The clash of Ulster and the Neath-Swansea Ospreys at Ravenhill on Saturday (K.O. 5.15) pits first versus third. Leinster and Connacht can make up ground, but Munster must kick their heels.
Ulster would be very happy to commence a new unbeaten run at Ravenhill on Saturday night, as they take on the unbeaten Ospreys. A win for Ulster, pre-tournament favourites and runners-up last season, would see them close the gap on the Ospreys to two points, and give Leinster the opprotunity to draw level or, possibly, even to go top.
If Ulster are to succeed in bringing the high-flying Ospreys to earth, they will need to deal with Gavin Henson, the Ospreys outhalf has scored 51 points so far in just three matches (averaging 17 points per game), and is in the form of his life.
It’s invidious to draw form lines at this early stage of the season, but even still, consider this. Leinster, who beat Ulster in Ravenhill, drew at home to the Cardiff Blues, who got tonked 39-3 by the Ospreys last Saturday.
The Ospreys have picked up some of the best of the Celtic Warriors in their firesale, including Sonny Parker, Brent Cockbain (who won’t be available this week following the tragic death of his son through a brain tumour) and Ryan Jones. Added to them are notables such as scrumhalf Jason Spice, signed from the Hurricanes, Shane Williams, Barry Williams and Jonathan Thomas. Perhaps it’s no surprise they are off to such a good start.
Connacht will be encouraged by the wretchedness of The Blues’ peformance against the Ospreys. They travel to Cardiff seeking to re-ignite their campaign after their rather tame home defeat to Ulster. Michael Bradley spoke to connachtrugby.ie about their loss to Ulster last week:
We didn’t play well into the wind in the first half. We started brightly but then Ulster dominated the rest of the half. We had the elements against us in the second so it was always going to be difficult, said the former Ireland scrum half.
The lads did well to get the bonus in the end and all things considered it was a good finish to get that point. I thought Ulster played very well in the first half. I think they deserved it overall, he added. Last season, Connacht lost 21-18 at home to the Blues. While a win here would be a good one, it isn’t beyond the Westerners, allowing that they don’t suffer the consequences of The Blues’ result against The Ospreys.
Leinster must be sniffing a chance to go top of the table this weekend. They take on The Borders, who have continued to struggle this year. The Scottish side finished bottom of the table last season, 10 points adrift of Glasgow, the team above them. They have taken just one point so far from two matches played, having sat out last weekend. They have lost to at home to both The Scarlets (15-26) and Glasgow (7-10). There were signs of an improvement in pushing Glasgow, who are the best-placed of the Scottish sides, to three points, therby picking up a bonus point. However, Leinster, on a high after taking the scalps of both Ulster and Munster in the internecine feuding of the past fortnight, must be looking forward to this one. This match should give Leinster the opportunity to work on their continuity, which has been noticeable by its absence, despite the fine results. Declan Kidney would never say as much, but Leinster must be harbouring an objective of a bonus point win out of this one. If they can do that, and if Ulster can beat The Ospreys, denying them a bonus point, then Leinster would go top on 15 points to The Ospreys 14, with Ulster tucked in in third on 12 points (13 if they can achieve a bonus point).
The last thing Alan Gaffney and his men will have wanted is an enforced weekend of idleness. They would have appreciated the chance to put things right as early as possible. Insteas they will have to cool their jets until Sunday week, when they take on The Scarlets at home.
Friday 24 September
Glasgow Rugby v Newport Gwent Dragons (Hughenden, 7.30pm)
Leinster v The Borders (Donnybrook, 7.30pm)
Cardiff Blues v Connacht (Arms Park, 7.35pm, BBC Wales)
Saturday 25 September
Ulster v Neath-Swansea Ospreys (Ravenhill, 5.15pm, Setanta Ireland)
Llanelli Scarlets v Edinburgh Rugby (Stradey Park, 5.30pm, S4C)