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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 11 May 2021

Staying focused on the Magners League

The bread-and-butter rugby continues this weekend despite the glamour international games.

All eyes on Leinster coach Joe Schmidt and captain Leo Cullen at a media briefing in Dublin yesterday.
All eyes on Leinster coach Joe Schmidt and captain Leo Cullen at a media briefing in Dublin yesterday.
Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

THE AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS are still in full swing but that’s not all the rugby that’s on this week. The Magners League is back in Ireland and Wales tonight and on Sunday.

While the games will provide a welcome distraction for Irish fans from what’s likely to be a painful game against New Zealand in Lansdowne Road on Saturday, the effects of the international fixtures will again be felt through the numbers of players missing from the top sides.

Most of the top teams managed quite well without their internationals in the last round of games two weeks ago with Munster, Leinster, Scarlets and Cardiff all winning despite having a lot of players missing. Only the Ospreys’ defeat at home to the Dragons could really be blamed on the international call-ups.

The two games tonight see depleted Leinster and Ospreys teams taking on opposition in the Dragons and Connacht who have escaped nearly unscathed from the whims of their international managers. Sunday’s two games on the other hand see Cardiff play Ulster and Munster host the Scarlets with all the teams missing players.

The Dragons bring a close-to-full-strength squad to Dublin to play Leinster and a win over a virtually second-string Ospreys team last time will have given them a confidence boost.

In previous years Leinster have really struggled without their internationals (away to the Dragons last year being a case in point) but their squad seems deeper this year especially in the forwards. This game will be Clint Newland’s first for Leinster and along with Heinke Van der Merwe and Richardt Strauss in the front row and backed up by the experience of Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings, the Leinster pack should be able to provide a strong enough platform for Leinster to pick up another home win.

The Ospreys are missing an amazing 16 players as they travel to Galway tonight to play Connacht who are without only Sean Cronin. Connacht have lost three games in a row after their good start but a win against the Ospreys could move them up to seventh in the table. With the Ospreys so weakened, this is a game Connacht really need to win if they have ambitions of finishing ahead of anyone apart from Aironi.

The pick of the games must be the Scarlets trip to Cork to play Munster in a first v second clash. Both sides had surprise wins in the last week with Munster beating Australia’s second string and the Scarlets beating London Irish in the Anglo-Welsh cup (yes, that competition still exists!).

Having only five days between their two games may be a stretch for Munster though who, as usual, are missing most of their first choice team to Ireland squad. The Scarlets aren’t as badly hit and their recent form is impeccable, winning their last four games but Munster’s home advantage should make them slight favourites for the game.

Sunday’s meeting with Cardiff could be critical to Ulster’s season as, after an excellent start, they’ve lost their last two league games and a third loss on the bounce could see them drop out of the top half of the table.

Ulster have an awful record in Cardiff so regardless of international disruption, the Blues would be favourites for the game and after Ulster’s very disappointing display against Munster two weeks ago and with South African scrum half Ruan Pienaar missing as well as their Ireland contingent it’s hard to see the northerners’ form improving.

Ciaran Ruane blogs at Action81, where this post first appeared.

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Ciaran Ruane

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