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5 reasons to watch Leinster, Munster and Ulster in Pro12 action

Ben Te’o at 13, Munster’s back row composition, Luke McGrath’s chance, an Ulster lift and the returning faces.
Jan 10th 2015, 7:00 AM 4,118 7

Saturday

Cardiff Blues v Leinster, 14.40, Cardiff Arms Park (Sky Sports 1)

Zebre v Munster, 15.00, Stadio XXV Aprile (Nuvolari)

Sunday

Benneton Treviso v Ulster, 14.00, Stadio Monigo, (BBC2 NI)

WITH CONNACHT HAVING entertained Edinburgh at a wet, windy Sportsground last night, the other three Irish provinces are in action over the course of today and tomorrow.

Here are a few elements of those games we’re looking forward to watching.

Ben Te’o gets another run in Leinster’s 13 shirt

Ben Te'o Te'o partners Noel Reid in Leinster's midfield. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The former South Sydney Rabbitoh lasted only 19 minutes on his senior rugby union debut late in October, before fracturing his forearm in contact. Just over two months later, Te’o gets his second Leinster start and will be keen to make up for lost time.

While the one-time Samoa international only had four minutes off the bench last weekend against Ulster, the sheer physical size of the man stood out. His dynamism will be intriguing to watch, even as he attempts to reacquaint himself with the union code.

Luke Fitzgerald’s strong form means he has Leinster’s 13 jersey sewn up for the European ties – and is in strong contention for the same shirt with Ireland – but Te’o's world-class athleticism and direct ball carrying add to the options for Matt O’Connor.

Ulster need a lift

Lewis Stevenson Lewis Stevenson shows his skills at yesterday's training session. Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

It’s difficult to escape the sense of lethargy around Neil Doak’s men at present, although there were positives in their first-half performance against Leinster at the RDS. Thereafter, the lack of discipline told and Ulster faded away to defeat.

Out of Europe, but still more than in contention for the Pro12 play-off spots, the feeling is that Ulster must regather and refocus. Three defeats in their last four league games – admittedly coming away to Munster, Ospreys and Leinster – have seen them slip out of the top four.

Away to Treviso on Sunday, Doak has gone for as strong a starting XV as possible in an effort to score tries and rebuild confidence. Forward domination has not been a given this season, so Rory Best’s pack should be fired up.

Returning faces

Keith Earls is tackled by Finn Russell Earls makes the Munster bench this weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Keith Earls is in a Munster matchday squad for the first time this season in Italy, and it will be fascinating to note whether Anthony Foley uses him on the wing or in midfield if and when he enters the fray against Zebre.

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The 27-year-old’s priority will be regaining full fitness, but what odds he makes his first appearance under Joe Schmidt sooner rather than later? Similarly, the returning James Cronin will have ambitions of muscling into the Ireland squad if he finds his feet quickly.

Jared Payne is back in Ulster’s squad, his first involvement since injuring his foot on his Ireland debut against South Africa. Whatever about Fitzgerald’s form, Payne will have Ireland’s 13 shirt in the forefront of his mind.

In the Leinster team, Marty Moore returns after 12 weeks out due to shoulder surgery, timely ahead of the Six Nations. Rob Kearney, Dominic Ryan, and Noel Reid are also fit again and keen to show Schmidt some sharp form.

Luke McGrath’s time to shine

LeinsterÕs Luke McGrath  26/12//2014 McGrath offers a real threat with ball in hand but must manage Leinster's forwards around the pitch. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

A portion of Leinster’s fans have been clamouring for the 21-year-old to get more starting chances for some time, with McGrath counting just two among his 10 appearances so far this season.

The former St. Michael’s student is an exciting attacking presence with his vision, acceleration, and willingness to snipe, but there remain areas of his game which need to show improvement.

O’Connor will look for more consistent kicking, more accurate passing and stronger decision making from McGrath against Cardiff this afternoon. It’s an excellent chance for the young scrum-half to make a point, and he will back himself to deliver.

 Munster back-row composition

Dave O'Callaghan scores a try O'Callaghan crossed the whitewash against Leinster in December. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Peter O’Mahony wears seven for Munster, so it will be intriguing to learn exactly what role he performs for Foley’s side, while Dave O’Callaghan makes his first start since February of last year on the blindside.

Foley spoke about the former Midleton College man in glowing terms after an impressive performance off the bench against Leinster on St. Stephen’s Day and clearly rates O’Callaghan as a player of immense potential.

If he can stay injury free, the 24-year-old has the athletic potential to be an important cog in the Munster machine. In between the flankers, CJ Stander will relish the increased ball-carrying opportunities likely to be present against Zebre.

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