Every Friday I look ahead to the weekend’s action for the Irish provinces and beyond.
Isn’t it great to be able to make yourself a Christmas present to the tune of £60,000? This is effectively what PRL did when they plunged their greedy mitts into the Northampton Saints’ coffers for the heinous crime of allowing George North play for his country.
That being said, as much as I take delight at having a pop at Mark McCafferty and his fellow stooges, I wonder are they entirely to blame. I’m looking at you, IRB.
Just what it the point of designating a period of time as an “international window” if you’re not going to impose sanctions on unions for staging test matches outside them?
Well that’s just one of the crazy things about the European rugby calendar and I reckon I harp on that topic enough.
Perhaps I should put paid to my preamble and proceed to my pre-Christmas previews via a paragraph that’s packed with a pulsating plethora of p-words.
Friday, December 20
Ulster v Zebre, 7:05pm
According to the weather forecast it’s to be an old-school Friday night of rainy rugby at Ravenhill. All the more reason for the visiting Zebre, Mark Anscombe’s fourth Italian opponents in as many weeks, to play like they don’t want to be there.
Naturally a relatively easy match like this is a good opportunity to get the next crop of talent some senior game time, and there will be much interest in James McKinney at outhalf.
Still should be a cricket score, though. Ulster by a billion
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, 7:05pm
Tis the season for the regions to to test their true relevance by playing each other a few times…well, the playing staff seems to be near to full strength for both these sides, but how many actually show up to watch will remain to be seen. Ospreys need the win to keep up with the top four and I reckon they’ll get it. Ospreys by 4
Edinburgh v Leinster, 7:35pm
No doubt of the two new coaches Matt O’Connor is having the better season but going by the adage “you’re only as good as your last match”, it must be advantage Alan Solomons at Murrayfield.
This time of year sees Leinster’s HCup & B&I Cup sides folded together so we see Brian O’Driscoll put with Noel Reid in the centre, while Leo Cullen and Tom Denton pair up at lock.
Embra have been boosted by the contract extension of David Denton, while on the Leinster side of things, as Connacht, Munster & Ulster deals are announced every other day, we must away their traditional “block revelation”, probably in the new year and hopefully including a certain brace of back-rowers.
Should those back-rowers not be retained however we get a taste in this match of who we will need to replace them. Rhys Ruddock gets a much deserved breather while it’s the turn of Jordi Murphy (who Starts) and Dom Ryan (bench) to show they can step up to the big time if needed.
Much like our visit to Murrayfield last season, Leinster need to make a statement with this fixture, namely that last weekend’s flat display was a blip. with canny operators like Greig Laidlaw on the park it won’t be easy but I think we should have enough to get the win. Leinster by 6
Glasgow Warriors v Benetton Treviso, 7:35pm
If ever there was a club that badly needed a home match v Italian opposition it’s Glasgow this week. I always said their unbeaten start came with a caveat that their try-scoring needed to improve and since it hasn’t the loss column has begun to tick over. With two matches against Embra to come Gregor Townsend needs to make the most of the Christmas period to get things back on track. Glasgow by 9
Sale Sharks v London Irish, 7:45pm
Stade Francais v Grenoble, 7:45pm
Saturday, December 21
Connacht v Newport-Gwent Dragons, 5pm
Munster v Scarlets, 7:15pm
Exater Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons, 3pm
Bath v Harlequins, 3pm
London Wasps v Northampton Saints, 3pm
Saracens v Leicester Tigers, 3:15pm
Toulon v Montpellier, 1:55pm
Brive v Racing Métro 92, 5:30pm
Oyonnax v Bayonne, 5:30pm
Clérmont v Biarritz, 5:30pm
Castres v Perpignan, 5:30pm
Toulouse v Bordeaux, 7:35pm
Yamaha Jubilo v NEC Green Rockets, 4am
Sunday, December 22
Gloucester v Worcester, 2pm
Kobelco Steelers v Canon Eagles, 4am
Suntory Sungoliath v Toyota Verblitz, 4am
Panasonic Wild Knights v Toshiba Brave Lupus, 4am
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend, and of course your holiday season wherever you are. JLP