This weekend’s Magners League action (and the next two rounds as well) will be heavily affected by the Autumn Internationals that will be taking place over the next few weeks. To explain the fixture schedule, there are four weeks of internationals starting next weekend, a full set of league games this week and the last week of the internationals and another round split between next week (two Scottish v Italian games) and the third international week. Scotland and Italy have no games in the first international week, hence the split in the second round of league games, so their teams will have no selection restrictions this week.
Next week’s Ireland v South Africa international has had a big impact on the Irish provinces’ teams for this weekend. The Ulster v Munster game tomorrow night will see the teams lining out with a combined 14 players missing due to their international commitments, luckily for Ulster, none of their South African players are involved in the game or they’d be doing well to field a team. As it is, Munster have suffered much more than the Northerners with 9 players missing (including 7 forwards), as well as the injured O’Connell and Flannery and they will do well to come away from Ravenhill with anything.
While it’s a pity that a big Irish derby won’t have the strongest teams available, at least both teams are in the same situation. The same can’t be said for Leinster who have 10 players in the Ireland squad. They will face off against Edinburgh who will have a full strength team, as Scotland don’t start their autumn schedule for two weeks. That said, Issac Boss and Shane Horgan have been released from the squad and Scotland’s schedule means that Nathan Hines is available and Leinster do have good depth in most positions; comparing a likely team to the line-up against Connacht last week, tight-head prop, the back row, out half and full back are the positions most likely to be weakened. Leinster are on a four-game winning streak dating back to their defeat in Edinburgh just over a month ago but that run coincided exactly with Jonny Sexton’s return to the team. This is a very tough game to call: Leinster are under-strength but they haven’t lost a regular-season league game in the RDS for over two years and I think they’ll find a way to win.
It’s a similar story in Wales with Llanelli Scarlets missing six players, Cardiff missing eight and the Ospreys have 15 players in the extended squad. Llanelli host Glasgow who blew the Ospreys away with three tries in the second half last week and with, like Edinburgh, a full team they’ll fancy their chances, especially given that they’ve won their last five games against the Scarlets.
Normally, an international week would favour the Dragons, with only two players in the Wales squad, against the Ospreys but they’ve a big injury crisis in the back line with five players injured to add to Will Harries and Aled Brew in the Wales squad. The Ospreys will be missing the bulk of their team because of the internationals so this one could go either way.
The final two games are in Italy where Aironi will have their best chance yet to pick up their first win in the Magners League when they host a seriously weakened Cardiff Blues team tomorrow. Treviso also seem to be really targeting their home game against Connacht as they fielded a very weak side in Thomond Park last week to save their top players for this game. Conacht are only missing Sean Cronin to the international squad though and should have the forward strength to compete with Treviso up front but a losing bonus point is all I see them managing.