THE SEASON MAY be four weeks old, but today it starts for real.
With the Heineken Cup just seven days away the sides involved are trying to put behind the teething stage of the season and bare each and every one of their teeth.
The obvious game of the week is down in Limerick, but there’s more than just red meets blue to provide your egg-shaped fix.
Here’s what we can’t wait for.
Three captains are apparently not enough for Connacht. Even with Gavin Duffy on the field the metaphorical armband and referee-chatting-rights have gone to the Kiwi lock tonight.
The honour is a sure sign that the New Zealander is back to full fitness having been withdrawn early in his two appearances so far.
Ulster head across the water to face joint-leaders Ospreys tonight and Mark Anscombe has once again left Darren Cave in reserve to allow Jared Payne a chance to impress in his favoured position, outside centre.
Payne’s step into the 13 shirt means Craig Gilroy is again afforded a run from fullback. Away to Ospreys will be a much tougher test of his suitability to that role than hosting Treviso last week..
Connacht will provide Treviso’s third consecutive meeting with an Irish side. And if their second half display against Munster a fortnight ago is anything to go by, the westerners will need all hands on deck to come away with all four points.
The northern Italians will have been targeting this fixture as a must-win after losing away to Ulster and Scarlets. At home they are a different proposition as they proved not only against Munster, but on the opening night against Ospreys when the 2011 champions had to withstand a late barrage on their own line to come away with a 19- 24 win.
It feels like every year that Ulster unearth a gem of a winger. So far this term, Michael Allen is that man.
With three tries in his last two outings, the 22-year-old is the form wing in the league. To extend that run he’ll have to breach the black wall of Ospreys, but with Andrew Trimble returning to keep tabs on Eli Walker on the other flank, he’s difficult to back against.
Thomond in the autumn time
The big pre-Heineken Cup inter-pro has become a staple of the rugby diet in recent years.
However, this time of year has ordinarily meant a night on Lansdowne Road. Tomorrow, for the first time since 2007, Munster will host the opening bout with Leinster.
If that wasn’t enough to whip the faithful into a frenzy on Shannonside, this will be the first chance for many Limerick people to see Munster in competitive action this season. Musgrave Park has been the venue for both home Pro12 fixtures so far.
Can Warriors keep on winning?
A game for the rugby hipsters out there. With four wins out of four already under their belt, Glasgow head south to face Llanelli tomorrow, just before all Irish eyes turn to Limerick.
A win would make it a perfect opening leg of the season for the Warriors, but it would more than likely form the final pieces of the winning streak. too.
Why? Because next Sunday, Glasgow head for France’s south coast – the reigning European champions,
The big one
Ulster’s trip to Connacht was all very well, but I think we all know that Munster v Leinster is an inter-pro which really captures the imagination of the nation.
Tomorrow, Munster will look to reassert their dominance in this rivalry and take Rob Penney’s first win over the eastern province and Munster’s first victory since the Magners League final in 2011.
Tullow Tank revved up and ready?
Leinster will not name their team until this afternoon, but the strong suggestion is that Sean O’Brien will join the Lions contingent who bolstered the blues last weekend.
Impact off the bench
While the one big surprise was the selection of Duncan Williams at scrum-half, but by the looks of Munster’s bench, Penney is hoping to get an extra spike in tempo around the hour mark.
Conor Murray, BJ Botha, Damien Varley, CJ Stander, JJ Hanrahan and Denis Hurley will all be asked to lend their weight rather than later.