Preview: Pro12, Round 11
The traditional festive season local derbies are set to take centre stage as the Pro12 Round 11 provides an exciting escape from turkey and TV.
The games in Scotland and Wales take place on Boxing Day, whilst Ireland foregoes St Stephens' Day games and sticks to the traditional Friday and Saturday slots.
Local bragging honours between Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland are enhanced by the awarding of the 1872 Cup to the aggregate winner over two legs, and Glasgow Warriors will be keen to retain that trophy for a fifth year.
In Wales too the games take on a very local nature in Newport/Cardiff and Llanelli/Swansea avoiding the necessity of a long trip up the M4 motorway.
By the New Year we should know who is best in the east as well as the west of Wales, setting the scene nicely for the 'Judgement Day' double header at the Millennium Stadium in April.
On Friday, table topping Munster welcome Connacht to Thomond Park, when the hosts will be aiming to extend their lead at the top even further, whilst on Saturday the attention turns to Treviso in Italy, the home side not having had a game for two weeks as their Round 10 fixture in Glasgow was called off due to a waterlogged pitch.
The round wraps up Saturday with the repeat of last year's final when champions Leinster welcome Ulster back to the RDS for the first time since their loss there last May. Due to construction work Ravenhill was unavailable for the final but the Ulster fans travelled in their thousands to Dublin to create a 'home away from home' atmosphere, and many will repeat the trip to see if their team can be avenged.
In all it promises to be bumper festive feast of rugby.
We look at all the Round 11 games!
Thursday, December 26
Scarlets v Ospreys
(Parc y Scarlets – Kick-off: 14.00; 14.00 GMT)
Scarlets have slipped to four straight defeats in all competitions since beating Connacht 24-21 in Galway in the Pro12 on November 23.
Scarlets record at home in the Pro12 this season is a disappointing won two, lost two.
Scarlets have lost only one of their last ten fixtures with fellow Welsh Regions: 16-23 to Ospreys at Parc y Scarlets in the Pro12 in September 2012.
Ospreys have won back to back matches over Castres in the European Cup and the Cardiff Blues in the Pro12.
Ospreys have not lost to a fellow Welsh Region in the Pro12 since they visited Dragons and were defeated 20-21 on 6th January 2012 (10 straight wins since).
Scarlets have defeated Ospreys just once in their last ten meetings since 2007: 22-14 at Parc y Scarlets two years ago.
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Nick Reynolds, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Frazier Climo, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 John Barclay, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 George Earle, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Richard Kelly, 20 John Snyman, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Gareth Maule.
Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Ben John, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ryan Jones, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Joe Bearman, 5 James King, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Duncan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Ian Evans, 20 Morgan Allen, 21 Tyler Ardron, 22 Tito Tebaldi, 23 Tom Isaacs.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Bricknell, Wayne Davies (both Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors
(Murrayfield – Kick-off: 15.05; 15.05 GMT)
Edinburgh Rugby's only defeat in their last five Pro12 encounters was 17-41 against Ulster at Ravenhill in Round Eight.
Edinburgh have lost just once at Murrayfield in the tournament this season: 9-22 to the Scarlets on 27th September, they defeated reigning champions Leinster last time out.
Glasgow Warriors' fixture with Benetton Treviso succumbed to the weather in Glasgow last Friday.
Amazingly Warriors' last six encounters in the Pro12 have all been won by the away team on the day.
Glasgow have a 100 percent winning record on the road in the Pro12 this season with their five successive wins being a new club record away from home.
The only time that Edinburgh have won an 1872 Cup game in their last nine encounters with Glasgow since 2008 was their 28-17 victory at Murrayfield on 2nd January 2011.
Edinburgh: 15 Jack Cuthbert, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Ben Atiga, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Dave Denton, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Ollie Atkins, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Izak van der Westhuizen, 2 Mike Coman, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Tony Fenner, 23 Sam Beard.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Stuart Hogg, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Chris Cusiter (captain), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Robert Harley, 5 Tom Ryder, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Ryan Grant
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Moray Low, 19 Leone Nakarawa, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Chris Fusaro, 22 Henry Pyrgos, 23 Ruaridh Jackson
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: David Changleng, Bob Nevins (both Scotland)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Newport Gwent Dragons v Cardiff Blues
(Rodney Parade – Kick-off: 17.00; 17.00 GMT)
Newport Gwent Dragons only victory in their last five Pro12 encounters was 23-8 at Glasgow Warriors in Round Eight.
Dragons have won just one of their last nine fixtures with fellow Welsh Regions in the competition: 23-16 over the Scarlets at Rodney Parade on 20th September.
Cardiff Blues sole victory in their last five Pro12 matches was 17-13 at home to Benetton Treviso in round Seven.
The Blues have not won away from home in the tournament since a visit to Edinburgh on 15th February, although they did draw 26-all in Treviso on their last trip.
Blues have won just three of their last sixteen clashes with fellow Welsh Regions since 2010 – all three were against the Dragons.
Of the last thirteen encounters between the two teams the Dragons have won just twice, both at Rodney Parade, in 2011 and 2012.
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Will Harries, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Ashley Smith, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Lewis Evans, 6 Netani Talei, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Andrew Coombs (captain), 3 Nathan Buck, 2 T Rhys Thomas, 1 Owen Evans
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Aaron Coundley, 18 Francisco Chaparro, 19 Rob Sidoli, 20 Nic Cudd, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Steffan Jones, 23 Ross Wardle
Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Dan Fish, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Chris Dicomidis, 3 B Bourrust, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs (captain)
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Ellis Jenkins, 20 Rory Watts-Jones, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Richard Smith
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessey, Jon Mason (both Wales)
TMO: Derek Bevan (Wales)
Friday, December 27
Munster v Connacht
(Thomond Park – Kick-off: 19.15; 19.15 GMT)
Munster retained their top spot in the Pro12 courtesy of their last gasp 16-10 win over Scarlets in Cork on Saturday.
The Munstermen have lost only one of their last eleven Pro12 fixtures: 19-29 in Treviso on 20th September.
Munster have lost just once to a fellow Irish province in their last five such encounters, 16-22 at home to Leinster on 13th April.
Connacht's 14-11 victory over the Dragons in Galway on Saturday snapped an eight game losing streak in the Pro12.
Connacht have not won away from home in the tournament since they visited Edinburgh in April, whilst their only victory at the home of another Irish province in the history of the Pro12 remains 26-23 over Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002.
Munster have won their last nine fixtures with Connacht, whilst Connacht have beaten the Munstermen just once since 1986, 12-6 in Galway in December 2008.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Johne Murphy, 12 James Downey, 11 Ronan O'Mahony, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 James Coughlan (captain), 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Paddy Butler, 5 Dave Foley, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Damian Varley, 17 Alan Cotter, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Gerry Hurley, 22 Johnny Holland, 23 Denis Hurley.
Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 John Muldoon, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Craig Clarke (captain), 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Darragh Leader.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Eanna O'Dowd (both Ireland)
TMO: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
Saturday, December 28
Benetton Treviso v Zebre
(Stadio Monigo – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Benetton Treviso had a fruitless trip to Glasgow on Friday with a waterlogged pitch putting paid to their plans.
Treviso have not won since beating Connacht 23-3 at Stadio Monigo in Round Five of the Pro12.
Zebre achieved a third losing bonus point of the season against Ulster in Belfast on Friday and have won just once in the Pro12: 30-25 at the Cardiff Blues in round 3.
The two teams have met twice before in the holiday period last season with Benetton Treviso taking both encounters.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Brendan Williams, 14 Ludovico Nitoglia, 13 Christian Loamanu, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Mat Berquist, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Manoa Vosawai, 5 Corniel Van Zyl, 4 Antonio Pavanello (captain), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Valerio Bernabò, 21 Dean Budd, 22 Tobias Botes, 23 James Ambrosini.
Zebre: 15 Guglielmo Palazzani, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Dion Berryman 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa 7 Andries van Schalkwyk, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami (captain) 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Luciano Leibson, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Filippo Cristiano, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Giulio Toniolatti, 23 Filippo Ferrarini.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Andrea Spadoni, Elia Rizzo (both FIR)
TMO: Alan Falzone (FIR)
Leinster v Ulster
(RDS Dublin – Kick-off: 18.45; 18.45 GMT)
Leinster have slipped to back to back defeats, against Northampton in the European Cup and Edinburgh in the Pro12.
The Leinstermen's solo defeat at the RDS since the 2012 Pro12 final was 18-22 to Ulster in this equivalent fixture last season (played on 30th March), it represents Leinster's only home defeat to a fellow Irish province since 2008.
Ulster won a fifth successive game in all competitions with their 13-6 home defeat of Zebre on Friday.
Ulster's only loss on the road since September was 9-17 at Scarlets on 2nd November. Ulster have won their last three away games in the regular season against fellow Irish provinces.
Ulster won both regular season encounters against Leinster in the Pro12 last season, but when they met for a third time in the 2013 Final (for which Ulster as top seeds nominated the RDS as their preferred venue) Leinster gained revenge with a 24-18 triumph.
The Ulstermen have won only one of their eight previous visits to the RDS.
Leinster: Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Leo Cullen (captain), 3 Martin Moore, 2 Aaron Dundon, 1 Michael Bent.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Mike Ross, 18 Jack O'Connell, 19 Tom Denton, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Darragh Fanning.
Ulster: 15 Ricky Andrew, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Robbie Diack (captain), 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Tom Court, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Jared Payne, 23 Michael Allen.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, Eddie Hagan-O'Connell (both Ireland)
TMO: Sean Flannery (Ireland)