All eyes are on round 3 which is set to be another exciting weekend of the BKT United Rugby Championship, with two big derbies taking place in Galway and Llanelli.
From an Irish perspective, Saturday night’s meeting of Connacht and Ulster, who have both started the new season with two wins out of two, is the highlight of the round. A packed-out Sportsground awaits this repeat of last season’s quarter-final.
It is second plays third as Connacht look to build on their best start since the 2014/15 season, while Ulster are aiming to gain some revenge for last May’s 15-10 quarter-final defeat to the westerners, which is their only loss in their last eight URC games.
Dan McFarland’s men battled their way to a 26-19 win over the Vodacom Bulls last Sunday, but will face their provincial rivals without Tom O’Toole, who has undergone groin surgery, Kieran Treadwell (hip), and Dave Ewers and Cormac Izuchukwu, who are both recovering from head injuries.
Relishing this early season interprovincial clash, Ulster back rower Nick Timoney said: “In general the disappointment of last season has been a big motivating factor. There was a lot of frustration, regret and a bitter feeling.
“We’ve got stuck into that and it’s a great opportunity this weekend to show that we are on the up. Connacht have started the season really well, they look strong and have some new coaches.
“They have an established dangerous combination in that they are well drilled, have talented players and after last year nobody needs to tell us how tough it will be going down to the Sportsground.
“Certainly for interpro games, there will be a good atmosphere, their backs are dangerous, strong forwards, they have good breakdown threats and their set-piece is strong. We know them well and it will be a tough challenge.”
Buoyed by their form on the pitch and contract extensions for two of their Ireland stars, Bundee Aki and Finlay Bealham, Connacht are determined to finish off this block of three successive home matches on a high.
“It was a good performance against Glasgow last week, especially for this time of the season, but we know we need to keep getting better and keep improving,” insisted Tiernan O’Halloran, Connacht’s long-serving full-back.
“Ulster are a quality side and you know you need to be at your very best when it comes to these games. There’s great respect between both sets of players, but for 80 minutes on the pitch it’s a battle.
“We hope to see a massive crowd this Saturday, these interpro games are special and the crowd are the reason for that. We need to make Saturday’s game bring a noise level that can be heard across the city.”
Meanwhile, the table-topping DHL Stormers start their four-week tour of the north in Glasgow, and fellow South African side, the Hollywoodbets Sharks, tackle the Ospreys in a unique ‘Friday Night Lights’ encounter at the Twickenham Stoop in London.
Saturday’s schedule begins with Zebre welcoming the Bulls to Parma, and Leinster have an afternoon kick-off time for the visit of Edinburgh the RDS Arena.
Ireland internationals Jack Conan, Ryan Baird and Joe McCarthy are back in training with Leo Cullen’s charges, but experienced scrum half Luke McGrath is unfortunately expected to be out for two months with a knee ligament injury.
Leinster centre Jamie Osborne commented; “If you look at Edinburgh this week, they have so many Scottish internationals back playing for them, it will be such a big test. They are two from two so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Reigning champions Munster, whose main injury concern is Joey Carbery (wrist), grace Musgrave Park for the first time in competitive action this season, entertaining the Dragons after a late rally earned them a 13-all draw with Benetton last weekend.
The Dragons beat Munster 23-17 at Rodney Parade at the beginning of last season, but their only victory on Munster soil to date was at Thomond Park way back in March 2004.
Munster centre Antoine Frisch is keen to put last week’s patchy performance in Treviso behind them, saying: “I’m not too sure what happened but we didn’t really do what we wanted to do. We didn’t really turn up in that first half.
“Don’t know if it was the journey or not, no excuses. But we had a few inaccuracies as well that sort of let us down. We’ll just take all the positives from that second half and kick on this weekend.
“It’s a better start than last year (with a win and a draw), isn’t it? Only two games in so it’s early doors but Dragons again on the weekend so hopefully get the win and get momentum from that.”
Elsewhere, the Scarlets return from two heavy losses in South Africa to host Welsh rivals Cardiff, and the only fixture on Sunday will see eighth-placed Benetton battle it out with the Emirates Lions.
BKT UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 3 FIXTURES:
Friday, November 3 –
Glasgow Warriors (7th) v DHL Stormers (1st), Scotstoun Stadium, 7.35pm (URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/SuperSport)
Ospreys (9th) v Hollywoodbets Sharks (15th), Twickenham Stoop, 7.35pm (BBC Two Wales/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/SuperSport)
Saturday, November 4 –
Zebre Parma (12th) v Vodacom Bulls (6th), Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 2pm local time (Sky Sport Italia/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/SuperSport)
LEINSTER (11th) v Edinburgh (4th), the RDS, 3.05pm (RTÉ 2/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports 2/SuperSport) – click here to buy tickets
MUNSTER (5th) v Dragons (14th), Musgrave Park, 5.15pm (RTÉ 2/S4C/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport) – click here to buy tickets
Scarlets (16th) v Cardiff (10th), Parc y Scarlets, 5.15pm (URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/SuperSport)
CONNACHT (2nd) v ULSTER (3rd), the Sportsground, 7.35pm (TG4/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport) – click here to buy tickets
Sunday, November 5 –
Benetton Rugby (8th) v Emirates Lions (13th), Stadio di Monigo, 2.30pm local time (Sky Sport Italia/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/SuperSport)