NatWest 6 Nations rivals renew battle in return of leagues

Rivalries from the NatWest 6 Nations will recommence this weekend as the top leagues from around the world return following the European break.

Rivalries from the NatWest 6 Nations will recommence this weekend as the top leagues from around the world return following the European break.

Arguably one of the most enticing battles comes in the Guinness PRO14 as Edinburgh and Ulster face-off in the race for the Final Series.

It will see Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning captain Rory Best take on Scotland’s Stuart McInally, who returns to the lead out the Edinburgh side out at BT Murrayfield.

McInally will hope to get revenge over his fellow hooker after Ireland defeated Scotland 28-8 in this year’s Championship to secure the title with one game remaining.

NatWest Player of the Championship Jacob Stockdale also features for Ulster along with Iain Henderson as the Irish side look to keep their Final Series hopes alive.

Elsewhere, Glasgow Warriors welcome back six Scotland internationals for their Guinness PRO14 game against the reigning champions Scarlets as they look to secure top spot in Conference A.

Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour return to the back three, Ali Price and Finn Russell combine in the half-backs, while Jonny Gray and Ryan Wilson also return to the side.

Standing in their way of a home semi-final in the Final Series will be several of the Wales internationals who featured in the 34-7 defeat of Scotland in the NatWest 6 Nations.

Leigh Halfpenny starts for Scarlets, having scored two tries and kicked 14 points in Wales’ victory at the Principality during the Championship, but Hogg and Co. will hope to keep him quiet on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Italy fly-half Tommaso Allan is one of four changes made by Benetton as they welcome Dragons in the race for the Conference B Champions Cup play-off place.

Allan was the star man for the Azzurri in their narrow defeat against Scotland on Super Saturday, scoring two tries and kicking 12 points at the Stadio Olimpico.

In the Aviva Premiership, Saracens have named a strong side featuring multiple internationals from the NatWest 6 Nations for their trip to Northampton Saints.

England’s Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Mako Vunipola are all in the starting XV, alongside Welsh speedster Liam Williams and Scotland’s Sean Maitland.

Saints will be without two of their key England stars, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes, but Wales’ George North starts on the wing for the Round 19 fixture.

There are also plenty of NatWest 6 Nations stars on show in ‘The Clash’ on Saturday as Bath Rugby host Leicester Tigers at Twickenham Stadium as the race for play-offs enters the final stages.

England centre Jonathan Joseph is back for the Blue, Black and Whites, while Wales No. 8 Taulupe Faletau also returns to the starting XV to face Tigers.

The visitors are also able to call on their own England internationals as Jonny May, George Ford, Ellis Genge and Dan Cole all starting in what is a must-win game for both sides.

Another England international, Don Armand, will lead reigning Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs into battle against Gloucester at Sandy Park on Sunday.

Sam Simmonds is also in the starting XV following Chiefs’ victory in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last time out, while Gloucester can call on Welsh international Owen Williams.

Finally, one of the most mouth-watering encounters comes in the Top 14 as Racing 92 entertain Toulon in Paris on Sunday following their triumph against Clermont in the Champions Cup.

Two of France’s standout players during the NatWest 6 Nations, Mathieu Bastareaud and Guilhem Guirado, will look to help Toulon bounce back from their defeat to Munster in the same competition.