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Pro 12 – New Signings Set To Bolster Leinster And Connacht

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Well the European Rugby Champions Cup (I’m informed there’s no apostrophe in there, I still disagree) has kicked off and the world didn’t end. Better yet there was some decent rugby to be seen and it hasn’t in fact turned into an Anglo-Gallic swarm with three Celtic nations well poised to do the business come next spring. But ahead of the November internationals we have to turn our eye back to the domestic league, for some it will be the last chance to put a hand up for Irish selection before the Six Nations.

Connacht are all the rage this season and rightly so. What was a polarising revelation over the summer however was the news that Pat Lam has signed Bundee Aki and Mils Muliaina, two heavyweight New Zealanders who would certainly add strength to the squad, but would it be at the expense of upcoming Irish players? Adding to that is the fact that Connacht more than any of the other provinces still retain a certain parochial quality that some feared would be lost. Personally I can imagine Lam simply won’t let that happen.

We will get to see this evening of course, as Bundee Aki is set to wear the Connacht green for the first time, playing at outside centre for tonight’s tough ask of an away fixture to Ospreys. The Welsh outfit have faltered in the European game, but they were electric in the Pro 12 up until that point. Aki, as well as returning trio Darragh Leader, Rodney Ah You and Kieran Marmion who have all been released from Ireland camp, will need to dig deep after Connacht suffered a stuttering loss in the Challenge Cup last weekend.

If Connacht this season are 2.0, then this is Connacht 2.1. Irish rugby fans have been salivating over the extra dimension these new signings could bring to the province, learning from the example set by Doug Howlett, Isa Nacewa and Ruan Pienaar. One player cannot be the sole difference, but they can instigate a lot of change, here’s hoping it comes for the better this evening.

Ospreys win (sorry)

Leinster are next up and have their own overseas signing to try out. It may not have been glamorous but it is certainly job done for Leinster in the opening rounds of Europe and with that in mind eight changes have been made to the starting lineup. Included in that are a new second row partnership of Tom Denton and Kane Douglas, but most eyes will be on Ben Te’o filling into that famous 13 jersey. Sure enough Matt O’Connor is seeing little threat in Edinburgh arriving to the RDS but there will still be relevance to the second string performers he is including tonight, given how many players Leinster contribute to the national team.

Te’o starting and yet another start for the returning Luke Fitzgerald will hopefully inject a bit of pace into the Leinster back line that has been absent so far and with Edinburgh’s defence usually porous if the game is slipping from them and they experiment too much, we may even get some tries from a side that have been lacking them very much against type.

Expect a step up from the Blues here but maybe some slips in doing so.

Leinster win

Munster come barrelling back into the Pro 12 all guns blazing with two assured and intimidating wins in Europe under their belt. Cardiff are hot cold opponents but JJ Hanrahan will be relishing the starting opportunity Anthony Foley is giving him here – any trip to Wales can be attritional.

Like Leinster, Munster are providing a depth of players to the Irish squad which has Foley fielding a more inexperienced side but part of the Munster mythos that has been missing in recent years is the wealth of experience entire squads used to bring.
With the momentum they’re carrying even Cardiff Arms can’t stop them

Munster win

Ulster will be happy to not be up against a Glasgow or one of the provinces this Sunday, given their recent run. We can live in hope of course but realistically their European campaign is over save for some face saving games. In the meantime they haven’t placed a hand on the domestic trophy in some time.

Bringing Dragons to Belfast, some patch up work can be done and with most of the international staple players unfortunately out injured, like Munster they stand a chance to help flesh out the squad depth some more. Neil Doak will have the same desire for silverware as ever, more so now that only one trophy is realistically in their grasp. Now is the time to ensure he has the squad to do it.

Ulster win

Image courtesy of thescore.ie

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