5 reasons to look forward to this weekend's Pro12 inter-pros

With Ulster v Munster tonight and Connacht v Leinster tomorrow, it should be a cracking weekend of action.

Paul O'Connell is in Munster's starting team.
Paul O'Connell is in Munster's starting team.
Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Strong teams for the inter-pro clashes

Quite often, the Pro12 inter-provincials flatter to deceive simply because the Irish sides field second-string teams for them. Not so this weekend as Mark Anscombe and Rob Penney have selected impressive XVs for the clash at Ravenhill. Ulster are as close to full-strength as possible, while Munster aren’t too far from the same status.

The home side are certain to be improved from their last two outings, with Anscombe having publicly illustrated his anger at those performances. Meanwhile, Munster are aiming for their 10th consecutive victory in all competitions.

Over in Galway, injuries and selection calls mean Connacht and Leinster’s XVs are both a short distance from full-strength, but the two teams include the majority of the provinces’ most important players. This weekend’s inter-pros are unlikely to disappoint.

Heineken Cup is in the background

All four provinces will be focused on negotiating this weekend’s action, but there can be little doubt that European matters are at the back of their minds. In a week’s time, Ulster will be readying themselves for the visiting Montpellier, Munster will be in Gloucester for a vital Pool 6 clash, Connacht will be targeting a home win against Zebre, while Leinster face a daunting trek to Castres.

An inter-provincial win would certainly be a timely morale-booster for all four, and league objectives are in clear focus too. Still, the coaching staff of the Irish sides will be keen to see their combinations and patterns gelling a week before the serious business of the Heineken Cup resumes.

Ireland’s back row strength continues to grow

imageRhys Ruddock is having an excellent season for Leinster. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

A quick glance at the four teams for this weekend’s inter-pros is evidence enough that Ireland’s long-standing tradition of producing numerous high-quality back rows is not on the wane. Sean O’Brien is missing through injury for Leinster, but in steps the dynamic Jordi Murphy. On the other side of the scrum, the equally powerful Rhys Ruddock continues his improvement.

For Connacht, Eoin McKeon has nailed down the No. 8 shirt thanks to his strong ball carrying and dogged defence, while Munster can call on the excellence of Tommy O’Donnell. Robbie Diack holds onto the captain’s armband for Ulster, and his line-out skills and work-rate have been superb all season. The likes of Dominic Ryan lie in wait on the bench, meaning Ireland looks well stocked in the back row.

International fringe players with plenty to prove

Six Nations squad selection time draws closer, meaning the next three games are the last chance for many players to convince Joe Schmidt of their international worth. A good starting point for the likes of Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble, Donncha O’Callaghan and Felix Jones would be stand out performances in this weekend’s Pro12 clashes.

There are negatives and positives to facing off against fellow countrymen, but Schmidt is certain to be watching closely. The Kiwi will already have an idea of who he wants in his Six Nations group, but there is always scope for some of the less-heralded names to make a late push for central involvement.

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More opportunities for the youth of Ireland

imageIain Henderson is one of the finest prospects in the country. ©INPHO/Presseye/Matt Mackey.

If the trend of Irish players departing to France on lucrative contracts is to develop, then it is the young prospects at the four provinces who will be filling the gaps. That several youthful men are already playing important roles in Irish rugby means supporters should be confident in their abilities to step up to the mark.

Paddy Jackson [21], Iain Henderson [21], Eoin McKeon [22], Kieran Marmion [21], Jordi Murphy [22], Ronan O’Mahony [24] and Martin Moore [22] all look like being pillars of their respective provinces over the coming decade or so. There are so many reasons for Irish rugby supporters to be optimistic about the future, and this weekend provides another chance to see exactly why.

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Murray Kinsella

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