The race to end the regular season at the top of the overall table is firmly in Leinster's hands.

Leo Cullen’s men sit nine points clear of the DHL Stormers and could cement the top seeding for the play-offs this weekend, having missed an opportunity to do so when they lost to the Cell C Sharks last week.

Leinster visit the Stormers on Saturday and will be assured of top spot if they emerge from the weekend with a margin greater than five points over whichever team sits second.

A win would guarantee that, but a draw or two bonus points in defeat would also be enough, while one point would be sufficient should the Stormers win but fail to collect a bonus point themselves.

Munster, the Cell C Sharks and Ulster are a point back from the Stormers and still mathematically in with a chance of topping the table heading into the final two fixtures, although they would each need a pair of bonus-point wins and for Leinster to register no more points to be in with a shot.


TV

Munster v Cardiff (Friday 7.35pm) and Sharks v Connacht (Saturday 3.05pm) are live on TG4, while Stormers v Leinster (Saturday 5.15pm) is on RTÉ 2 and RTÉ Player. Edinburgh v Ulster (Saturday, 7.35pm) is on Premier Sports.

RADIO

Updates on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1.

ONLINE

RTE.ie/sport will have live scoring and blogs across the weekend with match reports and reaction from the grounds. All games are live on URC TV.

WEATHER

Cork will see cloudy conditions with temperatures about 13C this evening.

Mostly cloudy, 23C with a thunderstorm in parts of the Durban area for Connacht's match on Saturday, while Leinster are due to play in sunshine and some clouds in about 20C in Cape Town.

In Edinburgh it will be mostly cloudy with a couple of showers in 8C.

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It's tight at the top of the table and Munster are one of three teams on 51 points with two regular season games remaining, including a visit to the Aviva to face Leinster in three weeks’ time.

Johann van Graan’s side have lost just once to a Welsh opponent in their last 15 such encounters in the United Rugby Championship: 10-18 to Ospreys in Swansea in October 2021; whilst their most recent defeat at home to a Welsh region was when Scarlets visited Limerick in February 2017.

Cardiff have slipped to three defeats in the URC since beating Glasgow at the Arms Park in March and have not lost four in a row in the Championship since November 2019, while they are yet to win away from home in the competition this season.

Munster beat Ulster away last weekend, while Cardiff lost at home to Ospreys.

Flanker Peter O'Mahony and wing Simon Zebo return to the Munster side.


Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Ben Healy, Conor Murray; Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Thomas Ahern; Peter O'Mahony (capt), Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue.

Replacements: Scott Buckley, Josh Wycherley, Keynan Knox, Jason Jenkins, Jack Daly, Craig Casey, Joey Carbery, Shane Daly.

Cardiff: Hallam Amos; Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Max Llewellyn, Theo Cabango; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Carré, Kristian Dacey, Dillon Lewis; Seb Davies, Rory Thornton; James Botham, Josh Navidi (capt), James Ratti.

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Brad Thyer, Keiron Assiratti, Matthew Screech, Ellis Jenkins, Jamie Hill, Rhys Priestland, Garyn Smith.

Referee: Sam Grove-White (SRU, 23rd competition game)


Despite a hard-fought 33-30 win over the Lions last weekend, Connacht's play-off hopes are over and they will look to next season when they are due to welcome seven new players to their ranks.

Andy Friend’s side have won their last two URC matches, both away from home, at Benetton and at the Lions but have not won three in succession in the tournament since February 2021.

Connacht have lost just one of their last four away games in the Championship, an 8-56 reversal at Edinburgh on 4 March.

This will be the first ever meetings of the teams.

There are six changes to the Connacht side with Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Leva Fifita, Conor Oliver, Conor Fitzgerald and Tom Farrell all brought into the starting XV.

Bealham forms an experienced front row with Denis Buckley and Dave Heffernan, while Jarrad Butler captains the side from number 8 with Cian Prendergast at blindside flanker.

It's an historic game for Monivea scrum-half Caolin Blade who reaches 150 appearances for the club, while Tom Daly partners Farrell at centre.

The back three is unchanged so Mack Hansen again starts at full-back with wingers Alex Wootton and John Porch for company.

A win for Andy Friend’s side would ensure they become the first team to beat all four South African sides, having already defeated the Bulls, Stormers and Lions.


Sharks: Aphelele Fassi; Werner Kok, Ben Tapuai, Marius Louw, Makazole Mapimpi; Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse; Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas du Toit (capt); Le Roux Roets, Gerbrandt Grobler; Siya Kolisi, Henco Venter, Phepsi Buthelezi.

Replacements: Kerron van Vuuren, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Khutha Mchunu, Reniel Hugo, Jeandre Labuschagne, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Grant Williams, Boeta Chamberlain

Connacht: Mack Hansen; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Gavin Thornbury, Leva Fifita; Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler (capt).

Replacements: Dylan Tierney-Martin, Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier, Niall Murray, Oisín Dowling, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Tiernan O’Halloran.

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 61st competition game)


A single match-point for Leinster against the second-placed Stormers will more or less secure top spot for Leo Cullen's side, who lost to the Sharks last weekend.

The South Africans have won their last six URC since losing 17-19 to Connacht in Galway at the end of February.

Stormers have not been defeated at home in the tournament since Lions visited DHL Stadium on 4 December.

John Dobson's men have faced Irish provinces on three previous occasions this season, losing at Munster and Connacht but beating Ulster in Cape Town on 26 March and this is the first ever meeting of the two teams.

Cullen has opted to rotate the squad, introducing many of the 31-man touring panel who didn't feature in last week’s contest with academy scrum-half Cormac Foley making his first start for the province on his fourth appearance, partnered in the half-backs by Ciarán Frawley.

Outside them in midfield, Rory O’Loughlin shifts from the wing to centre while Jamie Osborne holds on to the number 13 shirt.

Max O’Reilly comes in at full-back where he is flanked by Adam Byrne and fellow Academy man Rob Russell.

Up front, John McKee and Thomas Clarkson remain where they are joined by Ed Byrne in the loosehead position.

Fresh from making his debut last week, Brian Deeny stays in the second row alongside Josh Murphy.

Rhys Ruddock captains the side from number 8 with Alex Soroka and Scott Penny completing the back row.


Stormers: Warrick Gelant; Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel, Damian Willemse, Leolin Zas; Manie Libbok, Herschel Jantjies; Steven Kitshoff (capt), JJ Kotze, Frans Malherbe; Adre Smith, Marvin Orie; Deon Fourie, Hacjivah Dayimani, Evan Roos.

Replacements: Wilmar Arnoldi, Brok Harris, Neethling Fouche, Salmaan Moerat, Junior Pokomela, Ben-Jason Dixon, Paul de Wet, Juan de Jongh.

Leinster: Max O'Reilly; Adam Byrne, Jamie Osborne, Rory O’Loughlin, Rob Russell; Ciarán Frawley, Cormac Foley; Ed Byrne, John McKee, Thomas Clarkson; Brian Deeny, Josh Murphy; Alex Soroka, Scott Penny, Rhys Ruddock (capt).

Replacements: Lee Barron, Michael Milne, Vakh Abdaladze, Jack Dunne, Seán O’Brien, Nick McCarthy, Harry Byrne, Martin Moloney.

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU, 32nd competition game)


Dan McFarland's Ulster face a trip to Scotland off the back of two dispiriting losses, to Toulouse and Munster, and need a win to bolster their top-four chances, thus avoiding an away quarter-final.

Mike Blair's men have achieved just three victories over Irish provinces since November 2019, but all three wins were against Connacht.

Ulster have lost their last three URC matches and excluding unplayed fixtures have not lost four in a row in the Championship since 2011.

The 2006 champions have won their last six matches against Scottish opponents since Glasgow beat them 50-20 at Scotstoun in the URC semi-final in May 2019.

Ulster have won their last six matches against Edinburgh since the Scotsmen's 17-16 victory in Belfast in February 2018.

McFarland has made a positional switch in the back-three with Mike Lowry moving to full-back, joining wingers Rob Baloucoune and Ethan McIlroy.

The midfield duo of Stuart McCloskey and James Hume have been retained. Billy Burns returns from injury to start at out-half, alongside Nathan Doak at scrum-half.

Tighthead prop Gareth Milasinovich comes into the front row to pack down with Andrew Warwick at loosehead and Rob Herring at hooker.

Iain Henderson will skipper the Ulster men and is joined by Kieran Treadwell in the engine room. Marcus Rea and Duane Vermeulen return to the side at blindside and number 8, with Nick Timoney making a positional switch to openside flanker.

Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Matty Rea make up the forward replacements, while John Cooney, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle provide the back line cover from the bench.


Edinburgh: Jaco van der Walt; Damien Hoyland, Mark Bennett, James Lang, Emiliano Boffelli; Blair Kinghorn, Ben Vellacott; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, WP Nel; Jamie Hodgson, Grant Gilchrist (capt); Luke Crosbie, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury

Replacements: Dave Cherry, Harrison Courtney, Lee-Roy Atalifo, Pierce Phillips, Ben Muncaster, Henry Pyrgos, Chris Dean, Matt Currie

Ulster: Mike Lowry; Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns, Nathan Doak; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Gareth Milasinovich; Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (capt); Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Brad Roberts, Eric O'Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, John Cooney, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 84th competition game)


FULL LIST OF FIXTURES, RESULTS AND TABLE