The main showdowns will see Conference B leaders, Munster, host their only real challengers in Connacht on Friday, while Saturday’s match-up will see defending champions, Leinster, travel to their nearest rivals Ulster, with the latter in need of a big win to keep in touch with the Dublin side.

Johann van Graan’s Munster could secure their place in the final with a win over Connacht, but it will not be easy as the Galway side come off three wins on the trot.

Munster, who have also won three in a row, will draw inspiration from their track record against Connacht after emerging victorious in their last six matches.

The side has also been bolstered by the return of four Irish internationals, including Andrew Conway (wing), who Van Graan was particularly happy to have back in the fold.

“Andrew’s in a very good place,” said Van Graan.

“Obviously he played against Edinburgh for us. It was a comeback performance after quite a bit of time away from the game.

“He’s in a very good space and he’s available for selection on the weekend.

“He’s still one of the premier wingers in Ireland and one of the important players - phenomenal in the air, his finishing ability, his X-factor.

“There’s a long season to go and he’s very important for us in terms of where we want to get to in the coming weeks.”

Nine points behind Munster, Connacht forwards coach Jimmy Duffy knows they face an uphill battle.

“I think the numbers don’t lie,” said Duffy.

“For us, we just prepare as well as we can to get the result and we’ll see where we are after the game.

“Munster are in the driving seat, they’re nine points ahead of us, so we’re under no illusions. We just want to go and put in our best performance and see where we are at the end of it.”

Duffy added: “We’ve been good at playing a high-tempo brand of rugby and keeping the ball alive.

“We can amplify and turn it up, and when we’re efficient we’ll score some tries.

“You have to be clinical when you play top sides. If you play anyone in that top three in the table, you have to maximise your opportunity when you’ve a chance to accumulate points.”

Meanwhile Leinster have been buoyed by the news of a new contract for Johnny Sexton, and they know it is up to Ulster to bring the fight to them.

Ulster need to do more than beat Leinster on Saturday, but at least they will give themselves a chance of sneaking into the final if they do.

“There’s no looking past it, Leinster are one of the top teams in Europe and for us to get to that next level we have to beat them and we’ll maybe not have a better opportunity than this week,” said Ulster prop Andy Warwick.

“If we’re going to prove to others outside this group that we’re good enough we have to beat Leinster.”

He added: “You obviously have to respect how good Leinster have been over the past few years. This season we played them over Christmas and they beat us well down there, and I suppose you just have to block out that noise and focus on what you can do individually in your role for the team.

“We’re confident of going out and giving a good performance and look this will always be a hard task against Leinster.”

In the other games Zebre host the Glasgow Warriors and Ospreys host Dragons in an all Welsh affair on Saturday, while Edinburgh will host Benetton in the final game of the weekend on Sunday.

Guinness PRO14 fixtures:

Friday, 5 March
21h35 - Munster v Connacht (Thomond Park, Limerick)

Saturday, 6 March
15h00 - Zebre v Glasgow Warriors (Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma)
21h35 - Ospreys v Dragons (The Brewery Field, Bridgend)
21h35 - Ulster v Leinster (Kingspan Stadium, Belfast)

Sunday, 7 March
17h15 - Edinburgh v Benetton (BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh)