It’s the time of year when floodlights start to feel like optional extras. Yes, it’s the first full round of league fixtures the springing forward of the clocks, but the daylight hours are still on the up.
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You won’t go far in this country without talking about the weather, so we might as well front up and say it’s been pretty damn okay in recent days meaning no excuses for your province shying away from open attacking rugby.
Big games, big finish
Leinster are still the side well in control of top spot. But with four games remaining for most sides, four inter-pros and plenty of big games between the top six teams yet to be played, the eight point gap between first and third or third and fifth is starting to look small.
Connacht’s chance to end drought
Ulster are hurting bad in many ways after last Saturday night’s defeat to Saracens while Pat Lam has had a fortnight to target tonight’s inter-pro in Ravenhill.
The weight of history is firmly against Connacht as their last win away to Ulster was all the way back in 1960. It’s 12 years since they last beat and Irish province on the road; Leinster falling to a narrow loss in September 2002.
Leinster’s alternative enemy, Ospreys
Their Heineken Cup meetings have helped Leinster put a gloss on their record with Ospreys, but the Welsh side still have the ability to haunt the eastern province.
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Including those two pool victories this season, Leinster have won just four of their past 11 clashes against the Neath-Swansea club and the hosts at the Liberty Stadium will be sniffing a little blood in the water after watching Toulon’s overpowering of the Pro12 champions.
Warriors at the door
Glasgow warriors are no stranger to upsetting Irish sides either. Their Saturday night visit to Thomond Park is the last of three huge games involving Irish teams.
Source: Ian MacNicol
Repeating the trick? (I)
Rob Penney will name his starting line-up this afternoon, but he’ll surely have a place for JJ Hanrahan after the Kerryman produced this little flash of brilliance to help the southern province to victory in the reverse fixture.
Repeating the trick? (II)
Speaking of brilliance, this little Andrew Trimble effort was try of the season last year. Can Ulster summon something similar without the help of Ruan Pienaar.
Test of Ulster’s powers of recovery
We say Pienaar is absent, that ain’t the half of it. In fact it’s precisely one sixth of the body count after the loss to Sarries with Jared Payne (suspended), Rory Best, John Afoa, Dan Tuohy and Roger Wilson (injured) unavailable.
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The survivors have spent the week trying to force themselves into a positive mood and Luke Marshall, for one, is targeting a trophy to ease the pain. If they are to do that, though, they must keep on winning and winning well against Connacht is the first step back to where they want to be.
Connacht have the luxury (as if we’d ever call their standing within the union as a luxury) of naming a fourth straight unchanged XV, but Ulster and Leinster’s coaching staff have been spinning the wheel.
Ulster’s changes are by necessity, of course, but it will be intriguing to see how Rob Herring performs as Rory Best races to be fit for the end of season and international tour to Argentina. There will be plenty of eyes on Tommy Bowe in a rare turn at outside centre too, but with Tom Court heading off to London Irish there is a chance for Andrew Warwick to impress at loose-head.
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Matt O’Connor’s changes are a mix of personal choice and a need to rest weary bodies. Noel Reid comes into the midfield with Brian O’Driscoll given the weekend off and Gordon D’Arcy pushed into the number 13 jersey.
The decision that is puzzling many is the complete omission of Ian Madigan. His place on the bench is taken by Collie O’Shea.
Why can’t you wait?