United Rugby Championship history will be made this weekend with all four games pitching together teams that have never previously played each other in the competition.
The four South African sides are on their travels, with Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks heading to Italy while Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers face tough assignments in Ireland.
Current URC leaders Leinster can open up a gap on second-placed Ulster, who do not play this week, if they beat the Lions at Dublin’s RDS Arena on Friday.
First in action are Zebre Parma, whose quest for an opening URC victory of the season continues against the Bulls at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Saturday’s action kicks off in Galway, where seventh-placed Connacht host the Stormers, who are one place and one point behind them.
Attention then switches to Benetton’s Stadio Monigo, where the ninth-placed hosts face the Sharks, who are two points below the Italians with a game in hand.
FRI – Zebre Parma v Vodacom Bulls
Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma | KO 17:30 UK & IRE (18:30 ITA, 19:30 SA) | Live on Mediaset, Premier Sports, URC TV
Zebre Parma will be keen for a return to action after Storm Eunice dashed their plans for a trip to Cardiff last week.
The Italian side, are without a URC victory since they beat the Dragons a year ago this weekend and have lost all seven of their league encounters so far this season.
The Vodacom Bulls have claimed only two URC wins since defeating Cardiff in October, yet they remain firmly in South African Shield contention, just five points behind leaders the DHL Stormers.
The Bulls’ only previous trip to Italy saw them lose to Benetton in last season’s Rainbow Cup final.
FRI – Leinster v Emirates Lions
RDS Arena, Dublin | KO 19:35 UK & IRE (20:35 ITA, 21:35 SA) | Live on TG4, Premier Sports, URC TV
Leinster reclaimed pole position in the URC with victory over the Ospreys last time out and have only suffered one URC defeat since November.
Their record on home soil in Dublin is also impressive, suffering a solitary loss in any competition during the past 10 months.
The Lions started their URC campaign in fine fashion by winning on the opening weekend but they have only managed a solitary victory since then – and that was almost three months ago.
The Lions’ only previous meeting with an Irish team produced a 26-15 reversal against Ulster in October.
SAT – Connacht v DHL Stormers
The Sportsground, Galway | KO 13:00 UK & IRE (14:00 ITA, 15:00 SA) | Live on RTE, Premier Sports, URC TV
Connacht have an impressive record against South African opposition, winning their last seven matches since losing to the Cheetahs in March 2018.
But they will be keen to rediscover a winning formula on home turf, having lost two games in a row at The Sportsground in all competitions.
South African Shield leaders the Stormers – two points ahead of the Sharks – have lost just one of their last six URC fixtures.
They have only been beaten twice on the road this term, losing their opening two games of the season to Benetton and Munster.
SAT – Benetton v Cell C Sharks
Stadio Monigo, Treviso | 15:05 UK & IRE (16:05 ITA, 17:05 SA) | Live on Mediaset, Premier Sports, URC TV
Benetton have had a poor run in the URC, recording a solitary victory since the end of November.
But their only loss at home in any competition since March was against the Ospreys earlier this term and they have only tasted defeat once in nine previous encounters against South African opponents in the URC.
The Sharks have lost only one of their last five URC matches, losing to the Stormers earlier this month.
Their form on the road is also impressive, winning three of the last four away games.