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Munster v Leinster a tasty Six Nations trial but Farrell may have concerns

Connacht and Ulster don’t have any senior games scheduled before the Six Nations.

Munster and Leinster will meet in two weekends' time.
Munster and Leinster will meet in two weekends' time.

TWO WEEKS OUT from the 2021 Six Nations, which is still scheduled to get underway on the first weekend of February, Andy Farrell couldn’t have asked for a better fixture than Munster vs. Leinster to prepare many of his key players for the championship.

The inter-provincial Pro14 clash has been rescheduled for Saturday 23 January following the suspension of this month’s Champions Cup action, meaning Farrell will be able to run the rule over a host of Ireland contenders at Thomond Park.

It’s rare that we get full-strength teams for this fixture in the regular Pro14 season but this one will involve locked-and-loaded Munster and Leinster sides battling it out for bragging rights.

Whatever about Farrell’s Ireland selection, picking the starting Leinster back row will be tricky for Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster with Jack Conan fit again and jostling for spots with the likes of Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, and Dan Leavy.

Munster’s back row looks likely to include three of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Jack O’Donoghue, and Gavin Coombes – all of whom will be hungry to impress Farrell too.

Meanwhile, the back threes will possibly feature the likes of Keith Earls, Mike Haley, Andrew Conway, Shane Daly, the fit-again Jordan Larmour and James Lowe, Hugo Keenan, and Dave Kearney. All are contenders for the Six Nations squad.

No matter where you look on the pitch, and regardless of how selection and fitness pans out, there will be players trying to prove their point to Farrell either for starting places or squad spots with Ireland.

As things stand, Farrell is likely to name his Six Nations squad the week after this clash between Munster and Leinster, so it will be the last chance to impress.

Frustratingly for Connacht and Ulster players, their schedules now look barren with no senior games currently confirmed before the opening weekend of the Six Nations.

andy-farrell Farrell will name his Ireland squad later this month. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Round 12 of the Guinness Pro14 season is due to be played on the weekend of 20 February so Ulster could be waiting some time, although Connacht will play two of their previously postponed fixtures earlier next month. 

Leinster and Munster will also play rescheduled Pro14 games on 30 January, but Farrell’s key Ireland players won’t feature so soon before the Six Nations.

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In the short-term, the Ireland boss may have concerns about his Connacht and Ulster players coming into the Six Nations cold.

Ireland are due to get their championship underway against Wales in Cardiff on 7 February and some of his squad might not have been in action for four weeks at that stage.

The only fixture in Irish rugby this coming weekend is a clash between Ulster A and Leinster A behind closed doors at Kingspan Stadium on Friday afternoon, for which the two provinces seem likely to select stronger teams than might otherwise have been the case.

Munster A and Connacht A are due to meet next weekend and, similarly, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the westerners sending out a strong team as some of their frontliners look for crucial game time.

So while the next fortnight will give as an exciting Munster v Leinster contest, the remainder of it is a far cry from the usual hectic schedule of back-to-back European weekends where Ireland hopefuls look to build form and get themselves a little more battle-hardened for the Test campaign ahead.

On the flip side, Farrell’s conditioning staff might welcome this relative lull ahead of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign. Most players will be coming in fresh and free of the kind of niggles they usually might carry into camp.

When they arrive for the start of the Six Nations prep, the Ireland players will be greeted by a new but very familiar face in forwards coach Paul O’Connell.

It will be intriguing to see what the ex-Ireland and Munster lock brings to the mix, with plenty of work to do on the Irish lineout, maul, and attacking breakdown.

Farrell and O’Connell will be watching events at Thomond Park in two weekends’ time hoping to see hungry and energetic players ready for a tilt at the Six Nations.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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