ALL FOUR IRISH provinces are back into the swing of pre-season training ahead of the 2014/15 campaign, although the Ireland internationals will not return to the fray until early next week.
While the opening weeks of the provinces’ programmes will be heavily based around conditioning, strength and the basic skills, warm-up matches will play a key part later in the preparations of structures and systems for the new season.
Here’s who the Irish provinces will face in their pre-season friendlies next month.
Pat Lam’s men fly to France for a week-long training camp in early August, ending with a clash against Top 14 side Clermont Auvergne in the Challenge Auvergne invitational competition in Issoire, 35km down the road from Clermont-Ferrand.
Later in August, Connacht play their second and final pre-season fixture against Wasps. The Premiership side will be part of the first ever Rugby Champions Cup, so should provide a stern test as the western province prepare for the Pro12.
- Clermont [A], Issoire, Friday, August 8 [KO 20.00].
- Wasps [A], Adams Park, Saturday, August 23 [KO 14.30].
Anthony Foley’s first game as head coach of Munster sees his side face David Humphreys’ Gloucester in Kingsholm, where the southern province enjoyed an excellent Heineken Cup win last season.
Just under a week later, the RSC in Waterford hosts the friendly between Munster and Premiership side London Irish, who have Irishmen Tomás O’Leary, Eamonn Sheridan, Eoin Griffin, Tom Court, Jamie Hagan and Conor Gilsenan on their books.
- Gloucester [A], Kingsholm, Saturday, August 23 [KO 15.00].
- London Irish [H], Waterford RSC, Friday, August 29 [KO 19.30].
With Mark Anscombe and David Humphreys departed, Les Kiss will lead Ulster’s pre-season efforts after he arrives back in Ireland next week. The Australian’s first game will see the province at home to Exeter Chiefs in the renamed Kingspan Stadium.
The following weekend, we get the first inter-provincial derby of the season as the northern province make the trip to Dublin to take on Leinster. That rivalry has grown in recent seasons and should make for an interesting tie.
- Exeter Chiefs [H], Kingspan Stadium, Friday, August 22 [KO 19.30].
- Leinster [A], Tallaght Stadium, Saturday, August 30 [KO 16.00].
Matt O’Connor’s second season in charge at Leinster gets underway with a friendly against Northampton, a side the eastern province beat and lost to in the Heineken Cup last season.
Their second fixtures is the visit of Ulster, with the game to be played in Tallaght Stadium. That move is a welcome one as the game may draw in new supporters.
- Northampton [A], Franklin’s Gardens, Saturday, August 23 [KO 15.00].
- Ulster [H], Tallaght Stadium, Saturday, August 30 [KO 16.00].