Munster at home on Friday in the Celtic League and the real live prospect that Christian Cullen will make his debut, while leaders Ulster are in Rodney Parade
Munster at home on Friday in the Celtic League and the real live prospect that Christian Cullen will make his debut, while leaders Ulster are in Rodney Parade, Leinster Lions play in Edinburgh and Connacht have home advantage for their Saturday game with Glasgow.
On paper, Ulster face the toughest task of the Irish sides with their visit to a ground where no side has yet won in the Celtic League. The last time the Dragons played at Rodney Parade they beat Llanelli, before that it was Leinster who failed to make an impression and it must also be remembered that Ulster’s Heineken Cup ambitions were dealt a mortal blow at Rodney Parade.
Of the other three Irish sides, Connacht and Leinster play out this copmpetition with pride rather than prize at stake, while Munster still cling to title hopes.
In a fascinating top of the table clash,
Lynn Howells and his Celtic Warriors welcome Llanelli Scarlets to the Brewery Field on Friday night with coach Howells convinced the Celtic League title will only be won and lost in the final sprint for the line.
The Warriors closed the gap on league leaders Ulster to just four points with their
37-16 win at Leinster Lions but Howells believes the title chase still has plenty of twists and turns still to come – with bonus points capable of producing massive swings in fortunes.
League titles are invariably won over the final run-in and, with nine rounds still to go, you cannot look that far ahead, said Howells.
Everything is so close that no-one can even start thinking about titles, especially with bonus points altering things so dramatically.
I am not trying to take any pressure off us but, in all honesty, our goal from Day 1 of the season has been to ensure we qualify for the 2004 / 2005 Heineken Cup. That has been and remains our prime objective.
The five-point haul from the trip to Dublin is followed by a local derby that Howells feels will be a totally different game. Llanelli Scarlets are playing some very good rugby but they know our players and we know their players pretty well and that tends to even things out.
However, just like against Leinster Lions, both ourselves and Llanelli try to play and as they beat us at Stradey Park we have to make home advantage count on Friday night.
At Donnybrook it was tremendously pleasing that, despite both sides being depleted, it was a fine game of rugby – and you only get that when both sides are of like mind. In the end we were just that bit stronger and we beat them where Ireland beat Wales. It was won up front while Neil Jenkins was superb with his all-round game and the way he dictated play.
Meanwhile, while three Welsh sides fill the top four positions, Scottish teams are occupying the bottom three places in the Celtic League – and with only two qualifying for the 2004 / 2005 Heineken Cup the three-way domestic battle promises a tournament within the tournament.
It will all come down to hunger – who wants it the most, said Alastair Cranston, the Chief Executive of The Borders after they beat Edinburgh Rugby 24-10.
With just two of the three going forward into the next Heineken Cup there is going to be a real competitive edge amongst the three of is over the remaining rounds of the Celtic League.
It is starting to come together and we have certainly made progress. We have been performing better as a team and, although everyone suffers to certain extent during the Six Nations, it is also the opportunity to bring on your younger players and develop your squad.
Now we have to keep trying to do the same thing against Cardiff Blues – though we expect that to be more difficult. We beat them up here earlier in the tournament and they will have a bone to pick with us.
Friday 27th February.
7.05: Celtic Warriors v Llanelli Scarlets, Brewery Field, Simon McDowell (I) BBCW
7.15: Cardiff Blues v The Borders, Arms Park, Marshall Kilgore (I)
7.30: Edinburgh Rugby v Leinster Lions, Meadowbank, Nigel Whitehouse (W)
7.35: Munster v N-S Ospreys, Musgrave Park, Malcolm Changleng (S) TG4
Saturday 28th February.
2.30: Connacht v Glasgow Rugby, Sportsground Hugh Watkins (W)
5.30: The Dragons v Ulster, Rodney Parade, Iain Ramage (S), S4C.