Irish fans can settle in for a festive weekend bringing them two great derbies as Munster host Leinster and Ulster take on Connacht.
Munster vs Leinster:
One of the game’s favourite rivalries is set to ignite on St. Stephen’s Day as Munster host old foes Leinster at Thomond Park.
As always, this should be a cracking game, but especially considering that both teams are on top form lately with Munster coming off a massive 52-3 victory over Zebre in Round 8 while Leinster finished off Cardiff with a 40-5 score line.
In addition to this (and more recently) both outfits stamped their authority on the European competition of the Champions Cup; in Round 1: Munster beating Harlequins 21-7 in a bitter and ill-spirited contest after Leinster put Montpellier away 35-14 and; in Round 2: Leinster beating Northampton Saints 35-19 while Munster put in a great comeback to put one over Clermont in the latter’s own backyard, 39-31.
Leinster are enjoying an astonishing run of form since last year’s competition with a very long time elapsing without them tasting defeat.
Leo Cullen’s men have had Munster’s number recently; beating them 13-6 in Round 9, sneaking past them 27-25 in Round 14 before despatching them 13-3 in the semis before going on to win the tournament.
Munster have the familiarity of their home turf to look forward to and the contest is sure to be red-hot as they attempt to knock their rivals off their perch – easier said than done though, to say the least.
Connacht vs Ulster:
The brace of Irish derbies and the round will conclude with Ulster travelling to The Sportsground where Connacht lie in wait.
The Northerners latest two bouts of action were not successful with back-to-back losses against Toulouse (22-29) and Gloucester (38-34) in the Champions Cup. With regard to their Pro14 situation, they are currently the best in the competition – unbeaten after 8 outings and 38 points to their name.
Turning to Connacht, their fortunes in the Champions Cup are also low, having tasted defeat first against Racing 92 (26-22) and then against Bristol Bears (27-18) in two tough encounters against high-quality opponents.
Their Pro14 results are decidedly better with four wins from six outings, giving them second place in Conference B behind Munster.
Head-to-head, the teams took one fixture each in the 2019-20 tournament. In Round 9, Ulster took no prisoners as they blitzed Connacht 35-3 at Kingspan Stadium.
The men in green were ready for their opponents in the Round 14 return fixture, however, running out 26-20 victors at the Aviva Stadium.
Ulster are flying high at the moment and will be difficult to stop. However, Connacht can be a tricky hurdle on their home turf and will also be boosted by the return of Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux which will boost the pack’s engine room significantly. To their detriment, though, will be Bundee Aki sitting out due to player rest protocols.