Magners League
Munster set for vital Magners period
ESPNscrum Staff
February 9, 2011
Leinster's Kevin McLaughlin looks to force an opening, Leinster v Clermont Auvergne, Heineken Cup Quarter Final, RDS, Dublin, Ireland, April 9, 2010
Kevin McLaughlin shifts to the second-row for Leinster © Getty Images

While the battle for the Six Nations rages on across Europe, the Magners League returns to action this weekend as Munster look to keep alive their healthy lead at the top of the table.

The Irish giants travel to face Benetton Treviso at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo on Sunday but were forced to delay naming their squad for the tie given the large number of players involved in Ireland's preparations for a vital meeting with France at Lansdowne Road. That proved a wise move because Peter Stringer, who had been set to start against Treviso, was drafted into Declan Kidney's squad on Thursday evening because of concerns over the fitness of Tomas O'Leary. As a result, Duncan Williams will wear the Munster No.9 jersey in Italy.

There are also starts for wing Simon Zebo and centre Tom Gleeson, locks Ian Nagle and Dave Foley, and back-rows Darragh Hurley and Stephen Archer. Meanwhile, Academy player Cathal Sheridan has been named on the bench.

Leinster also felt the brunt of Six Nations call-ups in the build up to their Thursday night clash against Aironi at the RDS. As a result, youngster Rhys Ruddock takes the captaincy for the first time and flanker Kevin McLaughlin is called into action alongside Devin Toner in the second-row. Ian Madigan and Paul O'Donohoe start at halfback and Brendan Macken makes his debut at outside-centre.

Italy international Marco Bortolami leads Aironi, who include former Munster back-row Nick Williams at No.8 and recall former Emerging Springbok Danwel Demas on the wing.

The Scarlets are currently nine points off Munster in second and face a tough trip to Connacht on Saturday. The west Wales region have seven players in Wales' squad to face Scotland at Murrayfield, including fly-halves Stephen Jones and Rhys Priestland, but Rob McCusker has been released to play in Galway.

In addition, the Scarlets are buoyed by the return of star centre Regan King and lock Lou Reed, both of whom missed last weekend's Anglo-Welsh Cup clash with the Newport Gwent Dragons through injury. Back-row duo Johnathan Edwards and Ben Morgan are also back in the mix. However, Iestyn Thomas and centre Gareth Maule have both been rested.

As for Connacht, Sean Cronin is away on international duty with Ireland so Adrian Flavin deputises at hooker. Also in the pack, Shane Conneely makes way at openside flanker for the fit-again Johnny O'Connor. There is only one change behind the scrum, with Troy Nathan taking over from Keith Matthews at inside centre.

Cardiff Blues are also in the hunt for a play-off berth but face a challenging trip north to face Glasgow at Firhill. With a difficult run of form behind them the Welsh region must buckle down in order to ensure that their domestic campaign does not follow the same path as their underwhelming Heineken Cup campaign.

Martyn Williams starts at openside for the visitors, with Dan Fish drafted in at fullback in place of Chris Czekaj, who has been called up as injury cover in the Wales squad. Ceri Sweeney and Tom Slater start at halfback while Gavin Evans deputises for the injured Casey Laulala at outside-centre.

Duncan Weir returns at fly-half for the Warriors and is joined in the backline by winger Hefin O'Hare. In the pack, Ryan Grant is given the nod ahead of Jon Welsh in the front-row while hooker Dougie Hall and tight-head Moray Low are on Scotland duty.

Ospreys are also tied up in a mid-table logjam but are on their own track on Sunday as they take on Ulster in Swansea on Sunday. The visitors have been bolstered by a number of key names, with Nevin Spence, Ian Humphreys, Declan Fitzpatrick, Willie Faloon and Chris Henry all included after representing the Irish Wolfhounds against England Saxons last week. Craig Gilroy will line up on the right wing, while Tim Barker comes into the second row in place of Dan Tuohy, who has a quad tear.

The Ospreys, meanwhile, have been decimated by international call-ups, with a total of 17 players away representing their respective nations. As a result, there is a Magners League debut for Hanno Dirksen, on the left wing, and a first start in the competition for Tom Prydie, who lines up on the opposite flank.

Having dispensed with the services of head coach Rob Moffat, Edinburgh will be looking for a pick-me-up against the Dragons at Rodney Parade on Saturday. Both sides are off the pace in the hunt for a top four spot and need results to turn in their favour fast.

Edinburgh's interim boss Nick Scrivener names a side that shows 11 changes to the one beaten by Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup last month. John Houston and Tim Visser return after injury, while David Blair and Greig Laidlaw are restored to the half-back line. Kyle Traynor, Andrew Kelly and Geoff Cross for an all-new front row, Fraser McKenzie and Craig Hamilton are the chose locks, while Scott Newlands and Netani Talei come into the back row.

As for the Dragons, Martyn Thomas has a slight hamstring strain and is being rested as a precautionary measure. As a result, Will Harries will start at fullback. Also in the back-line, Jason Tovey reclaims the No.10 jersey, while Ashley Smith returns in midfield. Props Phil Price and Dan Way, and lock Scott Morgan all earn recalls to the pack.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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