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5 reasons to get excited for this weekend's Pro12 action

CJ Stander gets a chance to impress, Connacht on the search for consistency and an excellent Ulster centre pairing.

CJ Stander in action for Munster's 'A' team last weekend.
CJ Stander in action for Munster's 'A' team last weekend.
Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

CJ Stander gets the chance to impress

It’s been one of the mysteries of the season so far; why aren’t Munster giving the South African back row starts in the big games? Last weekend, Stander dropped out of the match-day squad completely for the Heineken Cup trip to Perpignan, instead scoring a try for the ‘A’ team in Waterford.

Tomorrow night’s clash with the Scarlets at Musgrave Park [KO 19.15] will be Stander’s sixth start of the season, and he will be desperate to impress Rob Penney, particularly with the excellent Tommy O’Donnell just back from injury. Munster fans will be watching Stander very closely.

Can Connacht find some league form?

It’s the big challenge for Pat Lam’s side at home to the Dragons tomorrow evening and in the coming months. Following the remarkable win over Toulouse two weekends ago, it’s time for the western province to get some momentum into their league season. Just one win so far in the Pro12 is frankly not good enough, as the players will be aware.

Lam has named a strong XV, with the likes of Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion, Eoin Griffin and Eoin McKeon now being asked to move beyond being players of potential and start delivering consistent results.

imageKieran Marmion is already a key player for Connacht. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Payne back at 13 outside Wallace

Paddy Wallace returns to the Ulster starting line-up after a torturous nine month spell on the sidelines with an ACL injury, and will surely receive a warm welcome as Ulster host Zebre tonight [19.05]. The creative inside centre may well be rusty, but he has never been anything other than an excellent performer for the northern province.

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Outside him, Jared Payne’s apparent long-term conversion to outside centre continues. The Kiwi native’s every move is watched closely by Irish supporters these days, given his international eligibility from mid-2014 onwards. A potentially troublesome night for Zebre in midfield awaits.

The potential of the Leinster XV

Leinster fans may be in for an early Christmas treat if their side can win away in Edinburgh this evening [KO 19.35]. Matt O’Connor has named a potentially thrilling starting XV, with an exciting blend of youth and experience. Zane Kirchner gets the opportunity to stand out from fullback, with the in-form Luke Fitzgerald continuing on the left wing.

Brian O’Driscoll is at outside centre, linking up with Noel Reid and hoping to get plenty of service from out-half Ian Madigan. Up front, the likes of Marty Moore, Tom Denton and Jordi Murphy all have plenty to prove and should be motivated for the clash in Murrayfield.

Can JJ provide more magic?

imageThe 21-year-old was the man last weekend against Perpignan. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

Last time we saw the Kerry native, he was dancing his way past Joffrey Michel and dotting down to save Munster’s Heineken Cup campaign. That moment against Perpignan will never be forgotten by the province’s supporters, but Hanrahan now has the chance to start creating more history.

Making his fifth start of the season against the Scarlets, the 21-year-old will be focused on following up last weekend’s dramatic cameo off the bench with a rounded 80-minute performance. There is little doubt that the Currow man has flair and playmaking skills, but he now needs to demonstrate that game management is part of his array of abilities.

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Murray Kinsella

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