WITH RBS 6 Nations still in full swing, the Magners League once again kicks off on Thursday evening, with Scarlets hosting Edinburgh Rugby in Llanelli. A last minute defeat to Ulster in the previous round has seen Scarlets drop out of the Play-Off zone, and with now less than a third of the season left, they will be keen to return to winning ways, however they have never completed a season double over their visitors.
There are three games on Friday night, starting with Ulster v Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill. Results over previous weeks have meant that the hosts have slipped out of the top four, five points adrift of a Play-Off spot but with a game in hand. Blues however have recorded four successive wins hand have climbed up the table to second place and a possible coveted home semi-final, so both teams will be searching for the win.
Another Irish Province, Leinster will also be in action on Friday night, this time welcoming Italian opposition, Benetton Treviso. Leinster’s home record is impressive and although Treviso have not won outside Italy, they will be keen to add another Irish scalp to their recent victory over Munster.
The last game on Friday sees Glasgow Warriors face Newport Gwent Dragons. Dragons are gradually improving their position in the table attaining their highest place this season with two games in hand over most of their rivals, whereas Glasgow’s movement in the table is in reverse, so again a win is vital for both teams’ aspirations.
There are no games on Saturday, so the round concludes with two matches on Sunday. League leaders Munster travel to Italy for the second time in two weeks, and will be careful to avoid any repeat of their last trip which saw defeat to Benetton Treviso by one point. Aironi on the other hand are still looking for their first Magners League win, and even though the gap between their positions in the table could not be wider, the hosts must be hoping to record a shock victory.
The round wraps up at the Liberty Stadium in Wales as Ospreys take on Connacht. Having returned to the top four, Ospreys will be keen to cement a Play-Off spot over the final third of the season, however Connacht have enjoyed some success over their last few games, so could prove to be tough opposition.
SCARLETS v EDINBURGH RUGBY At Parc y Scarlets, 7.35pm. Live on S4C
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU, 12th League game)
Assistant Referees: Phil Fear, Chris Williams (both WRU).
TMO: Huw Lewis (WRU).
Scarlets are going through an unwanted run of six successive defeats in all competitions since their 21-16 victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield on 8 January. The Welshmen have won both their previous encounters with Scottish sides this season.
Edinburgh Rugby have lost their last five matches in all competitions, whilst the Scotsmen’s only victory in their last six Magners League games was 28-17 at home to Glasgow on 2 January. Edinburgh have been defeated in each of their last seven clashes with Welsh opponents.
Scarlets were victorious 21-16 when the two teams met in round 13, and are going for a first ever season’s double over Edinburgh.
Friday 25 February
GLASGOW v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS At Firhill Stadium, 7.50pm. Live on BBC Alba
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRGU, 31st League game)
Assistant Referees: David Changleng, Graeme Marshall (both SRU).
TMO: Peter Allan (SRU).
Glasgow Warriors have lost four Magners League games in a row since they beat Edinburgh on 27 December, and have been defeated in their last four encounters with Welsh opponents in the competition. Newport Gwent Dragons have won their last three Magners League matches – the Dragons best run in the league since season 2004/05. The Welshmen have won just once in Scotland since January 2009: 9-8 at Edinburgh on 1 November 2009.
The Warriors did the double over the Dragons in the European Cup this season, but Dragons took the Magners League meeting 23-11 on 12 September. The Men from Gwent have not won at Firhill since a visit there on 9 January 2009.
LEINSTER v BENETTON TREVISO At RDS Dublin, 7.10pm.
Referee: Neil Hennessy (WRU, 1st League game)
Assistant Referees: David Wlkinson, Richard Kerr (both IRFU).
TMO: Tony Redmond (IRFU).
Leinster’s 3-11 reversal at the hands of the Blues on Saturday ended a seven game winning run in all competitions. The Leinstermen have not lost a home regular season match in the Magners League since Munster visited the RDS on 28 September 2008.
Benetton Treviso have won three of their last five matches in the Magners League, although have not tasted victory outside of Italy since they beat Dragons at Rodney Parade in the European Cup in December 2007.
Treviso won 29-13 when the two teams met at Stadio Monigo in round three.
ULSTER v CARDIFF BLUES At Ravenhill, 7.05pm. Live on BBC Sport NI
Referee: James Jones (WRU, 48th League game)
Assistant Referees: Alan Rogan, Peter Roche (both IRFU).
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU).
Ulster’s only loss in their last five matches in all competitions was 22-23 at Ospreys in the Magners League on 13 February. The Ulstermen have won three of their four games against Welsh opponents this season.
Cardiff Blues have secured four successive Magners League victories and climbed from 5th to 2nd place in the table in the process. The Blues’ only win in their last six trips over the Irish Sea was 33-24 in this equivalent fixture at Ravenhill last season.
Ulster’s seven game losing run against Cardiff Blues ended at the Cardiff City Stadium in round eight, whilst the Ulstermen have not achieved a Magners League double over the Blues since season 2005/06.
Sunday 27 February
AIRONI v MUNSTER At Stadio Zaffanella, 2pm local time (1pm UK & Ireland).
Referee: David Jones (WRU, 4th League game)
Assistant Referees: Alan Falzone, Marius Mitrea (both FIR).
Aironi slipped to a 14th Magners League defeat of the season at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on Sunday.
Munster’s only loss in their last six Magners League encounters came on their previous visit to Italy – against Treviso two weeks ago. Munster won the only previous clash between the two sides, 33-17, at Musgrave Park in round one of the new Magners League season.
OSPREYS v CONNACHT At Liberty Stadium, 2.30pm
Referee: Stefano Penne (FIR, 3rd League game)
Assistant Referees: David Bodilly, Alan Jenkins (both WRU).
Ospreys have not lost at home to a visitor from outside of Wales in the Magners League since Leinster visited the Liberty Stadium on 12 September 2009.
Connacht have won their last four games in all competitions – Connacht’s best run since season 2003/04. The Irishmen’s only victory in their last 25 away matches in the Magners League was 19-17 at Glasgow on 17 September.
Ospreys have won their last five encounters with Connacht, whilst Connacht have not won on Ospreys soil since a 10-9 victory at the Gnoll on 21 November 2004.