Every Friday lunchtime I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.
I can see how there was a kerfuffle over what Manu Tuilagi did to David Cameron, but I can’t see what it has to do with disrespect.
At the risk of dipping a toe or three into political waters, surely there’s plenty of actual Englishmen who would be more inclined to show the PM two fingers to his face?
And at the risk of dipping in both feet, I asked with tongue-in-cheek during the week why the Lions squad didn’t also pay a visit to meet Irish political dignitaries, but I would also like to ask without tongue-in-cheek. Is it the British AND Irish Lions or isn’t it lads???
But at least that gave us something to talk about during the week that didn’t have to do with whinging Anglo-French alliances and breakaway tournaments. And now the weekend is upon us, we can turn our attention to a full programme of domestic action including the first competitive interprovincial of the season.
Friday, September 20
NG Dragons v Scarlets, 7:05pm
Every week I tag a particular match I feel will be The Upset Of The Week and this one leaps off the page as a leading contender. The Dragons were unlucky not to make it 2 from 2 in Murrayfield last week and they welcome Toby Faletau back to the fold this evening. They should be a difficult trip for everyone this season and despite the Scarlets seeing their own 3rd Lion test hero Jonathan Davies return I reckon they will fall short. On a side note, the Dragons have a prop named Francisco Nahuel Tetaz Caparro. No doubt from the valleys. Dragons by 4
Benetton Treviso v Munster, 7:30pm
A couple of stats for you to ponder…
Combined 2012/13 regular-season Pro12 wins for Munster’s first 3 opponents this season = 17.
Combined 2012/13 regular-season Pro12 wins for Leinster’s first 3 opponents this season = 45.
It’s not so much that I want to take the wind out the sails of Munster fans as they sit atop the Pro12 after round 2, for I’m sure they are all well aware of the fact that the fixture computer was kind to them for September.
It’s more that I want to point out how much the favourable start could be good for their morale since no matter what the opposition it does a squad the world of good to spend some at the summit.
The loss of Tommy O’Donnell was a big one for both Rob Penney and Joe Schmidt but still Munster put out a quality back row in Treviso with skipper Peter O’Mahony, James Coughlan and Niall Ronan.
In fact the Munster lineup is getting close to full strength with internationals Earls, Zebo and Ryan returning to starting roles, while it seems Penney is going for a rotation policy at outhalf as Keatley gets the 10 jumper despite JJ being man-of-the-match against Zebre.
There’s a bit of a Leinster connection on the Treviso side although their starting outhalf Mat Berquist didn’t get much actual game time in his brief spell at the RDS. Even though the Kiwi is 30 years old don’t rule out him playing outhalf for Italy in 3 years time!!!
Treviso can be slippery customers at home but it seems Munster should have enough to get the job done fairly handy though it could be another high-scoring affair like last week. Munster by 8
Cardiff Blues v Zebre, 7:30pm
Leigh “I’m SO going to France” Halfpenny makes his season debut and this alone should mean the Zeros (my new nickname for them until they break the duck) will be facing yet another gloomy return trip to Parma. Cardiff by loads
Glasgow Warriors v Leinster, 7:35pm
“Ian Madigan starts at full back. Going to be hard for him to shift Gopperth from 10”
A typically mischievous tweet by the Indo’s Leinster-Fan-Baiter-In-Chief Conor George after Matt O’Connor named his side yesterday.
I’m pretty sure he is fully aware that although Gopps has impressed overall in his opening two outings, it is much more the shortage of experience in the back three positions that necessitated this particular selection.
Kirchner unavailable, Tuquiri barely off the plane, Luke, Hudson & McFadden injured and Rob Kearney seemingly on a strict “lions re-introduction programme” which means he can’t play a full 80 just yet…all of this means we must either play Madigan at 15 or go for Academy players.
And as I said earlier, given this is the third team from last season’s top 5 we have faced, one that came a whisker away from knocking us out in the playoffs in May, this was the right call. No disrespect to Jimmy G but no matter how well he does I’m pretty confident the “Mad-Dog” will get one if not two starts at 10 before the Heineken Cup comes along.
Despite that change, however, the Leinster side has an incredibly settled look to it. Tom Denton is getting a lot more game time than we could have expected…I know Leo is out for a while but there are other lock options available like McLaughlin and Ruddock for example.
Otherwise it is pretty much the same Leinster XV that finished the first quarter against the Ospreys and that will be a massive boost to the confidence of the likes of Jack McGrath, Darragh Fanning, Brendan Macken and Jordi Murphy, all of whom have excelled so far.
Glasgow for their part start without several of their catalysts like Duncan Weir, Niko Matawalu and Josh Strauss (the last of whom is on the bench) but it was without that same trio that they snatched victory at Ravenhill last Friday and you can be sure they’ll be out to make full use of the extra day’s rest.
And on a side note…I personally can’t wait to hear the TG4 commentators come to grips with the Warriors’ sub prop Yanuyanutawa if he comes on!
The weather forecast of “mainly dry” for Glasgow is about as good as you’re going to get…past conditions have been “totally wet”. So if these two get the opportunity to chuck the ball about we could well be in for a much more impressive scoreline than last year’s 6-0 snoozefest.
Leinster certainly have it in them to win this one, but even with Healy and Rob Kearney on the bench I have a feeling the home side’s sheer desire to do us over after last season will work in their favour. Glasgow by 6
Worcester Warriors v Harlequins, 7:45pm
Sale Sharks v London Wasps, 8pm
Montpellier v Clérmont, 7:45pm
Western Province v Griquas, 6:10pm
Saturday, September 21
PREVIEWS WILL PUBLISH SATURDAY MORNING
Ospreys v Edinburgh, 6:30pm
Connacht v Ulster, 6:45pm
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons, 3pm
London Irish v Exeter Chiefs, 3pm
Gloucester v Northampton Saints, 3:15pm
Toulouse v Castres, 2pm
Racing Métro v Bordeaux, 5:30pm
Toulon v Bayonne, 5:30pm
Biarritz v Grenoble, 5:30pm
Brive v Perpignan, 5:30pm
Oyonnax v Stade Francais, 7:35pm
Counties Manukau v Waikato, 3:35am
Wellington v Canterbury, 6:35am
Taranaki v Bay of Plenty, 8:35am
Natal Sharks v Free State Cheetahs, 2pm
Golden Lions v Blue Bulls, 4:05pm
Sunday, September 22
3:30PM - UP THE DUBS!!!!
Saracens v Bath, 2pm
Tasman v Hawke’s Bay, 3:35am
Southland v North Harbour, 5:35am
Wednesday, September 25
Canterbury v Manawatu, 8:35am
Thursday, September 26
Northland v Tasman Makos, 8:35am
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP