Pressure on for Magners play-off places
March 31, 2010
Can Mike Phillips and the Ospreys bounce back against the Scarlets? © Getty Images
Glasgow 27 - 19 Dragons Ulster 24 - 33 Cardiff Blues Munster 15 - 16 Leinster Ospreys 27 - 19 Scarlets Connacht 22 - 21 Edinburgh
With the play-offs looming large the leading lights of the Magners League will not want to let any advantage slip in what promises to be a ferociously contested run-in.
Leinster lead the way and possess a game in hand on their nearest rivals but face a tough ask on Friday night as reigning champions Munster open the doors of Thomond Park for our Game of the Week.
Second-placed Edinburgh are also in Ireland this weekend and travel to face Connacht at the Sportsground a week after Michael Bradley's westerners almost upset Leinster in Dublin. Gavin Duffy retains the captain's armband for the hosts after John Muldoon failed to recover in time for Michael Bradley's men. Robbie Morris and Niva Ta'auso also failed fitness tests so Jamie Hagan and Ian Keatley come in for Connacht.
Rob Moffat has shuffled his pack for the visit to Galway, with Allan Jacobsen, Jim Hamilton and David Callam added to the pack while Ben Cairns has recovered from a hamstring injury to reclaim the outside centre berth.
Firhill will host another match between top-four hopefuls as Glasgow and the Dragons go head-to-head. The visitors head into the game off the back of a hard-fought win over the Ospreys while Glasgow fell short against Munster in Limerick. Scotland captain Chris Cusiter is sidelined with a calf strain, while Jon Welsh's season looks to be over after he suffered a stress injury to his right leg.
Mark McMillan comes in at scrum-half, while Kevin Tkachuk comes into the front row. He's joined by Fergus Thomson and captain Alastair Kellock in the pack. Colin Shaw is given the nod on the right wing in place of Peter Murchie following his return from Scotland 7s duty on the IRB Sevens World Series in Adelaide. The Dragons are also short of experienced players, with Aled Brew, Dan Lydiate, Joe Bearman and Ashley Smith, Lewis Evans and Jamie Harris sidelined for the visitors.
The Ospreys' home meeting with their local rivals the Scarlets could have a vital bearing on events both at the top and bottom of the table. After failing to get the job done in Newport the home side need the points to maintain their play-off ambitions while the Scarlets desperately need a change in fortunes if they are to haul in Cardiff and secure Heineken Cup rugby next season.
Stephen Jones returns at fly-half for the Scarlets and is partnered at halfback by youngster Tavis Knoyle, with Rhys Priestland shifting to fullback. Wales and Lions hooker Matthew Rees is also drafted into the starting line-up for the game. The Ospreys have a major boost on the bench where Alun-Wyn Jones returns from injury. Their impressive backline again contains the all-international 9-10-12 axis of Mike Phillips, Dan Biggar and James Hook.
The Blues travel to Ravenhill to face Ulster, who will have revenge in mind after losing out at the Cardiff City Stadium last weekend. That was the sixth successive defeat that Brian McLaughlin's side have suffered at the hands of their Welsh bogey team.
He makes three changes to his team with Isaac Boss replacing Paul Marshall, Declan Fitzpatrick in for the injured Tom Court and Ed O'Donoghue replacing Dan Tuohy. The visitors make four changes, with Jamie Roberts in for Tom Shanklin, Sam Warburton starting at openside. Maama Molitika starts at blindside and Deiniol Jones is in the second row.