Interprovincial Derbies 2018/2019
So the first Provincial derbies of this season take place this weekend where Connacht face Leinster in Galway at 5.15pm and then at 7.35pm Munster play Ulster in Thomond Park. All four teams have started their campaigns in good form with some good early season results. Over the last two weeks Leinster in particular have found there groove dispatching Edinburgh and Dragons in clinical fashion at home in the RDS.
They look like the side that conquered all last year in Europe and in the Pro 14. Jonathan Sexton looks back to his assured best as team captain and that will surely drive standards as the year goes on. Going to Galway will bring memories of last season back to Leinster where they were well beaten and had over 40 points put on them in the Sportsground. This game will have a slightly different 23 involved than that day for Leinster in particular who will have all available Irish Internationals at their disposal.
Connacht should have Bundee Aki , Kieran Marmion and others involved so that should even up the scales. Andy Friend is slowly changing the attacking pattern that Connacht used last year where the midfield axis of Aki and Farrell have worked wonders in the early part of the year. Jack Carty is also in a rich vein of form and this is helping Connacht reach the same levels as in 2016.
Of course it is too early in the season to make any bold predictions but in all fairness to all in Connacht they are playing really well in the last two weeks and will know like last April that this is a golden chance to pick up a big win over an Interprovincial derby rival and gain vital league points at the same time.
Andy Friend knows only too well how quick things can change, they need to find a level of consistency that will get them winning the big games along with the games they would expect to win.
Looking to Leinster, they have started the season like lightening only for a slip in Wales vs Scarlets they would be 4 out of 4 heading into to the game with Connacht this weekend. The partnership of Ringrose and Henshaw is flourishing like last year. This will in no doubt help the cause. Having Dan Leavy and Sean O Brien back will strengthen the back row and will help them over the busy period of the next few weeks. Not to mention the addition of Caelan Doris, Josh Murphy two men who have slipped in unnoticed in the opening weeks of the year.
Moving to Limerick at 7.35pm , Munster will want to bounce back from a heavy defeat in Cardiff on Friday evening when they face Ulster in Thomond Park on Saturday night under lights. The Munster squad should welcome back Keith Earls to the fold and he will be the last addition of an Irish International to the side.
Men like Mike Haley and Sam Arnold should also be back in contention for selection after getting a rest last weekend. Munster will need to sharpen up all over the field to get the better of an Ulster side that has played some great attacking rugby with guys like Angus Kernohan , Angus Curtis and new signing Billy Burns showing some deft touches in the first few weeks of the year.
John Cooney is defiantly pushing to do more than just play well for Ulster, one senses he is sniffing out the opportunity to get ahead of Marmion and Mc Grath to be understudy to Conor Murray , although the latter’s return to action is delayed while he recovers from an neck injury. Munster are missing his influence at 9 alongside new man Joey Carbery. Carbery has shown real signs of quality and Munster will benefit from his influence in the long term. They will really need to starting firing soon and get there maul game going and start using some strike plays from first phase ball to see can that crack a defence earlier than they are doing at the moment. Ulster will attack off 10 this weekend and will also use Stuart Mc Closkey if selected to get over the gain line. It will be a physical encounter and Johan Van Graan will need his squad to be ready from the off this weekend.
Joe Schmidt will get a first chance to see his men in action in club colours this weekend with squad selection for November fresh in his mind. Men like John Cooney , Finlay Bealham , Tom Farrell and Craig Gilroy keen to take the chance to shine against men they are in direction competition with for squad places. This weekend signals to ending of friendly fire , the serious stuff starts now…..