Leinster v Ulster, Friday, 19:35
Last weekend Leinster continued their unbeaten run in all comps this season. Both Leinster and Ulster were very impressive in how they played against Northampton and Harlequins respectively and will be happy with their wins and the momentum they are carrying into this Interpro derby match.
It is interesting to see a number of the 1st starters have been given the week off. This seems to be an opportunity for the younger guys to get some experience in these tough matches.
There is a high Handicap in this game of Ulster +26! Looking at the reason into this massive Handicap, Ulster have a very inexperienced team.
Four guys in the 23-man squad who could be making their debuts for Ulster if called upon off the bench.
With a lot of international experience on the Leinster side, this reflects why the Handicap is so high. Fergus McFadden, Rob Kearney, Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy… the names just keep rolling off the tongue in what is supposed to be an under-power Leinster!
Ohhhh and don’t forget Sean Cronin who hasn’t played since the Rugby World Cup, Sean will be up for this since losing the starting birth to Kelleher.
Ulster are full of young guns and have been playing well as a group. This will be a test for them in the RDS and the 26-point Handicap is a big one. Can Leinster run riot once again?
I can see Leinster targeting Ulster up front and really going after their set piece. Tom O’toole, Adam McBurney and Andy Warwick are certainly going to have their work cut out.
Prediction: I think the first try in this game could come from a maul and Sean Cronin could steal it.
I can see Ulster sneaking just below the Handicap of +26-points. But at the same time if Leinster get an early score or two, they could run up a big score. Tough one to predict due to all the changes.
Connacht v Munster, Saturday, 17:15
This is the game I am most looking forward to watching this weekend, it is going to be tight!
Munster will be looking to bounce back in this game having been beaten by Saracens last weekend and Edinburgh at home 2 weekends before that.
However, this Connacht team are a nightmare to play in Galway. With Conor Fitzgerald playing superb at out half, I can see Connacht beating Munster in this game.
Prediction: Munster have not impressed me at all so far this season in either the Champions Cup or the Pro14. I think Connacht will target this game and could send up the weaker side to Belfast next week.
I see Connacht winning this game by 5-7 points. They are a team with a never say die attitude and that showed with their last-minute win last weekend, that will fill they with confidence.
Ospreys v Cardiff Blues, Saturday, 19:35
George North, Justin Tipuric coming back with Alun Wyn Jones more than likely coming to play and captain the team, this should be a different Ospreys than what we have seen so far this season.
Head coach Alan Clarke departed the club and with loosing 8 on the spin they find themselves in a massive hole. Beaten by the Southern Kings at the liberty stadium has summed up their season so far. Not good, not good at all.
Cardiff Blues are in a better place in my opinion and have a trick up their sleeve with highest try scorer in the Rugby World Cup 2019, Josh Adams.
Also, with the likes of Olly Robinson at seven and other key players like Rey Lee-Lo in the centre, when they are on form, they play a really attractive brand of rugby. Cardiff are a match for anyone when they click.
Prediction: This Ospreys team are low in confidence and not playing well, it will take an incredible performance in a local derby to get themselves back on the right road. I can see Cardiff Blues sneaking it and beating the –2 Handicap due to the situation Ospreys find themselves in.
Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh, Saturday, 17:45
You know it is always going to be a cracking game between the two Scottish teams… They are always so passionate! Being the big two cities of Scotland going head to head, they have played each other home and away numerous times and it is always an arm wrestle.
I can see Glasgow, after letting themselves down last week against La Rochelle bouncing back and upping it a couple of levels compared to how we seen them last week. They will not be happy with their European defeat; do they have that bounce back ability? I think they do.
Prediction: I am going to go for a Glasgow win and for them to sneak it by 7-10 points. My best value bet this weekend!
45-Man training squad – Ireland
Taking off my Ulster cap and looking at this across the board, Luke Marshall who plays in the centre for Ulster has been consistent and played a lot of games.
He is definitely one of the standout players who has been left out. But looking at who he is up against… Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose who scored a hat-trick last week and Robbie Henshaw, Luke is going to have to sit and buy his time.
A surprise for me was Jordi Murphy, who was flown out to the Rugby World Cup for cover and now he’s not in a 45-man squad? All the Leinster guys like Max Deegan, Will Connors and Caelan Doris are all ahead of him at the minute.
Andy Farrell has brought in a few fresh faces and one of them, Tom O’Toole who hasn’t started that many games for Ulster has been given an opportunity.
I think they are looking more to the skill set of some of these guys and what they can maybe bring in 3-4 years’ time when the next Rugby World Cup is upon us.
This really shows Andy Farrell is not scared to make big decisions, and everyone playing interprovincial rugby will feel like they have a chance after the squad selection announcement.
My treble for the Pro14 this weekend:
Glasgow v Edinburgh: Glasgow win
Connacht v Munster: Connacht win
Dragons v Scarlets: Scarlets win