All eyes are on round 6, and the big interprovincial derby between Leinster and Munster in particular, as another exciting weekend of BKT United Rugby Championship fare awaits.
Reigning champions Munster make the trip to the Aviva Stadium to face Leinster for the first time since last season’s memorable semi-final win. Jack Crowley’s late drop goal split the sides in dramatic fashion.
Over 45,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday night’s rematch, with doubts surrounding the involvement of Munster captain Peter O’Mahony and Jack O’Donoghue, who suffered shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively, during last week’s 10-3 win over the DHL Stormers.
Graham Rowntree’s men have been boosted by the return to training of Rugby World Cup winner Jean Kleyn. Hooker Diarmuid Barron has progressed through the return-to-play protocols and will be available for selection.
Continuing his return from a shoulder injury, Cian Healy stepped up his rehabilitation programme this week as the Leinster squad decamped to the south of the province for a gym session at SETU Carlow and an open training session at Kilkenny College.
While Ed Byrne has returned to full training and fellow prop Michael Milne is being assessed, Leinster back rower Caelan Doris said: “It’s a funny one, having been in camp with the (Munster) guys for so long. The last time I saw them was in camp at the World Cup and now we’re seeing them on the pitch in the Aviva.
“So it’s a funny one from that perspective, but all friendships and all camaraderie will be put aside for the couple of hours, for sure, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.
“Munster have certainly improved a lot over the last season and a half. They have got quality players throughout and they are really gelling as a team over the last while.
“You can see it’s coming from how they are training at a very high intensity, really improving their fitness and believing in their fitness, playing with quick ball and they have a lot of threats throughout.
“Defensively, they are very challenging to play against as well with the amount of breakdown threats they have throughout. It’s always a massive game when we play them whether it’s down there or in the Aviva.”
Munster’s 16-15 victory on their most recent visit to the Aviva last May ended a run of four straight defeats to current league leaders Leinster. The Blues have won 107 of the provinces’ previous 168 clashes, with Munster winning fifty times, and there have been eleven draws.
Munster forwards coach Andi Kyriacou commented: “Training has gone well, the players have put in a lot of work, and we know that we will have to be at one hundred percent to beat them this weekend.
“Leinster are a great outfit, they have good coaches and we know we will have to be going at full tilt for the full 80 minutes to stay in the fight.
“We will be okay (if we are missing players in the back row due to injury). The breakdown had a big part in the training this week. The tempo will have to be high and this area of the game is going to be massive.”
Connacht and Ulster, who are both in the top four at present, are also in action on Saturday. The westerners complete their short tour of South Africa against Jake White’s Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria.
Buoyed by last week’s tense 13-12 triumph over the Hollywoodbets Sharks, Connacht head to Loftus Versfeld chasing a fourth win in their last five meetings with South African opposition. The Bulls are smarting from a 31-23 loss away to Edinburgh.
Targeting a stronger collective performance this weekend, Connacht defence coach Scott Fardy said: “It was a massive win (in Durban). It’s a very difficult place to come after a long week of travel, distractions and lots of things.
“I thought the boys applied themselves really well at the start of the week. I don’t think we played our best rugby, we didn’t execute a number of things we wanted to.
“We defended bravely but not well. We came away with the victory on the back of really big moments from a number of players.”
Paying an early season visit to second-placed Glasgow Warriors, Ulster have won only twice at Scotstoun Stadium in the Championship, prevailing 22-17 in 2016 and 19-13 in 2021.
The Ulstermen’s only defeat to a Scottish team since 2019 was a 17-11 reversal at the hands of Glasgow in Scotstoun last February. Steven Kitshoff, a two-time World Cup champion with South Africa, has arrived in Belfast and could play some part in this game.
“Dan (McFarland) will make those (selection) calls in due course but it’s certainly great to have Steven on board,” acknowledged Jonny Bell, Ulster’s defence coach.
“He’s excited and looking forward to getting to know the boys and getting out on the pitch. It’s great. It’s been talked about for a long time and he’s in meetings and he’s around the place. He’s just a really humble, grounded kind of guy.”
He added: “We’re pretty pleased with where we are but you can’t rest on your laurels as you are playing a team now that are second in the log and are playing a very expansive and open game of rugby.
“Glasgow are at home and they’ve won 21 out of 22 games at Scotstoun, so it’s going to be a massive challenge but a great opportunity for us and the boys are excited about it.”
The Stormers finish their four-week tour of the North as they travel to Cardiff, while Edinburgh welcome Benetton to Hive Stadium for their third successive home match.
Like the Bulls, the Emirates Lions and the Sharks are back on home soil too to tackle Zebre Parma, who went unbeaten in the last two rounds, and the Dragons respectively. The league’s latest Welsh derby clash pits the Ospreys against the Scarlets.
BKT UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 6 FIXTURES:
Friday, November 24 –
Cardiff (12th) v DHL Stormers (9th), Cardiff Arms Park, 7.35pm (BBC Two Wales/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/SuperSport/Flo Rugby)
Edinburgh (5th) v Benetton Rugby (8th), Hive Stadium, 7.35pm (URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/Sky Italia/SuperSport/Flo Rugby)
Saturday, November 25 –
Emirates Lions (13th) v Zebre Parma (10th), Emirates Airline Park, 2.55pm local time (URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/Sky Italia/SuperSport/Flo Rugby)
Vodacom Bulls (7th) v CONNACHT (4th), Loftus Versfeld, 5pm local time/3pm Irish time (RTÉ 2/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports 2/SuperSport/Flo Rugby)
LEINSTER (1st) v MUNSTER (6th), Aviva Stadium, 6.30pm(TG4/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports 1/SuperSport/Flo Rugby) – click here to buy tickets
Hollywoodbets Sharks (16th) v Dragons (14th), Hollywoodbets Kings Park, 7.05pm local time (S4C/URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/SuperSport/Flo Rugby)
Glasgow Warriors (2nd) v ULSTER (3rd), Scotstoun Stadium, 7.35pm (URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports 2/SuperSport/Flo Rugby)
Sunday, November 26 –
Ospreys (11th) v Scarlets (15th), Swansea.com Stadium, 3pm (URC.tv/Viaplay/Premier Sports/SuperSport/Flo Rugby)