Every Friday from 12noon I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.
This weekend’s rugby sees a relative calm before the storm that is the domestic European rugby season.
Though the Top14 sees round three played out with a fourth to come midweek, the other two major leagues have another week to prepare for competitive action by means of some friendlies, while in the southern hempisphere the Rugby Championship nations take a breather to allow for the distances they must travel.
So for the second week in a row there’s really only need for me to preview the match I’m actually going to, but don’t worry…from next week on there will be full previews for all four Irish provinces plus the other matches that catch my eye over the weekend.
Friday, August 30
Leinster v Northampton Saints, Donnybrook, 7pm
You won’t find fixtures in the northern hemisphere which highlight the difference between the Celtic League and the Aviva Premiership more than the ones in Dublin & Cork tonight.
If the Northampton Saints don’t come close to replicating the preseason drubbing they inflicted on Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens this time last year, either they have serious concerns going into the new season or Matt O’Connor will look set to get his squad off to a flyer.
Actually Leinster fans are being given a reminder of all three Heineken Cup triumphs during this preseason…last week it was our 2012 opponents Ulster, this week brings us back to 2011 while all the time our new coach finds his feet having been a backs coach for the Leicester Tigers for our first victory in 2009.
Although the Pro12 Champions are playing in their spiritual home at Donnybrook Stadium tonight, the IRFU/Lions cloak of invisibility has been wrapped around the bulk of their internationals once more, so the side is quite similar to that which lined out at Ravenhill last week.
Just to be clear, I don’t think that is a bad thing. The Brendan Mackens and the Quinn Rouxs of the Leinster squad definitely need game time, and this near-full strength Saints lineup will definitely give them a solid test.
And boy, is Jim Mallinder’s side near to full strength! There’s no rest for the wicked, nor is there for Lions Alex Corbiseiro and George North who both start, plus there’s a meaty second row challenge facing Roux and Tom Denton as they square up against USA international Samu Manoa and card magnet Courtney Lawes.
Now it’s not all rookies on the Leinster side; Shane Jennings leads them out and there’s Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden, Dave Kearney and a clearly fit again Eoin Reddan on the bench.
But even with their inclusion, it is clear from the two selections just how differently a preseason game like this one is approached either side of the water and I can’t see it finishing any way close on the scoreboard.
Not that this bothers me…I can’t wait to settle back into my weekend pre-match ritual which involves a trip on the 18 bus and a few pre-match beverages! Hope to see you there. I also hope this is the last time I feel the need to make a prediction like this for my Leinster this season. I wonder if wearing my Cardiff 2011 memorial t-shirt will help me should it come true. Saints by 14
Munster v London Irish, Musgrave Park, 7pm
Stade Francais v Biarritz, 7:50pm
Golden Lions v Western Province, 6:10pm
Saturday, August 31
Clérmont v Toulouse, 2pm
Bordeaux v Castres, 5:30pm
Montpellier v Brive, 5:30pm
Racing Métro v Oyonnax, 5:30pm
Bayonne v Perpignan, 7:30pm
Grenoble v Toulon, 7:35pm
Auckland v Bay of Plenty, 3:35am
North Harbour v Northland, 6:35am
Southland v Taranaki, 8:35am
Free State Cheetahs v Griquas, 2pm
Natal Sharks v Blue Bulls, 4:05pm
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP