Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
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Pro12 Cheat Sheet: The dirty dozen are back at last
The new rugby season kicks off tonight, so we bring news from all four provinces

Ulster v Glasgow

When: Tonight, 7.05pm

Where to watch: BBC 2.

The story so far: New coach Mark Anscombe will begin his tenure at Ulster with a tricky tie against last year’s Pro12 semi-finalists.

Every province is in the same boat this week, with only friendly matches to look to for indications of form. If they do in fact mean anything then Ulster are in decent fettle having beaten Bayonne and Newcastle in warm-up fixtures either side of a 14-14 draw with Leicester Tigers.

However, the northern province’s last game was the comprehensive Heineken Cup final defeat to Leinster at Twickenham and they also lost to Leinster Munster and Connacht in the closing weeks of last season. In fact,  their last competitive win was the uninspiring semi-final victory over Edinburgh, while you have to go all the way back to March for their most recent Pro12 win – over the now defunct Aironi.

Team news: After injury kept him from travelling New Zealand, Tom Court is just one of the internationals available to Anscombe on his home debut. However, the prop must wait to win his 100th cap for the province. Court has been named on an experienced Ulster bench while the new coach hands starts to debutants; Sean Doyle, Nick Williams (back row), Rob Herring (hooker) and Michael Heaney (scrum-half). But the season comes too soon for Tommy Bowe.

The new faces join some fresh ones in the back-line where Luke Marshall and Chris Farrell are a new combination at centre. Outside them Michael Allen will win his second Ulster cap, while Paddy Jackson will resume fly-half duties with Niall O’Connor providing relief from the bench until Ruan Pienaar finishes up his service with the Springboks in the Rugby Championship.

The Warriors have been able to name a strong side captained by Ali Kellock and steered by Duncan Weir with Ruairidh Jackson ready to change the flow of the game from the bench.

Ulster will be up against it, but look for them to improve after the hour mark when the benches begin to empty.

Ulster: J Payne; M Allen, C Farrell, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, M Heaney: C Black, R Herring, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), L Stevenson; R Diack, S Doyle, N Williams.

Replacements: N Brady, T Court, D Fitzpatrick, N McComb, M McComish, P Marshall, N O’Connor, D Cave.

Glasgow: P Murchie; T Seymour, A Dunbar, G Morrison, S Lamont; D Weir, H Pyrgos: G Reid, F Gillies, M Cusack; T Ryder, A Kellock (Capt.); R Harley, C Fusaro, R Wilson.

Replacements: D Hall, M Low. R Grant, J Eddie, J Barclay. C Cusiter. R Jackson. P Horne.

Connacht v Cardiff

When: Saturday 5.0pm

Where to watch: The Sportsground. Not on TV, I’m afraid.

The story so far: Connacht opted for two away fixtures in the build-up to tomorrow’s opener at home. A scrappy 8-6 win in Exeter was well and truly wiped clear when Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins wrought some revenge in a 45- 11 pounding.

There has been little upheaval in Ireland’s central provinces, as both have retained coaches when Ulster and Munster decided to twist. Eric Elwood enjoyed a late-season flourish in the spring with three wins in the final four games.

With Leinster and Ulster both making the European final, the western province have qualified for another season in the Heineken Cup. A series of fixtures they hope will upset their league form much less this time around.

Gavin Duffy: fronting up. Rising up. ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan.

Team news: Elwood is not yet able to call upon his marquee signings; Dan Parks and Danie Poolman. He does, however, have a real prospect at scrum-half in Ireland u20′s Kieran Marmion,

Marmion makes his first start for the province behind a grizzly looking pack containing New Zealand tourist Mike McCarthy, Ronan Loughney, Johnny O’Connor and George Naoupu.

Connacht: G Duffy; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, M Fifita, F Vainikolo; M Nikora, Kieran Marmion: D Buckley, E Reynecke, R Loughney; M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, J O’Connor, G Naoupu.

Replacements: A Flavin, R Ah You, F Bealham, D Gannon, W Faloon, D Moore, M Jarvis, R Henshaw.

Cardiff: D Fish, H Robinson G Evans, G Davies, T James; C Sweeney, L Jones: T Davies, A Kyriacou, T Filise; R Copeland, J Down, R Watt-Jones, J Navidi, A Pretorius (Capt.).

Replacements: R Williams, B Borrust, N Trevett L Reed, L Hamilton, L Williams, C Allen, T Williams.

Llanelli v Leinster

When: Saturday 6.30pm

Where to watch: TG4

The story so far: The European champions’ pre-season form is described as “a mixed bag” by captain Leo Cullen. Game one brought an impressive 33-22 win over Gloucester, but that was quickly corrected with the 43-0 drubbing to Northampton. The set was completed last week when Andrew Conway grounded in a 10-10 draw away to Sale Sharks.

Joe Schmidt’s two seasons in charge have been characterised by slow starts, his first few games in charge were seemingly slow enough to prompt calls for his head (from a pundit whose name may rhyme with Gorge Book). The last time Leinster lost to anybody other than Ospreys in the Pro12 was 50 weeks ago when Glasgow Warriors upset the RDS crowd in the third game of last season.

Team news: Leinster are hardest hit by absences with 11 Irish internationals still in pre-season and a further seven players out injured.

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There is still no room for captain Leo Cullen, he has been held back from starting the new season with Damian Browne and Devin Toner preferred to man the second row. As Cullen predicted early this week, the game comes too soon for new signing Quinn Roux, but not for Tom Denton who makes it onto the bench ahead of the skipper.

The back division has an exciting feel to it: half-century hitting Ian Madigan partners Isaac Boss at half back with speed-merchants Isa Nacewa, Andrew Conway and Fionn Carr in the back three.

However, when the don’t have possession Leinster must withstand a Scarlets side which has found George North fit enough to start and Welsh internationals Matthew Rees, Rhys Priestland and Jonathan Davies will be waiting impatiently on the bench.

Scarlets: L Williams, G North, G Maule, S Williams, A Fenby; A Thomas, T Knoyle: R Jones, K Owens, D Manu; G Earle, R Kelly; A Shingler, J Turnbull, R McCusker (Capt).

Replacements: M Rees, P John, S Lee, S Timani, K Murphy, G Davies, R Priestland, J Davies.

Leinster: I Nacewa, A Conway, B Macken, N Reid, F Carr; I Madigan, I Boss: H van der Merwe, R Strauss, J Hagan; D Browne, D Toner; D Ryan, S Jennings (Capt.) L Auva’a.

Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, M Moore, T Denton, J Murphy, J Cooney, C O’Shea, D Hudson.

Edinburgh v Munster

When: Saturday 8pm

Where to watch: RTE 2

The story so far: In pre-season, Munster’s win over Bristol was sandwiched between defeats to La Rochelle (away) and London Irish (home). LIke Leinster, though, their last competitive outing ended in defeat to the league champion Ospreys. The loss brought an end to Tony McGahan’s reign, a tenure characterised by inconsistency and instability.

In the final six games of the regular season, the southern province won three, with defeats coming against Leinster and Aironi. Tomorrow, however, marks the first chance for Penney, Anthoney Foley and Simon Mannix to turn their fortunes back around.

The big man is back, but not in the team. ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Team news: Rob Penney has been able to name a strong side for the trip to face the Heineken Cup semi-finalists. all eyes will be on the new centre partnership of James Downey and Casey Laulala, while Sean Dougall (openside) will also make his first Munster appearance..

The presence of Donncha O’Callaghan, BJ Botha, Wian du Preez, Damian Varley and the returning James Coughlan will be needed to keep the ship steady as Michael Bradley has been able to call upon Ross Ford, David Denton and Ross Rennie in the pack with Greig Laidlaw directing traffic at fly-half.

Edinburgh: G Tonks, L Jones, N De Luca, B Atiga, T Visser; G Laidlaw (Capt.) R Rees: J Yapp, R Ford, W Nel; G Gilchrist, S Cox; D Denton, R Rennie, S McNally.

Replacments: A Titterrell, A Jacobsen, G Cross, P Parker, D Basilaia, C leck, G Hunter, J Houston.

Munster: D Hurley; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, J Downey, L O’Dea; I Keatley, D Williams: W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, B Holland; P Butler, S Dougall, J Coughlan.

Replacements: M Sherry, M Horan, S Archer, D Foley, B O’Mahony, P Stringer, S Deasy, I Dineen.

Schmidt: ‘Just a passenger on a really good Leinster ride’