Team news and the players looking to impress in Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 action…
Scarlets vs Benetton (Saturday, 3pm)
Wales internationals Jake Ball and Ryan Elias are included in the Scarlets team after being released from Wales’ Six Nations squad to get some game-time, and are among five changes to the starting line-up.
Steff Evans has recovered from a dead leg and returns to the left wing, while Jac Morgan makes his first appearance since Scarlets’ Champions Cup win over Bath in December after recovering from a knee injury. Prop Steff Thomas is set for his PRO14 debut after being named on the bench.
Benetton have Tommaso Allan, Callum Braley and Riccardo Favretto all returning from Six Nations duty, while South African scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenage captains the side.
Six Nations watch
Ball’s wait for a 50th Wales cap goes on, with Adam Beard establishing himself as Alun Wyn Jones’ partner in the second row and Will Rowlands providing bench impact. Both Ball and Ryan Elias’ last Test appearances came in the Autumn Nations Cup defeat to England and it will take something special for them to force their way back in for the latest meeting with their fierce rivals.
Fresh off his tryscoring impact against England, Tommaso Allan will benefit from a start for Benetton, as will his half-back partner Callum Braley after he did not make the Italy matchday squad in either match.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Ryan Conbeer, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Steff Hughes (c), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Dane Blacker, 1 Phil Price, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Javan Sebastian, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Morgan Jones, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jac Morgan, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Steff Thomas, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Ed Kennedy, 21 Will Homer, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Paul Asquith.
Benetton Rugby: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Joaquin Riera, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (c), 1 Thomas Gallo, 2 Tomas Baravalle, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 4 Irné Herbst, 5 Eli Snyman, 6 Giovanni Pettinelli, 7 Manuel Zuliani, 8 Riccardo Favretto.
Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Ivan Nemer, 19 Matteo Canali, 20 Alberto Sgarbi, 21 Davide Ruggeri, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Edoardo Padovani.
Ospreys vs Zebre (Saturday, 5.15pm)
Wales international Rhys Webb leads Ospreys against Italian side Zebre, pairing up with Josh Thomas at half-back.
Garyn Phillips is set to make his Ospreys debut, providing front-row cover alongside hooker Ifan Phillips and tighthead prop Tom Botha on the bench.
In the absence of Italy second rower David Sisi and the injured Tommaso Castello and Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni captains Zebre for the sixth time in Swansea.
Irish pairing Mick Kearney and Ian Nagle start in the second row, while former Saints back Jamie Elliott is on the bench.
Six Nations watch
Phillips has been widely tipped to be a Wales international before too long. The hooker, whose father Kevin played for Neath and Wales, recently signed a new deal that will see him stay at the Liberty Stadium until at least 2023.
Ken Owens started in both of Wales’ two Six Nations fixtures so far, with Elliot Dee on the bench, but 25-year-old Phillips could soon force his way into the conversations if his performances in the PRO14 continue.
It’s almost three years to the day since Zebre captain Boni won the last of 11 Italy caps, can he win his midfield showdown with Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler and get back into the picture?
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Mat Protheroe, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Josh Thomas, 9 Rhys Webb (c), 1 Gareth Thomas, 2 Sam Parry, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 5 Rhys Davies, 6 Olly Cracknell, 7 Sam Cross, 8 Morgan Morris.
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Garyn Phillips, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Will Griffiths, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Joe Hawkins, 23 Keelan Giles.
Zebre: 15 Michelangelo Biondelli, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Tommaso Boni (c), 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Antonio Rizzi, 9 Nicolò Casilio, 1 Daniele Rimpelli, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 3 Eduardo Bello, 4 Mick Kearney, 5 Ian Nagle, 6 Lorenzo Masselli, 7 Potu Junior Leavasa, 8 Renato Giammarioli.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Paolo Buonfiglio, 18 Matteo Nocera, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Samuele Ortis, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Paolo Pescetto, 23 Jamie Elliott.
Edinburgh vs Munster (Saturday, 7.35pm)
Edinburgh have three players back from Scotland’s Six Nations camp, hooker David Cherry – who made his Test debut in the Calcutta Cup win over England at Twickenham – second row Grant Gilchrist and fly-half Jaco van der Walt all starting.
Academy centre Matt Currie and prop Boan Venter could make their club debuts if called into action from the bench.
Munster have made nine changes to the side that defeated Benetton last time out as Billy Holland captains the team on his 240th appearance, going joint second with Ronan O’Gara in the all-time list for the Irish province, with second rower Donncha O’Callaghan the record holder with 268.
Andrew Conway returns to the side for his first appearance since December and is one of four players returning from Ireland camp in the starting backline along with Craig Casey, Shane Daly and Chris Farrell. Rory Scannell is in line to make his 100th PRO14 appearance off the bench.
Six Nations watch
Jaco van der Walt needs a big display to continue as Finn Russell’s understudy, with Adam Hastings returning to action for Glasgow on Friday night.
David Cherry enjoyed a Scotland debut to remember, coming off the bench in their Calcutta Cup win at Twickenham, and was also a replacement in the Wales defeat. He will look maintain his momentum while co-captain Grant Gilchrist needs a big display to force his way past Scott Cummings and the Gray brothers in the Scotland second row.
Ireland’s wings failed to fire in their opening matches, with James Lowe making costly errors in defence and Keith Earls forced to live off scraps. Andrew Conway can put the pressure on with a big display in the Scottish capital.
Edinburgh: 15 Damien Hoyland, 14 Jack Blain, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Eroni Sau, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Henry Pyrgos (cc), 1 Pierre Schoeman, 2 David Cherry, 3 Lee-Roy Atalifo, 4 Andrew Davidson , 5 Grant Gilchrist (cc), 6 Nick Haining, 7 Luke Crosbie, 8 Viliame Mata.
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Magnus Bradbury, 20 Ally Miller, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Nathan Chamberlain, 23 Matt Currie.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Shane Daly, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Craig Casey, 1 James Cronin, 2 Niall Scannell, 3 John Ryan; 4 Jean Kleyn, 5 Billy Holland (c), 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Chris Cloete, 8 Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Jack O’Sullivan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Rory Scannell.
Connacht vs Cardiff Blues (Saturday, 7.35pm)
Ireland internationals Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan all start for Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday.
Jarrad Butler returns to captain the side from openside flanker, with Eoghan Masterson and No 8 Paul Boyle forming the rest of the back row. Loosehead prop Jordan Duggan makes his first start for the province after making seven appearances from the bench.
Ellis Jenkins starts in the PRO14 for the first time in 27 months after returning to action against the Ospreys in a try-scoring performance last week.
Wales duo Rhys Carre and Lloyd Williams return for the trip to Galway while 18-year-old outside centre Mason Grady makes his first senior start.
Six Nations watch
Having played in all but one of Ireland’s 2020 fixtures, Aki will be frustrated at not even making the bench for the Six Nations defeats to Wales and France.
The No 23 shirt instead went to Jordan Larmour, who is being tipped to start against Italy next weekend, so that could open the door for Aki should he punch some holes in the Cardiff defence.
Jack Carty will be just as frustrated, having fallen behind Billy Burns, Ross Byrne and Harry Byrne in the fly-half pecking despite being arguably the form Irish fly-half in this season’s PRO14.
Williams finds himself in a similar position. The Cardiff scrum-half went from starting against England in November’s Autumn Nations Cup to not seeing any minutes in Wales’ opening two Six Nations matches.
Williams and loosehead Carre find themselves on the periphery of Wayne Pivac’s squad and will look to force their way into contention.
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Alex Wootton, 13 Tom Daly, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 1 Jordan Duggan, 2 Dave Heffernan, 3 Finlay Bealham, 4 Ultan Dillane, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Jarrad Butler (c), 8 Paul Boyle.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisin Dowling, 20 Abraham Papali’i, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Sean O’Brien, 23 Tiernan O’Halloran.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Mason Grady, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Aled Summerhill; 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Lloyd Williams; 1 Rhys Carré, 2 Liam Belcher, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 4 Seb Davies, 5 Rory Thornton, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 8 Josh Turnbull (c).
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Keiron Assiratti, 19 Ben Murphy, 20 Gwilym Bradley, 21 Jamie Hill, 22 Ben Thomas, 23 Harri Millard.