Many international stars of the past, present and future will be in domestic action this weekend with the Guinness Six Nations taking a break for the second time this Championship ahead of Rounds 4 and 5.
Navidi returns to URC
Wales flanker Josh Navidi returns to action in the United Rugby Championship with the Cardiff star having been sidelined with a shoulder injury since October.
Navidi will pack down on the openside with fellow international Ellis Jenkins, who captained Wayne Pivac’s side during the Autumn Nations Series and has been released from the squad for this fixture, on the blindside for the trip to Ulster.
James Botham completes a back row full of international experience while Cardiff captain Josh Turnbull will make his 216th competition appearance, drawing level in second place on the all-time list with Ian Keatley.
Ulster will be hoping to make sure Navidi’s return is not a victorious one as Leinster’s closest challengers look to eat into the four-point gap at the top of the overall table.
Leo Cullen’s leaders are in action against Italian side Benetton, where they will hope to stretch their lead, and have immediately returned full-back Jimmy O’Brien to the starting XV after his week away with Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad.
Glasgow Warriors are aiming for their sixth consecutive win when they travel to Scarlets on Saturday night.
The Warriors are just one point behind Ulster in third place and have Scotland centre Sam Johnson, who started the Calcutta Cup win over England in Round 1, in their side against Scarlets who welcome back Wales half-backs Gareth Davies and Rhys Patchell.
Bottom side Zebre travel to Wales to take on Ospreys, who have former international hooker Scott Baldwin in their line-up for his first game in Welsh rugby for three years.
Marler and Brown reunite with Biggar back for Saints
In England’s Gallagher Premiership, Joe Marler has been released from Eddie Jones’ England squad to play for Harlequins and will come up against his old club and international teammate Mike Brown when Newcastle Falcons arrive at the Stoop tonight.
Former Red Rose scrum-half Danny Care will go in search of his 101st club try after breaking Quins’ record and becoming a centurion in last week’s win at Worcester Warriors, their first at Sixways for six years.
Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe is in action for the Warriors this week when they head to the capital to face London Irish, who have former Ireland back row Sean O’Brien packing down at No.8.
George Ford is another man who has been released from England camp and he will start at fly-half for Leicester Tigers in the top of the table clash at Saracens, for whom Elliot Daly – who started the win against Wales at outside centre – is at full-back.
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg and second row Sam Skinner bolster the Exeter Chiefs side to face Sale Sharks on Sunday while Sam Underhill is joined in Bath Rugby’s back row against Bristol Bears by Taulupe Faletau, after he excelled for Wales against England in Round 3.
Meanwhile Pat Lam’s Bears have Callum Sheedy in the No.10 jersey after he featured for Wales off the bench earlier in the Championship when replacing skipper Dan Biggar, who himself is back on domestic duty for Northampton Saints’ trip to Kingsholm to face Gloucester.
England hooker Cowan-Dickie out of Championship
Biggar will hope to bounce back from his country’s 23-19 defeat at Twickenham last weekend with a win as Saints look to reignite their top four hopes after a narrow loss to Chiefs last time out.
Jalibert set for injury return
Across the channel, France fly-half Matthieu Jalibert is set to make his return from injury after a month out for Bordeaux-Bègles against Pau this weekend.
Second place Montpellier, who are just one point behind Bordeaux having played a game less, take on Castres on Saturday but are without Italy fly-half Paolo Garbisi.
And another international No.10 in Scotland’s Finn Russell is missing from Top 14 action this weekend as his Racing 92 side must do without him for the crunch clash away at second bottom Perpignan.
Meanwhile, Biarritz host Toulon, but the game has come too soon for Gabin Villière who is still recovering from the facial injury he suffered against Ireland in Round 2, having scored a hat-trick against Italy on the opening weekend of this year’s Championship.
Brive travel to La Rochelle before Lyon visit Clermont Auvergne in Saturday’s evening kick-off and on Sunday reigning champions Toulouse travel up to the capital to take on Stade Français.