Why you should spend your St Stephen's Day watching inter-provincial rugby

Get yourself out of the house and into some of sport’s great rivalries.

1. Battle of the 10s

WITH JONATHAN SEXTON ruled out of the opening fixture of the Six Nations, and a risk to throw straight into the mixer against France after 12 weeks out, there is a real opportunity for an out-half to step up and take on the mantle.

Paddy Jackson Presseye / Russell Pritchard/INPHO Presseye / Russell Pritchard/INPHO / Russell Pritchard/INPHO

Unsurprisingly, Ian Madigan has been handed a sudden promotion into the number 10 jersey.

There is a welcome return for Paddy Jackson who started last season as Sexton’s understudy, while Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan must also see this as an opportunity to show their worth in both short and the long term as a World Cup looms.

Though Madigan may be the current front-runner for Schmidt at present, the coming weeks will be a test of whether he can cope with being number one (at least for his country, if not yet consistently with his club).

2. Ulster aim to get back on track

Two trips to Wales amounted to two fairly embarrassing defeats for Neil Doak’s men. On home turf they will be a better side, but they will meet a Connacht team with infinitely more purpose than the one they put to the sword on the same ground late last season.

Dave MCSharry is congratulated by Robbie Henshaw Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

With the New Year taking the northern province to Leinster, this becomes a must-win fixture if they wish to avoid getting sucked closer to the Scarlets in mid-table rather than the Irish pack chasing Ospreys and Glasgow.

Having lost their opening two Champions Cup fixtures, they had the opportunity to take a French approach to Europe and throw everything at the league. Yet they go into this fixture against in-form Connacht on the back of three defeats in four with the Westerners’ just four points behind them.

3. Leinster with a point to prove in Limerick

Victories over Harlequins and Connacht have certainly eased the pressure around the RDS, however, the play-off chase is a congested place at present. They can’t drop lower than fifth in this round of fixtures no matter what the result, yet the venue and the opponent should provide all the motivation needed.

Ian Madigan and Robin Copeland go for the ball Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Having made a habit of beating Munster in recent years, the southern province have won two of the last three meetings. Win on Shannonside tomorrow and they will not only bridge the gap to their last win in Thomond Park in 2013, but also frog-leap their most fierce rivals in the play-off hunt.

4. Munster chase the double

After tasting victory in the Aviva this season Anthony Foley can rubber stamp his authority in the province by guiding his side to a first league double over Leinster since the 2008/9 season – the season the balance of power shifted as Leinster won their first European trophy.

With both the Ospreys clash with Scarlets and the 1872 fixture in Scotland not kicking off until Saturday, a win at ‘fortress Thomond’ would also lift the southern province to second place in the Pro12 overnight.

5. A test of belief for Connacht

The above was Tweeted by John Muldoon in the moments after Connacht’s shadow XV had sealed victory in Bayonne.

The problem is, once a team gets shaken out of a winning run it can be difficult to rediscover the magic. Thanks to their Challenge Cup involvement, Pat Lam’s side were able to target Leinster from a long way out and came closer to a famous result than the scoreboard suggested.

The disappointment of losing that game by 10 points is capable of being carried over to another tough away fixture in Belfast. However, with Munster next up in the Sportsground and every point valuable towards qualifying for the premier European competition, Connacht can’t afford to leave time to lick their wounds around the Christmas tree.

Considering Ulster’s form, this is a winnable fixture for Lam’s men, as long as they can keep up their attacking intensity and limit unforced errors brought on by expectation.

This weekend’s fixtures:

14.05: Cardiff Blues v Dragons

17.00: Munster v Leinster (TG4)

18.45: Ulster v Connacht (BBC)

14.40: Glasgow v Edinburgh (Sky)
17.15: Ospreys v Scarlets (Sky)

15.00: Zebre v Treviso

The story behind this euphoric picture of Brian O’Driscoll retiring a champion

‘They went ballistic’: The perfect moment captured when Ireland Women beat the Black Ferns

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.