A po­ten­tially defin­ing week­end for Ir­ish sides

Vic­tory could earn both Le­in­ster and Mun­ster a place in the quar­ter-fi­nals

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Gerry Thorn­ley

On the first of two defin­ing week­ends for the Ir­ish prov­inces in Europe, Le­in­ster and Mun­ster could both qual­ify for the knock­out stages of the Cham­pi­ons Cup to­mor­row with a game to spare, as could Con­nacht in the Chal­lenge Cup this af­ter­noon, while Ul­ster could take a gi­ant stride to­wards the same ob­jec­tive.

Al­ter­na­tively, each or all of them could be taken to a nervy fi­nal round next week­end.

Le­in­ster host Glas­gow at 1pm in the RDS to­mor­row know­ing that a fifth win in five matches will as­suredly see them ad­vance, at the very least as one of the pool run­ners-up. Pro­vided their re­sult ex­ceeds Mont­pel­lier’s re­sult away to Ex­eter this af­ter­noon, it would put them in the quar­ter-fi­nals as pool win­ners.

In other words, any­thing less than a win for Mont­pel­lier would leave Le­in­ster know­ing that a vic­tory of any kind would suf­fice. Were Mont­pel­lier to win with­out a bonus point, a bonus point win for Le­in­ster would seal first place in Pool Three. Were Mont­pel­lier to win with a bonus point, Le­in­ster would need to match that to main­tain their five-point lead over the French team be­fore meet­ing them away next Satur­day.

‘Small pro­ce­dure’

On con­firm­ing that young man of the mo­ment, Jor­dan Lar­mour, will make his full Euro­pean de­but ahead of Rob Kear­ney, who is on the bench, Le­in­ster also re­vealed that Seán O’Brien un­der­went “a small pro­ce­dure” on his hip last Wed­nes­day which at the least, is ex­pected to rule him out of Ire­land’s open­ing Six Na­tions games against France and Italy. Leo Cullen said O’Brien would “hope­fully” be back for Ire­land’s round three game at home to Wales on Fe­bru­ary 24th.

As for Lar­mour’s eye-catch­ing se­lec­tion, Isa Nacewa said: “We leave all the se­lec­tion thoughts to the coaches but, yeah, Jor­dan is just fun to play with and he is play­ing well. He wasn’t here dur­ing the suc­cess­ful times of Le­in­ster’s past and I think that’s a good thing be­cause he doesn’t have any bound­aries in the way he thinks. He is get­ting out there, en­joy­ing him­self, and play­ing his style of rugby and he has played bloody well and we just feed off that.”

New sign­ing James Lowe has also been handed his Euro­pean de­but, while Nacewa comes into mid­field, with Rob­bie Hen­shaw shift­ing to out­side cen­tre. Luke McGrath and Johnny Sex­ton are re­stored at half-back, Sean Cronin re­places the in­jured James Tracy, and Josh van der Flier is re­stored to open­side, as is Cian Healy af­ter serv­ing his sus­pen­sion, al­beit to the bench along with Brian Byrne, James Ryan and Dan Leavy.

Jo­hann van Graan has re­stored Stephen Archer, Billy Hol­land, Peter O’Mahony and Chris Cloete to an oth­er­wise un­changed Mun­ster side for their daunt­ing as­sign­ment against an un­changed Racing, even with­out Dan Carter, in the fu­tur­is­tic U Arena.

Vic­tory would se­cure Mun­ster first place in Pool Four and quar­ter-fi­nal qual­i­fi­ca­tion for a 17th time, while a bonus point de­feat – pro­vided they deny Racing a bonus point – would at least re­tain lead­er­ship of the group go­ing into their fi­nal game at home to Cas­tres next Sun­day. Al­ter­na­tively, were Mun­ster to lose with­out a bonus point, Racing would over­take them in first place, while Cas­tres could re­main in con­tention by beat­ing Le­ices­ter at home in the week­end’s fi­nale to­mor­row evening.

Last home match

Ul­ster are first in ac­tion when host­ing La Rochelle at the Kingspan Sta­dium at 1pm to­day, and could fin­ish the day in first, sec­ond or third place. Vic­tory would see them usurp the French debu­tants atop Pool One ahead of Ul­ster’s fi­nal match away to Wasps, but de­feat could well see them drop to third given Wasps are likely to com­plete the dou­ble over win­less Har­lequins.

Craig Gil­roy and Louis Ludik re­turn af­ter miss­ing last week­end’s de­feat away to Le­in­ster, with John Cooney also re­u­nited at half-back with Chris­tian Leali­ifano, who will be play­ing his last home match for Ul­ster.

Alan O’Con­nor and Nick Ti­money have been re­stored to the pack, while the 20-year-old Ir­ish Un­der-20 World Cup fi­nal out­half Johnny McPhillips could make his Euro­pean de­but af­ter be­ing in­cluded among the re­place­ments.

La Rochelle, omi­nously, come locked and fully loaded, with their fine cen­tre, Ge­of­frey Doumay­rou, half-backs Jérémy Sinzelle and Alexi Bales, fron­trower Dany Priso, Pierre Bour­garit and Uini Ato­nio, cap­tain Ja­son Ea­ton and the out­stand­ing Vic­tor Vito all re­stored from the team which drew 38-all last week in Oyan­nax.

Con­nacht coach Kieran Keane has re­called Ir­ish In­ter­na­tion­als Ul­tan Dil­lane, Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion for their game against Worces­ter War­riors to­day (kick-off 3pm). A win for Con­nacht will se­cure top spot in Pool Five of the Chal­lenge Cup and a place in the quar­ter-fi­nals with a game to spare.

Tom Far­rell, Dave Hef­fer­nan and Eoghan Master­son all re­turn af­ter be­ing rested last week, while Marmion re­turns to part­ner Craig Ron­ald­son, as Jack Carty is rested af­ter a hec­tic Christ­mas sched­ule.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.