Glasgow Warriors will host Connacht at Scotstoun in a mid-table match-up on Saturday, with the visitors aiming to enter the top half of the table following wins in their last four Guinnes PRO12 games.
Fans will be eager to see what impact returning internationals will have, with RBS 6 Nations Player of the Championship Stuart Hogg expected to bring his Scotland form back to Glasgow.
Hogg was man-of-the-match when the teams last met in the first round of the season and Connacht conceded six tries to a dominant Warriors side in Ireland.
What’s at stake?
Warriors were gradually slipping down the table before they ended a three-game losing streak in the Guinness PRO12 with a 47-17 home victory over Newport Gwent Dragons in round 17.
Gregor Townsend’s men now sit sixth in the table, 11 points away from a semi-finals spot with just five games left to play.
There is more work to do for Connacht, who find themselves one place below the Scottish side having earned four wins from their last four Guinness PRO12 matches – two of which were bonus-point victories.
The two sides have met 11 times in the Guinness PRO12 regular season, with Connacht only winning on one occasion, in May 2016.
Glasgow team news
With Zander Fagerson, Simone Favaro and Tommy Seymour all injured, Gregor Townsend had less internationals to choose from than he may have thought following the RBS 6 Nations.
However, Hogg returns at full-back, Scotland half-back pairing Ali Price and Finn Russell come together once more for their club and Tim Swinson is found in the second-row.
Fraser Brown and Gordon Reid are back in the front-row, while Saturday could also see captain Peter Horne play with his brother George in a Glasgow shirt for the first time.
Connacht team news
For Pat Lam the end of the RBS 6 Nations means ten changes to the side which faced Zebre in round 17, with three internationals returning for Connacht.
Tiernan O’Halloran is back at full-back and Kieran Marmion reclaims the No.9 shirt, with Sean O’Brien packing down in the back row alongside captain John Muldoon.
While Ireland 7’s player Josh Rowland may make his debut for Connacht if he comes off the bench, lock Andrew Browne will gain his 50th cap for the province.
Connacht coach Pat Lam admits that games at Scotstoun are tough, but says Connacht are concentrating on coming away with the points they need.
He said: “We’re hugely excited to be back playing this weekend and in such a big game with vital points needed by both teams.
“All our games with Glasgow are challenging, particularly in Scotstoun where we have never won. But that chance to create a bit of history just adds to the excitement for us. We know there is little room for error as we look towards the business end of the season but all we can do is focus on the next job at hand and our performance tomorrow afternoon.”
Glasgow Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend, on the other hand, expressed his excitement at the return of his international players.
He said: “It’s great to welcome so many of our Test players back into our squad, who have all played a part in what was a successful 6 Nations for Scotland.
“They have brought energy and enthusiasm to the group and added quality to our preparations this week.
“Connacht are a side we respect greatly, from their positive approach to the game and also how hard they work for each other. It should be a cracking game at Scotstoun.”
Key battle: Ali Price v Kieran Marmion
Both scrum-halves will bring plenty of experience back to their clubs after they found the limelight in the RBS 6 Nations following injuries to Greig Laidlaw and Conor Murray.
Marmion is 25 and Price just 23, but both showed maturity for their country, with Price calmly feeding an up and under to Stuart Hogg which led to a try for Matt Scott in Scotland’s game against Italy.
The pair did not actually face each other in the Championship, given that Murray and Laidlaw were fit for the clash between Ireland and Scotland, so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.
The Scottish scrum-half may just have the edge, given that he has linked up with fly-half Finn Russell on numerous occasions for club and country.
The Warriors home record in the PRO12 this season is an even won four, lost four.
Did you know?
Connacht have lost only one of their last six matches against Scottish opponents: 5-41 at home to Warriors in round 1 this season.
Glasgow top points scorer: Finn Russell 48pts. Top try scorer: Tommy Seymour 8
Connacht top points scorer: Jack Carty 77pts. Top try scorer: Niyi Adeolokun 5
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 30, Warriors won 18, Connacht won 9, with 3 games drawn.
At Scotstoun Stadium, 5.15pm. Live on Sky Sports
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 60th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (WRU), Bob Nevins (SRU)
Citing Commissioner: John Montgomery (SRU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)
Glasgow Warriors powered to a bonus point victory over Connacht to keep their hopes of a top four finish in the Guinness PRO12 alive.
The visitors and defending champions were ahead at the break thanks to tries from Niyi Adeolokun and John Muldoon.
But a roaring second-half performance from the Warriors sealed an entertaining win as Finn Russell and man of the match Ali Price went over to add to Corey Flynn’s first-half score.
And there was still time – despite losing Tim Swinson to a red card for a high tackle – for the hosts to grab an all-important fourth as Sean Lamont burst over at the death to leave them ten points behind fourth-placed Ulster in the standings.
Glasgow were sixth in the Guinness PRO12 at start of play, and knew any more slip-ups could be costly in their quest for a top-four place.
But it was the visitors who flew out of the blocks and had all the early pressure. They made it count through wing Adeolokun, after four minutes, before Glasgow had even touched the ball.
However, the home side hit back immediately, with the returning Russell kicking a penalty shortly after the restart.
And Gregor Townsend’s men got their noses in front moments later when Flynn crashed over, Russell adding the extras.
But Connacht hit back through a Craig Ronaldson penalty, before John Muldoon crossed the white line in the left corner.
Ronaldson landed a difficult kick to make it 15-10, before Russell added another three points from the tee to cap off a breathless first half.
The visitors landed the first blow of the second period through a Ronaldson penalty after Glasgow failed to release, but the home side seized the game by the scruff of the neck after that.
The impressive Russell crossed immediately after the restart, and stepped up to convert his own score and put the home side into the lead.
And Connacht were left reeling on 53 minutes when Jack Carty was sin-binned for a high tackle.
Warriors won a penalty in front of the posts and opted for a scrum, which they powered back over the Connacht line and allowed Price to squirm over, with Russell adding the extras.
Despite being a man down, Connacht rallied and thought they had scored through Adeolokun in the right corner, only to be denied by TMO after a superb Price tackle bundled the wing into touch.
But Glasgow were reduced to 14 men 15 minutes from time when Tim Swinson was dismissed for a swinging arm at the ruck on Dave Heffernan in the build up to Adeolokun’s effort, and Ronaldson kicked the resulting penalty to close the gap to six points.
But Connacht could not capitalise on their numerical advantage, and Glasgow stretched their lead back to nine through Peter Horne’s penalty, before John Cooney cancelled this out for Connacht.
And veteran wing Lamont powered over late on to seal a dramatic win for Townsend’s men.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final