Domestic rivalries resume for many NatWest 6 Nations players this weekend as the business end of the European leagues draws ever closer.
Many teams in the Top 14 and Aviva Premiership have three regular-season fixtures remaining whilst in the Guinness PRO14 some just have two – here’s our preview of all the action over the next three days.
Perhaps the most eagerly-awaited fixture of the Aviva Premiership weekend sees the resumption of one of rugby’s oldest rivalries as Leicester Tigers host Northampton Saints in the East Midlands derby.
The match always contains extra spice with both teams fighting for local bragging rights and Northampton attempting to slow down the Tigers’ excellent recent form.
Wales’ George North will try to do just that from the wing for Saints and he comes up against plenty of NatWest 6 Nations stars in the shape of England trio Jonny May, George Ford and Dan Cole.
There is also good news for Leicester and England fans as scrum-half Ben Youngs returns to the bench – he was last seen going off injured in the opening NatWest 6 Nations round against Italy.
There’s also an intriguing battle in the north east on Friday night as fifth-placed Newcastle Falcons host Sale Sharks, with both clubs fighting for a play-off and Champions Cup spot.
The Azzurri’s Jake Polledri returns to the Gloucester pack and he’ll also take on plenty of Eddie Jones’ men in the shape of Harlequins players Mike Brown, Danny Care, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler and Chris Robshaw.
England’s Elliot Daly is on the wing as he continues Wasps’ play-off bid at the Ricoh Arena against the Worcester Warriors, and there’s also a whole host of Red Rose players on display at Allianz Park as second-place Saracens host Bath.
GRAND SLAM STARS
Some of Ireland’s NatWest 6 Nations Grand Slam heroes took some well-earned rest after the conclusion of the Championship but they are now firmly back in the trenches in the Pro14 as the Final Series approaches.
Munster continue their South African odyssey against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein after beating the Southern Kings last week.
The Cheetahs are six points behind the Irish province in Conference A and looking for a big result to help secure home advantage for the play-offs.
Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony captains Munster in the southern hemisphere whilst back in the northern another Irish back-row star returns to action as Sean O’Brien is named in the Leinster team to play Benetton Rugby.
Leinster are aiming to seal top spot in Conference B with a game to spare and include Jordan Larmour at full-back whilst Joey Carbery gets a shot at No.10.
The Dublin-based province will come up against plenty of Azzurri talent in the shape of full-back Jayden Hayward, fly-half Tommaso Allan and one of the stars of the NatWest 6 Nations – Sebastian Negri.
We also see Scotland duo Alex Dunbar and Fraser Brown return to the Glasgow Warriors side as they host Connacht at Scotstoun, whilst at the Kingspan Stadium Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones switches from lock to blindside flanker as Ospreys visit Ulster.
This weekend sees a pair of defining fixtures in the French Top 14 as the top four clubs are pitted against each other.
Montpellier currently have a six-point lead at the top but face a tricky away match at Toulon on Saturday.
France’s Louis Picamoles is on the bench for Montpellier but Toulon are packed with Les Bleus talent in the shape of hooker Guilhem Guirado, fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc and skipper Mathieu Bastareuad, who goes at outside centre.
Second-place Racing 92 are also in for an intense round of domestic action as they travel to Toulouse, who lie third as we go into the weekend.