Time running out for title challengers
April 23, 2009
Allister Hogg will be looking to inspire Edinburgh to a fourth successive win © Getty Images
This season's Magners League reaches Round 16 this weekend with time running out for the chasing pack to overhaul leaders Munster.
Ulster head coach Matt Williams has named an unchanged pack for the game against the Cardiff Blues this Friday to the one who beat Glasgow last week. There's just one change in the backs as Darren Cave starts at no 13, while academy player Ian Whitten drops to the bench in what is the last home game of the season for Ulster.
For the Blues, Academy member James Loxton makes his senior debut for the region at fullback having played in the Blues and Wales Under 20's team this season, he has also been selected for the Wales Under 20's squad that travel to Japan for the Junior World Cup this June.
The Blues have 10 international in the starting XV and the game is the final chance for players to put their hands up for selection ahead of next weekend's Heineken Cup semi-final against Leicester.
In our featured game of the round Munster host the Scarlets on Friday and feature seven of their eight Lions - see who's not playing in our Game of the Week.
The Ospreys kick things off on Saturday against Edinburgh and Head Coach Sean Holley will name his final match-day 22 on Friday and will be looking to build on their 28-19 defeat of the Scarlets last week. A number of Ospreys players will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of missing out on spots on the Lions tour - none more so than Ryan Jones and James Hook.
Winger, Shane Williams will cap off a memorable week after being named in the Lions squad when he becomes just the seventh player in Ospreys history to reach the 100 cap mark for the region. He said of reaching that milestone.
"I'm very privileged to be joining an elite club of great players who have been loyal servants to the Ospreys. To clock up 100 appearances is a real achievement for anybody, and hopefully this confirms my status as true Osprey. We've come a long way since I made my Ospreys debut against Leinster at the Gnoll in November 2003, and personally, it's been an incredible journey."
For Edinburgh, Andy Robinson has made just one change to his squad for the trip to to play the Ospreys. Hugo Southwell returning to the bench after a lay-off with a knock to the head.
He keeps faith with the same starting line-up that scored an emphatic win over the defending champions Leinster last week.
Allister Hogg at no 8 is still the heartbeat of a team currently in fourth spot on the log. The versatile loose forward, 26, has started all 15 Magners League matches so far this season and has clocked up over 1100 minutes of game-time in the process.
A convincing 32-16 win over Ospreys in November sees Edinburgh targeting a 'double' over the Welsh side as they look to win their fourth game on the trot.
Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald and Jamie Heaslip are named in Leinster's starting line-up for for the visit of Glasgow, though Rob Kearney misses the game through illness. Fitzgerald takes his place on the left wing, while Gordon D'Arcy will partner O'Driscoll at centre.
In the pack, Devin Toner starts at second row and will line up alongside Malcolm O'Kelly. Rocky Elsom joins Heaslip in a back-row which also includes Shane Jennings, who captains the side.
Leo Cullen is named on a strong replacements bench which includes the likes of Shane Horgan and Jonathan Sexton.
The Warriors have been rocked with the news this week that fly-half Dan Parks was withdrawn from the squad to travel to Ireland as they are holding an internal investigation into his conduct after the stand-off was arrested and accused of drink-driving earlier this week. Ruaridh Jackson will have to step into the breach in Parks' absence while much is expected of young flank Calum Forrester who's impressed Head Coach Sean Lineen and starts at no 6.
Dragons Head Coach Paul Turner has named a 26-man squad for their clash against Connacht at Rodney Parade on Sunday.
Dragons stalwarts Adam Black and Rhodri Gomer Davies are both back in contention after returning from injury. Both players have been out since the match against Ulster back in February where Gomer Davies suffered ankle damage and Black picked up a neck injury.
"We are fortunate to have a fairly clean bill of health at this stage of the season and will be looking to put our strongest side out against Connacht on Sunday," said Turner "After the encouraging friendly against Worcester last week and the return of key players in Adam Black and Rhodri Gomer Davies we are feeling confident going into this game that we can answer the questions being asked of us by our supporters. There were some very strong individual performances last week at Sixways which has given a vital confidence boost to the squad.
"In the away match against Connacht, we didn't defend well enough and got our just desserts. There has been a lot of introspection and full and frank discussions over the last couple of weeks and we are looking to redress the situation this weekend.
"This weekend's game is not going to be easy, but the players are determined that a line be drawn under that match in Galway and we work to finish the season on a high."
Ray Ofisa and Keith Matthews both return for the Connacht. They have overcome their injuries which kept them out of last weeks game against Munster to start at number eight and inside centre respectively.
Brian McGovern starts at tighthead prop with Michael Swift partnering Andrew Farley in the second row, as Andrew Browne reverts to blindside flanker. Gavin Duffy captains the side in the absense of John Muldoon for the fourth time this season.