Leinster v Ulster
The tie of the round sees two of the top three sides doing battle at the RDS on Saturday, in a match that will go a long way to decide on who has home advantage for the semi-finals. Ulster won the reverse fixture at Ravenhill to record an eleventh straight win in the league but since then they have suffered an alarming dip in form, registering only two wins in their last seven league games and they have lost their last three away games. In contrast, Leinster have won all seven of their league games since that trip to Ravenhill and they have won all of their home games in the league. They were made to fight for last week's win over Glasgow that takes them to the top of the table for the first time this season.
Jordi Murphy is the only casualty from the hard-fought win over Glasgow but Leinster will be much stronger as they welcome back a number of internationals such as Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Mike Ross, and Rob Kearney. Ian Madigan continues to deputise for the injured Sexton. All eyes will be on the competition's top scorer who scored all 22 of Leinster's points last week including a wonderful try.
Ulster could only manage a losing bonus point against Edinburgh last week and they will find it difficult to arrest their poor run of form this week. Leinster have a remarkable record against fellow Irish sides, particularly in Dublin where they have only lost one of their last 28 Interprovincial league derbies. Prior to this season's reversal at Ravenhill, Leinster had only lost one of their last 18 league encounters with Ulster and have not lost at home to their northern rivals since the last millennium. Furthermore, I don't expect that Leinster will be as distracted by their upcoming Challenge Cup game as Ulster will be by their Heineken Cup quarter final. The odds on a Leinster win aren't going to get the pulse racing but I think backing Leinster/Leinster in the half-time/full-time market is a better proposition.
Glasgow v Munster
Munster travel to Scotstoun hoping to build on an impressive win that ended a poor run of league form. The returning Paul O' Connell inspired Munster to a 22-0 over Connacht. Munster probably need a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive as they host Leinster in their next fixture. However, they may have one eye on next week's Heineken Cup quarter final with Harlequins at the Stoop.
Munster brushed Glasgow aside 31-3 at Thomond Park at the beginning of December. However, the Scots won their next seven games, scoring an average of 33 points per game, before last week's narrow and somewhat undeserved defeat to Leinster. Their home form is impressive with seven wins in their last eight league games at Scotstoun.
Glasgow struggled to score tries last season and we too reliant on the boot of Duncan Weir. However, this season they have an added attacking threat, thanks mainly to Stuart Hogg and DTH Van Der Merwe and they are the joint top tryscorers in the league alongside Leinster.
Munster have won eight of their last nine encounters with Glasgow, including the last five. However, their away form this season has been poor, with only three road wins in eight this season to date. Sean Dougall and Denis Hurley miss out but Munster have selected a strong starting XV despite next week's Heineken Cup quarter final. However, I expect Glasgow to edge a close match and will be backing them to win by under 12.5 points.
Treviso v Connacht
Connacht will be hoping for an improved performance this week after they failed to score a single point against Munster, the third time this season that the westerners have drawn a blank. They won the reverse fixture against Treviso 18-3 in November and have won nine of their 13 league games against Italian opposition. However, their road record is abysmal, with only one win in the last eight away Pro12 fixtures and only five in the last 57 league games. Furthermore, Treviso have won their last three games at Stadio di Monigo.
The Italians have improved greatly this season and lie in mid-table. They secured an impressive win over the Blues last week, building on a battling draw at Ravenhill and an impressive 34-10 win over Munster in the previous two weeks. I'll be backing Treviso to lead and half time and win the match.
Back HT/FT Leinster/Leinster at best price available
Back Glasgow by under 12.5 points @ 2.526/4
Back HT/FT Treviso/Treviso at best price available