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Following two weeks of intense European rugby competition, this weekend sees the return of key Guinness PRO12 action for the four pro rugby teams with three games hosted in Wales featuring a trio of strong opponents – Leinster, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

With the Welsh teams keen to focus on their positions in the table, the action kicks off in Wales on Friday evening with the Newport Gwent Dragons hosting Leinster who have had a big run in recent weeks to sit second in the table with a game in hand.

Top-table Scarlets travel to 4th placed Connacht for one of the most significant games in terms of placings.

Cardiff Blues are at home at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park to 3rd placed Edinburgh another big game with the hosts looking to maintain a big impact at their home ground. Cardiff Blues have scored the most tries in competition to date and claimed three try bonus points so far – so this could prove a difficult trip for the Scotsmen.

The round wraps up, as it started, in Wales with Ospreys hosting Glasgow Warriors on Sunday. Just one point separates the teams in the table but Warriors have two games in hand so Ospreys will need to make home advantage count if they are to maintain their lead over their visitors.

NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS

Newport Gwent Dragons see the return of Welsh International Hallam Amos who was recently named in Warren Gatland’s RBS 6 Nations Squad, after he was released back to play for the Men of Gwent this weekend.

The Welsh Region returns to action Friday 29th January, KO 19:05, after securing their place in the European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-finals against Gloucester Rugby in April.

It’s going to be a big challenge for the Dragons as Leinster have won their last seven Guinness PRO12 matches. Leinster won 37-13 when the two sides met in round 3 to reverse the trend of last season where the Men of Gwent achieved a PRO12 double over the Leinster for the first time.

Dragons Director of Rugby Lyn Jones, has made four changes to the team that faced Sale Sharks in the European Rugby Challenge Cup last week.

Fullback Carl Meyer returns to the starting XV after failing a fitness test last weekend. He is joined in the back three by wings Ashton Hewitt and Hallam Amos. The centre partnership remains unchanged as Adam Hughes and Adam Warren get the nod. Fly-half Jason Tovey also retains his position alongside scrum-half Sarel Pretorius.

The front row sees the inclusion of hard hitting prop Boris Stankovich who starts alongside tighthead prop Brok Harris and hooker Thomas Rhys Thomas (c). Lock Rynard Landman is partnered with young-gun Matthew Screech in the second row and the back row sees versatile forward Lewis Evans move to number 8 with Nick Crosswell and Nic Cudd as flankers.

Newport Gwent Dragons team to face Leinster; Carl Meyer, Ashton Hewitt, Adam Hughes, Adam Warren, Hallam Amos, Jason Tovey, Sarel Pretorius; Boris Stankovich, Thomas Rhys Thomas ©, Brok Harris, Rynard Landman, Matthew Screech, Nick Crosswell, Nic Cudd, Lewis Evans.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Phil Price, Shaun Knight, Cory Hill, James Benjamin, Charlie Davies, Geraint Rhys Jones, Nick Scott.

CARDIFF BLUES

Prop Salesi Ma’afu will make his Cardiff Blues debut in the Guinness PRO12 home clash against Edinburgh Rugby at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday afternoon – kick-off 5.15pm.

Cardiff Blues are the top try scoring team in the Guinness PRO12, having run in 31 five- pointers this campaign. The Blues have won their last four fixtures at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park since their 20-32 reversal there to Harlequins in the European Challenge Cup.

Edinburgh Rugby’s five game winning run came to a halt with their defeat in Grenoble on Saturday evening. The Scotsmen have won both of the matches they have played against Welsh regions so far this season.

The Australian international is named in the starting line-up as Head Coach Danny Wilson makes ten changes to the side that defeated Rugby Calvisano last week in Europe.

A new-look front row will see Thomas Davies start his first Guinness PRO12 game of the season alongside hooker Matthew Rees, who captains the team, and tighthead Ma’afu. Lock James Down returns to the second row while Ellis Jenkins and Manoa Vosawai win back row call-ups. Centre Rey Lee-Lo is back in the starting line-up and paired with Gavin Evans in midfield.

USA international Blaine Scully and Aled Summerhill will provide the fire-power out wide while fly half Rhys Patchell is the final change to the side.

Wales Under-20 wing speedster Elis-Wyn Benham, fresh from three tries in two games in the British & Irish Cup, could make his senior regional debut after being named among the replacements.

Prop Brad Thyer could also make his Guinness PRO12 debut from the bench where scrum half Tomos Williams also wins a place.

Nine players miss the game as they are away on international duty with Wales while Sam Hobbs (concussion) and Lou Reed (foot) are also ruled out through injury.

Head Coach Danny Wilson said: “We have spoken to the players this week about the challenge ahead of us as we look to build on the momentum of the last two months.

“At home we’re making BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park a difficult place to visit, with just one defeat in the Guinness PRO12. That is a record we must build on with seven home games left. It is up to this group to show what they are capable of to maintain that.

“With nine players away with Wales, it’s imperative that other players within the squad take the opportunity to step up. We’ve trained well this week and have been encouraged by the positivity and enthusiasm in the camp.

“There are a number of changes to the starting line-up, among them a debut for Salesi Ma’afu, and we look forward to seeing what we can produce back in Guinness PRO12 action.”

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Tavis Knoyle; 1 Thomas Davies, 2 Matthew Rees (c), 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 James Down, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 7 Josh Navidi, 8 Manoa Vosawai

Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Bradley Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Jevon Groves, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Elis-Wyn Benham

SCARLETS

As the Guinness PRO12 kicks back into action this weekend Scarlets welcome the return of international fullback Liam Williams as he makes his first regional appearance since May 2015.

Williams was released from the Wales camp earlier this week to join the Scarlets this weekend ahead of Wales’ Six Nations opener against Ireland next week.

Scarlets sit at the top of the Guinness PRO12 table and the Welshmen are the best away side in the PRO12 (along with Leinster) having obtained 14 league points from their five trips so far.

Gareth Owen returns to the side after being sidelined with a shoulder injury and will line up in the centre alongside Kiwi Hadleigh Parkes, who will captain the side in the all-important PRO12 clash.

International scrum half Rhodri Williams lines up alongside Aled Thomas in his 13th appearance of the season with Aled Davies and Gareth Davies on Six Nations duty. Tom Williams and Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe line up on the wings in the only unchanged combination from last weekend’s defeat to Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup.

In the pack 21-year-old hooker Ryan Elias gets his first start of the season, having come off the replacements bench against Leinster in round 7 in his only competitive appearance of the season so far.

He’s joined in the front row by experienced loosehead prop Phil John and international tighthead Rhodri Jones, also making his first start of the season after nine appearances from the bench.

Tom Price is joined by fellow lock Lewis Rawlins whilst Pivac has named an unchanged backrow in Aaron Shingler, Will Boyde and Morgan Allen.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s game against fourth placed Connacht Pivac said; “They play an expansive game of rugby, more so than other sides. We know it’s going to be a big day at the office, defensively as well as looking after the ball when we do have it.

“We clearly want to remain as high up the table as we can. There are eight or nine sides going for six slots, that doesn’t work. It’s all in front of us over the next four or five games to stay in the top four if we can, that’s certainly the aim. It’s going to be a close run race.”

Tighthead prop Peter Edwards is named on the replacements bench having recovered from an elbow injury suffered in the second round of the Champions Cup against Racing 92 at Parc y Scarlets.

Scarlets team to take on Connacht, at the Sportsground, Saturday 30th January kick off 3pm; 15 Liam Williams, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Gareth Owen, 12 Hadleigh Parkes ©, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Rhodri Williams, 1 Phil John, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Rhodri Jones, 4 Tom Price, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 Will Boyde, 8 Morgan Allen

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Dylan Evans, Peter Edwards, Jack Jones, Tom Phillips, Connor Lloyd, Steven Shingler, Michael Collins

OSPREYS 

With a formidable home record that’s seen the Ospreys only lose once in seven games in all tournaments at the Liberty Stadium, it’s now down to the young guns to step up for the jersey.

Ospreys Head Coach, Steve Tandy, said: “This game marks the start of the next phase of the season for us. We’ve got a tough run of games during the Six Nations that will push us but we have to rise to the challenge if we want to get the outcome we want.

“We have a very young group of players that we are turning to during this period but they are excited about the opportunity to really push the team up the table. Some of them have already gained great experience belt in Europe and the league this season while others are really itching to pull the shirt on and show what they are about during this period.

“There’s no margin for error, we have to get the performance level where it needs to be if we’re going to get the right outcome. Youth and inexperience isn’t going to be an excuse, this is their time. We know that with Glasgow just behind us in the table they’ll target this match as one where they can push ahead of us and damage our hopes, so it has the makings of a great contest.

“It’s not about these boys keeping the shirt warm for the internationals when they are away. It’s about representing the shirt and all it stands for and ensuring that we remain in contention, so that when the internationals come back we are still involved at the sharp end. The boys here understand that they have a big job on their hands and they can’t wait to get stuck into it.

“We know what we’ve got to do between now and the end of the season, starting on Sunday, if we want to make sure we are back in the top level of European competition next season. Everybody has to pull together now, on and off the field. This is a team of young and predominantly local players so I’d like to think that the community will get behind them.

“The atmosphere we’ve had at the Liberty in recent games has been brilliant, I think the supporters understand the part they’ve got in this battle and we want to see them inspiring the team again on Sunday afternoon.”

The Ospreys team to play Glasgow Warriors at Liberty Stadium on Sunday 31st January 2016, KO 2.30pm, is as follows: 15 Dan Evans; 14 Tom Grabham; 13 Owen Watkin; 12 Josh Matavesi; 11 Eli Walker; 10 Sam Davies ; 9 Brendon Leonard (Capt); 1 Nicky Smit; 2 Sam Parry; 3 Dmitri Arhip; 4 Rynier Bernardo; 5 Rory Thornton; 6 Joe Bearman; 7 Sam Underhill; 8 Dan Baker

Replacements; 16 Scott Otten; 17 Gareth Thomas; 18 Ma’afu Fia; 19 Adam Beard; 20 Olly Cracknell; 21 Tom Habberfield; 22 Ben John; 23 JJ Engelbrecht

JJ Engelbrecht will make his Ospreys debut if he comes off the bench. Adam Beard will make his PRO12 debut if he comes off the bench

BE PART OF LIVE RUGBY IN WALES THIS WEEKEND! – For tickets:
Friday 29th January kick off 7.05pm Dragons v Leinster at call the Rodney Parade Ticket Office Alternatively supporters can also call 01633 674990 or visit www.newportgwentdragons.com to buy tickets online or print at home.

Saturday 30th January kick off 5.15pm – Cardiff Blues face Edinburgh Rugby at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park. Call the Ticket Office on 02920 302030 or click on www.cardifffblues.com/tickets for more information.

Sunday 31st January kick off 2.30pm – Ospreys v Glasgow match ticket Hotline: 0844 815 6665 (Monday-Friday: 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-4pm). Buy Ospreys Match Tickets Online at www.ospreysrugby.com