Rugby fans in Ireland have a bumper weekend of sport to look forward to as the PRO14 gives us the first of the Irish provincial derbies, with Leinster welcoming Munster to Dublin and Ulster hosting Connacht.
Historically, the provincial clashes have given us much to look forward to, as the cream of Ireland’s talent pool pit themselves against each other before the international break next month.
Friends become enemies for a day as the provinces look to strengthen their league positions by snatching the bragging rights over their neighbours.
Ulster take on Connacht on Friday in Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium and with both sides looking to establish some consistency in the new league format, anything other than a win for either province is simply not for contemplating.
The western province make the trip north with only a single victory in five attempts so far this term but welcome back the talented trio of Kieran Marmion, John Muldoon and Matt Healy as they look to improve against that will be a strong Ulster side that will feature Lions star Iain Henderson for his first start of the season.
The Belfast-based side will be looking to bounce back from their surprise defeat to Zebre last weekend but will have to do so without captain Rory Best and star Springbok, Marcell Coetzee, who has returned to South Africa for further treatment on a knee injury.
Kick-off in the Kingspan Stadium on Friday is at 7.35, with TV coverage coming courtesy of TG4 from 7.30.
Saturday sees Leinster take on Munster at the Aviva Stadium, with both sides attempting to play down the importance of the clash as they look ahead to the start of the Champions Cup campaign next weekend.
Both sides are looking to improve upon last season’s European adventures, as they bid to add to their collective tally of five titles over the last decade.
However, with bragging rights at stake between the provinces, only a fool would believe that this clash means little.
Both sides have reintroduced their British and Irish Lions stars over the last week so we can expect Rassie Erasmus and Leo Cullen to name close to their best match-day 23.
With Munster forced to manage the long-term injury to big centre Jaco Taute and Leinster still without the services of Robbie Henshaw, neither side has had it all their own way in the build up to the highly anticipated encounter.
With four wins from five so far in the PRO14, Munster will be looking to keep the pressure on the unbeaten Glasgow Warriors in Conference A.
Having suffered a 37 – 10 thumping at the hands of the table toppers last month, the red province bounced back with a bonus point victory over the Cardiff Blues last weekend and will be looking for something similar on Saturday.
Victory would put them right behind Scottish side, who take on the in-form Cheetahs in South Africa later on Saturday.
Leinster meanwhile, have put their shock defeat to the Cheetahs behind them with a gritty victory over Edinburgh last time out. Defeat of their provincial rivals will allow them leapfrog the Scarlets for top spot in Conference B, at least for a few hours.
Scarlets could reclaim top spot, however, if they secure victory in their own derby clash with Ospreys in the late game.
It’s an early kick-off at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, with action getting underway at 2pm.
The match will be televised on Sky Sports and TG4, with coverage starting at 1.45 and 1.35 respectively.