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Life moves on after Ireland’s courageous clean sweep in this November Series, and this weekend our eyes will drift back to our regional allegiances in the Guinness Pro 12. Where do we lie, and what do we expect for Ireland’s four provinces this week?


Leinster (5th)

Leinster are entering a crucial point of their season, coming off a disappointing draw with Treviso last weekend. With a back-to-back clash against Harlequins forthcoming, Leinster will need a strong showing against the Ospreys this weekend to really get a swing of momentum in their favour.

Matt O’Connor’s adoration for Jimmy Gopperth must be fading following another poor performance from the fly half, and given Ian Madigan’s classy cameo against Australia, surely the Irish international must take the reins at 10 soon. Instead, he comes back into the side at 12 alongside the returning Fergus McFadden.

Ospreys will be missing a host of top players this weekend as Wales oppose South Africa, and their depleted squad gives Leinster a great chance at picking up a much needed win. O’Connor’s options are bolstered through returns from injury and Irish duties, as Madigan/McFadden, Dave Kearney, Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock, Eoin Reddan, and Gordon D’Arcy are all included in the 23.

Lying outside the top four is a disappointing stance for Leinster to be in, and they need to come off the back of a successful campaign with Ireland and start putting in top level performances. They need a convincing win against the Welsh outfit to keep their season on track. Any other result will raise huge questions around the former European heavyweights.


Munster (3rd)

Munster enjoyed a successful rout of the Dragons last weekend, with a five-try bonus point win in Rodney Parade. Anthony Foley’s men will look to continue their winning ways, as they face a mouth-watering encounter with Ulster, at home in Thomond Park.

Munster have included the in-form Felix Jones alongside other Irish fringe players such as Tommy O’Donnell, and Dave Kilcoyne on the bench, as they’ll look to make a serious impact in the last 15 minutes.

Keatley has been in spectacular form, but life will be more difficult for the Belvedere College man without Conor Murray at the helm against a physical Ulster backrow. JJ Hanrahan could play a crucial role from the first receiver in taking pressure off Keatley, interchanging with the fly half.

Hanrahan’s duel with Stuart Olding will be a hugely interesting subplot, two of the brightest talents in Irish Rugby colliding from 15, when they’re both arguably long term prospects at 12.

Munster-Ulster games have become a hot fixture in recent years, and the two Irish sides are vying for the top of the table. Munster face a daunting double header against Clermont within the next two weeks, and this game against Ulster is the perfect warm up tool.


Ulster (2nd)

Ulster will look to make a statement this weekend by scoring another win over Munster in Thomond Park following their two victories against the men in red last season.

Ulster will be without Paddy Jackson after he came off injured against the Ospreys, while Chris Henry is also absent given his terribly unfortunate injury. To say there’s going to be a physical battle up front is an understatement, and Ulster will be rueing the injuries of Henry, Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy in a fixture like this, although Nick Williams and Roger Wilson will make their presence felt.

One area Ulster may look to impose themselves on Munster is in midfield. Munster’s midfield have really yet to gel, with various combinations taking to the pitch thus far this year. Ulster boast the impressive Stuart McCloskey, and experienced Darren Cave, against an inexperienced Denis Hurley and Pat Howard.

A cracking game it should be, it’ll more than put Ulster through their paces as they prepare for their own European double leg, against the Llanelli Scarlets.


Connacht (6th)

Connacht will be scouting Ulster’s European opponents this weekend, as the Scarlets travel to the Sportsground. Connacht are coming off the back of a comprehensive dismantling of Zebre last week, and will look to continue their winning ways against their Welsh opposition.

There’s excitement rife through Connacht as marquee signing Mils Muliana will play his second game for the province. Whilst he’s still continuing to regain fitness following a lengthy injury, the class and presence of the All Black is something that will benefit Connacht hugely, on and off the field, for some time to come.

Bundee Aki continues in the centre alongside the excellent Dave McSharry, while the influential Kieran Marmion partners Jack Carty at half back. Connacht’s exciting backline will have the edge, as Pat Lam’s men have a lot to offer going forward.

Rodney Ah You returns to the front row, forming a strong trio with Denis Buckley, and new hooker, Tom McCartney. The Scarlets are coming off a victory against Glasgow last weekend, and this game will be instrumental in Connacht’s quest for a top 6 finish.

Their next European challenge lies with French side Bayonne, and after a strong showing against Scarlets Connacht can be confident heading into that clash.

Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena.

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