The Magners League starts its fourth weekend of the season tomorrow and, even more than usual, it’s been a story of home dominance. Twelve of the fifteen games have been won by the home team; that’s even more than the notoriously travel sick French Top 14 (37 home wins from 49 games so far).
The three Magners League away wins went against Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aironi and that’s no fluke as they look to be among the weakest teams in the league. The decline of the Scottish teams has been marked compared to last year so far. Glasgow have shown some form beating an understrength Leinster in the first game of the season and have scope to improve with young out-half Ruaridh Jackson growing into the role after Dan Parks’ departure but Edinburgh haven’t impressed at all despite close margins in their three defeats.
The four Irish provinces have managed nine wins from twelve games collectively and occupy three of the top four positions in the table. The odd one out is something of a surprise though.
Munster and Ulster have both made strong starts with three wins out of three (weirdly against the same teams) but they’ve made hard work of some quite limited opponents. Munster’s struggles with Aironi and Edinburgh (in a particularly awful game) can be put down to their missing Irish internationals but Ulster have a serious issue at out half. Neither Niall O’Connor nor Ian Humphreys are good enough for a team with ambitions of winning the league and O’Connor’s string of missed kicks made the wins against the Scots and Italians much more fraught than they should have been.
Connacht have started well under new coach Eric Elwood. Eight tries in their three matches (the first against the Scarlets being the pick of the bunch), including a bonus point victory over the Dragons in the Sportsgrounds show a more expansive approach than in recent years. They’ve shown promising signs of getting over their habit of choking in close games too with a late win in Glasgow though they did concede a 88th minute try to lose to the Scarlets in Llanelli. Their game against Ulster on Saturday will be a very interesting test of their good form and I can see the Westerners continue their strong start with a home win.
Leinster on the other hand have (bar early periods against Glasgow and Cardiff) been awful. The disruption of a new coaching team and the same problem of unavailable internationals as Munster may explain some of the trouble but the lack of cohesion, fight and leadership against Treviso was worrying. They travel to Murrayfield tomorrow with a full strength team and, despite their poor form, should pick up an away win over a poor Edinburgh team.
The big news at the start of this season was the addition of two Italian teams, Treviso and Aironi, to the league. Both teams have been quite competitive, especially at home with the crowds quite respectable too. Their play hasn’t exactly been thrilling but solid play at home will get you a long way in this league. Treviso have won both home games and Ulster needed a second half intercept try to win in Aironi. The away games have proved more difficult with Aironi losing 49-10 in Llanelli last weekend and Treviso being well beaten by the Ospreys.
Treviso look well capable of a decent mid-table finish and have every chance of continuing their strong start at home to Cardiff tomorrow but Aironi are more likely to struggle based on their games so far and could ship a heavy beating away to the Ospreys on Saturday.
The only one of the weekend’s games I haven’t mentioned is the Scarlets’ visit to the Dragons. Both teams have been awful away from home but unbeaten at home so this looks like another home win to me.