Every Friday from 12noon I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.
I put up a query to readers yesterday, asking if preseason matches could/should be televised. Most people agreed, though some didn't think the fixtures would be viable for coverage.
My contention is that if marketed properly, there could be some dosh to be made from the preseason series. For one thing, the matches for all four provinces could be put together and a sponsor found much like the "Guinness Series" in November.
I understand that these matches to being broadcast "live" would take from ticket sales but I certainly would see a market for "tape delayed" coverage...even the fans who went to the match wouldn't mind watching it again.
If Setanta can show second-tier rugby league and Scandinavian speedway, surely a rematch of last season's Pro12 final which opens a new stand would qualify for coverage at the very least.
Rant over. Time to look ahead to this weekend's action before I set off for Ravenhill - since I'll be "on the road" I only have time this week to preview the match I'm heading north for!
***Friday, August 23
Ulster v Leinster, Ravenhill, 7:30pm
A lot of youth in the two lineups, but one name jumps off the page - Jared Payne at 13 for Ulster, as well as their skipper for the evening. The "BOD succession" talk starts before the his "one more year" has properly begun!
But it definitely makes a lot of sense. The retirement of Eoin O'Malley during the week was of course a tragedy both for him and for Leinster & Ireland rugby, and he was definitely towards the front of the queue when it comes to taking over the outside centre role for Ireland beyond next season.
That leaves the likes of Darren Cave and Luke Marshall among others, all worth contenders,not to mention those who could switch from other positions like Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls (yes, I'm still putting him up there, you never know).
Still though, whatever you may think about the whole Ireland qualified thing, if Payne puts in a full season at 13 for Ulster including playing through international windows, he could find himself in a perfect position come next season when Joe Schmidt has to start considering test squads without BOD.
Elsewhere on the Ulster team tonight there are some promising youngsters who featured in Ireland's Under 20 World Championship campaign...if Payne is to move to the centre then Peter Nelson will be looking for game time at full back and of all the Wolfpuppies to impress in France last June, winger Rory Scholes was to the fore.
On the Leinster side of things Rhys Ruddock will lead them out and is part of a back rock which is the most experienced unit of Matt O'Connor's first selection, with Dominic Ryan and Leo Auva'a alongside and the likes of Jordi Murphy ready to come on.
My personal "one to watch" this season is Darren Hudson, who gets a start at full back and hopefully has fully recovered from the injury that cut short his campaign last season. Definitely has the game-breaking ability to succeed even in a squad which already has much talent in the back three.
Lining out at outhalf for the reigning Pro12 champions is new signing Jimmy Gopperth who will be keen to impress his new employers, while at 13 Brendan Macken has a habit of popping up for tries so watch out for his name on the scoresheet.
As with any preseason fixture the teams will look extremely different in the second half to the first so a prediction will be very tough to make...I just can't wait to get up there and see some live rugby regardless. If forced to make a call on it, I would (light-heartedly) plump for Ulster on the basis that in recent times Leinster only seem up for this fixture when there's a trophy on offer ;-) Ulster by 7
Toulon v Racing Métro, 7:50pm
Free State Cheetahs v Natal Sharks, 6:10pm
Saturday, August 24
Newcastle Falcons v Connacht, Kingston Park, 3pm
Munster v Gloucester, Thomond Park, 5pm
Canada v USA, 9pm
New Zealand v Australia, 8:35am
Argentina v South Africa, 8:10pm
Oyonnax v Clérmont, 2pm
Biarritz v Montpellier, 5:30pm
Castres v Grenoble, 5:30pm
Perpignan v Stade Francais, 5:30pm
Toulouse v Bayonne, 5:30pm
Brive v Bordeaux, 7:35pm
Tasman Makos v Canterbury, 3:35am
Northland v Southland, 5:35am
Griquas v Western Province, 2pm
Blue Bulls v Golden Lions, 4:05pm
Sunday, August 25
Bay Of Plenty v Hawke's Bay, 3:35am
Manawatu v Auckland, 5:35am
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP