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Following a successful and exciting festive season of Pro Rugby derbies in Wales – two teams return to action with crucial games this weekend in the Guinness PRO12 as the Ospreys host Leinster and Scarlets return home to face Connacht.

Two big games are in store for the Welsh duo as Guinness PRO12 highlights of the weekend – with a 1st versus 3rd clash on Sunday between Scarlets and Connacht – with the winner at Parc y Scarlets potentially leading the table at the end of round 12.

Scarlets held on to their lead at the top of the Guinness PRO12 table over the festive period, but Leinster are now just one point behind with a game in hand. All eyes will be on the Liberty Stadium on Friday evening as the battle between the two best teams in the Guinness Pro12 on current form – Ospreys and Leinster takes place. The Ospreys have taken 22 points and Leinster 25 league points from their last 6 matches.

Three Guinness PRO12 fixtures will not take place to accommodate the rearrangement of European Rugby fixtures with Cardiff Blues V Munster postponed (date tbc) and Ulster v Newport Gwent Dragons now rescheduled to Friday 5th February (KO 7.35pm).

Ospreys achieved a fifth successive Guinness PRO12 victory at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on New Year’s Day and have not been beaten at their home at the Liberty Stadium since Connacht were the visitors in October.

Ospreys team v Leinster Friday 8th January 2016 kick off 7.45pm 15 Dan Evans; 14 Jeff Hassler; 13 Jonathan Spratt; 12 Owen Watkin; 11 Hanno Dirksen; 10 Dan Biggar; 9 Brendon Leonard; 1 Paul James (Capt); 2 Scott Baldwin; 3 Aaron Jarvis; 4 Lloyd Ashley; 5 Rory Thornton; 6 James King; 7 Sam Underhill; 8 Dan Baker

Replacements: 16 Scott Otten; 17 Nicky Smith; 18 Ma’afu Fia; 19 Alun Wyn Jones; 20 Justin Tipuric; 21 Tom Habberfield; 22 Sam Davies; 23 Eli Walker

Ospreys Head Coach, Steve Tandy, said: “We can look back at the Christmas period and be relatively pleased with the outcome from two difficult matches, even if we feel that we still have some way to go in terms of performance if we are going to achieve what we want to this season.

“It doesn’t get any easier as we’re up against the form team in the PRO12 on Friday night. Leinster had to deal with similar issues to ourselves at the start of the season due to their over contribution to the Rugby World Cup but have more than made up for that as they’ve played their way towards the top of the table. We know that we have to continue striving for excellence as a team, working hard as a collective.

“Although it’s a young squad involved on Friday, there’s a hardcore of international experience still available and we’ve got some exciting up and coming talent mixed in who have a chance to really make a name for themselves, starting this weekend. They’ve got to thrive on the opportunity and make the most of it.

“This is the second game in a huge month for us, a period that we’ve all got to enjoy. Over the last two months we’ve shown no end of character and heart but, to be honest, that is the minimum expected of anyone who wears the Ospreys shirt. That’s got to be backed up by the right attitudes and behaviours, day in, day out, in preparation during the week and on matchday, which will help ensure the boys reach their potential. It’s a relentless month and that’s what we’ve got to be as a group now, relentless. If we aren’t, we won’t get what we want from these games.”

SCARLETS

Scarlets have been handed a timely lifeline ahead of Sunday’s Guinness PRO12 clash against Connacht, at Parc y Scarlets, with Scottish international John Barclay returning to fitness in time for the all-important clash.

Injuries at openside flanker have blighted the region in recent weeks with Barclay, James Davies, Will Boyde and Josh Macleod unavailable and Emyr Phillips, who played in the jersey last weekend, also ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

Rory Pitman also makes a return to the matchday 23 for the first time since facing Ulster in the second round of the Guinness PRO12 in September having ruptured a bicep.

All Black, Regan King, returns to the starting XV with Gareth Owen unavailable due to injury. Gareth Davies is ruled out due to illness handing Aled Davies the scrum half jersey with Rhodri Williams featuring for the first time for the regional side since the third round European Rugby Champions Cup defeat to Glasgow.

21-year-old hooker Ryan Elias is named as cover for captain Ken Owens, looking to continue his development on the regional stage. His last appearance came off the replacements bench in the 25-14 defeat to Leinster in October. Another of the region’s next generation named on the replcements bench and looking for his first Scarlets appearance since December 2014 is centre Steff Hughes.

Scarlets Backs Coach Stephen Jones said: “We’ve played 11 games and we’re halfway through the season. We’ve put a lot of good things in place but we still have a lot of areas we need to tidy up on, that’s the focus for us as coaches. The good thing for us is a lot of those things are in our control.

“From our aspect, we’ll make sure our house is in order to get back to winning ways, that’s our goal. We’re expecting a tough game because they’re a tough opponent.

“They’re a very good side. Statistically they’re very good. They want to play open expansive rugby. We’re looking forward to it, it will be a great challenge for us.”

Scarlets team to take on Connacht at Parc y Scarlets, Sunday 10th January kick-off 2.30pm; 15 Michael Collins, 14 Steff Evans, 13 Regan King, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Aled Davies, 1 Rob Evans, 2 Ken Owens ©, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Tom Price, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 John Barclay, 8 Morgan Allen

Replacements: Ryan Elias, Phil John, Rhodri Jones, Maselino Paulino, Rory Pitman, Rhodri Williams, Steve Shingler, Steff Hughes