from injury, comes in at blindside flanker.
Meanwhile, there are four changes to the Leinster side that recorded a bonus-point nine-try win against Treviso at the RDS last time out.
Luke Fitzgerald makes a welcome return to the bench, while there is one change in the pack which sees Shane Jennings replace Jordi Murphy.
Dave Kearney is back to take the place of Darragh Fanning, who claimed the man-of-the-match accolade against Treviso, while Gordon D’Arcy returns to partner Brian O’Driscoll in midfield and Ian Madigan starts alongside Isaac Boss in the half-back partnership.
Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors will aim to consolidate their place in the playoff picture when they travel to face Treviso at the Stadio Monigo.
Currently second in the PRO12 standings, Glasgow hold a slender one-point advantage over third-placed Munster with three games to place, although victory would ensure they make the knockout stages.
Scotland and British and Irish Lions full-back Stuart Hogg has recovered from a hamstring injury to take his place in the Warriors starting XV.
Tommy Seymour swicthes to the right wing and Niko Matawalu comes in for Sean Maitland on the opposite side, Peter Horne gets the nod at inside centre and Finn Russell replaces Ruaridh Jackson.
Henry Pyrgos, who scored a brace of tries when the two teams met at Scotstoun last month, replaces Chris Cusiter at scrum-half.
In the pack Gordon Reid, Pat MacArthur, Geoff Cross, Tim Swinson, Tyrone Holmes and Josh Strauss all come in, with six of the eight replacements having started in their win against Ulster.
Treviso are without the services of Japan international Christian Loamanu for Friday's home match, with Italy full-back Luke McLean instead slotting in at inside centre.
Brendan Williams assumes the No 15 berth, while Michele Campagnaro partners McLean in the centres and Tobias Botes and Mat Berquist continue their strong half-back pairing.
Up front, Manoa Vosawai comes into the back-row at blinside flanker, with Marco Fuser partnering captain Antonio Pavanello in the second-row.
In the night’s all-Welsh affair, Scarlets require just two points to secure sixth place and European qualification as they host Newport Gwent Dragons at the Parc y Scarlets.
Scarlets have won their last five matches on home soil, but are yet to prevail against Welsh opposition.
Dragons have picked up only three league points from their last six PRO12 matches and have not won away from home in the competition since a trip to Glasgow in Round 8.
Scarlets coach Simon Easterby has made three changes to his side with club captain Rob McCusker returning to take the No 8 jersey after a period on the sidelines.
Josh Turnbull moves from eight to flank with Steven Shingler and Olly Barkley included in the starting backline on home soil.
Welsh international Hallam Amos will start at full-back for the Dragons and is joined in the back-three by fellow Welsh internationals, wings Tom Prydie and Will Harries.
Jones and his Pat Leach makes his return to the centre pairing, alongside Jack Dixon, after recovering from a virus and head coach Lyn Jones retains the half-back pairing of Kris Burton and Richie Rees.
Duncan Bell is moved to the bench and Bruce Douglas takes his place as tighthead prop, while Dragons captain and Welsh international Andrew Coombs returns to the second-row, alongside youngster Matthew Screech.