By Brendan Cole
Glasgow v Leinster
Leinster have had a curious opening to their RaboDirect Pro12 season, getting off to a terrible start before before running out easy winners against Llanelli in week one. The pattern was reversed the following week, with Leinster getting off to a flyer before scrambling a draw against Ospreys.
And while they sliced the Ospreys open on a couple of occasions in that match, and outmuscled them up the middle for a try in the second, there was a lot of mediocre play alongside those purple patches.
The negatives were the re-emergence of an old tendency to concede penalties while attempting ill-advised turnovers, a generally less sophisticated attack and difficulties when the Ospreys wheeled out their big guns in the tight five in the second half.
Mike McCarthy was signed to bolster their toughness in the tight five, but the former blindside’s specialty is the well-timed big-hit at first receiver.
Leinster remain vulnerable against big, rumbling forwards in the close exchanges.
In attack, Jimmy Gopperth has been eye-catching at out-half and has great skills and a creative mind, but he has yet to show he has Jonny Sexton’s ability to bring the best out of his centres, full-back and wings. Sexton's laser-like accurate passing has been missed at times.
There is an assumption that Ian Madigan will be given a shot at the out-half jersey in due course, but the trend so far suggests that Gopperth is new coach Matt O’Connor’s man, at least for now.
The challenge steps up this week. Along with Ulster, Glasgow have been the biggest improvers of the League in the last couple of years.
Their two wins from two start to the season, including a smash and grab win at fortress Ravenhill last week, indicates they are in good health at this stage of the season.
They have also lost experienced centre Graeme Morrison to retirement and back-rower John Barclay, who moved to the Llanelli Scarlets while influential Scotland international second row Al Kellock is out injured.
They do have Chris Cusiter is back at scrum-half back for his first start in almost after a year-long struggle with injury, while new recruit Richie Vernon looks a well-suited addition at number eight.
Out wide, Stuart Hogg is a huge danger from full-back while Sean Lamont brings a confrontational edge to his carrying. The idea will be to run Leinster ragged, keeping the ball up off the deck as much as possible and seeking to offload as often as possible.
Leinster’s defence and discipline will be tested, and the ability of McCarthy and Kevin McLaughlin to make well-timed impact tackles could be key.
For their part, the Leinster selection looks capable of playing a tighter game with Isaac Boss starting at nine. Leinster may not quite be at their strongest, but even so it promises to be a tight contest.
Glasgow may just shade it in front of a packed house at Scotstoun.
Benetton Treviso v Munster
Munster have gotten off to a flyer, recording two bonus-point wins to top the table on 10 points. Their victories have been against the two weakest teams in the League, and while Munster have run up impressive totals, they conceded over 20 points to both Edinburgh and Zebre.
The challenge steps up slightly over the next two weekends, with Benetton Treviso and Newport-Gwent Dragons providing the opposition before the big October 5 derby against Leinster.
Ultimately, the fixture list has given Munster matches against the four weakest teams in the League from weeks one to four and with a fair wind, they could conceivably finish the first month with maximum points.
That said, Treviso deserve plenty of respect on home turf and Munster have strengthened their team accordingly, bringing Simon Zebo, James Downey and Peter O’Mahony into the starting XV. Donnacha Ryan and James Coughlan are imposing forwards in the back-five of the scrum, while CJ Stander has huge pace and a proven ability to impact games off the bench.
Keith Earls, Casey Laulala and Zebo represent a genuine strike-running threat in the backs.
The two potential problem areas are in the front row and at half-back. The Treviso tight five does not contain big names, but they are experienced and Munster can expect them to bring pride and attitude at scrum time.
At scrum-half, Duncan Williams has an opportunity to impress with Conor Murray still held in reserve.
The 27-year-old is a strong all-rounder but does not always look comfortable providing quick service from the back of the ruck. That said, with conditions expected to be good and behind a pack full of strong carriers, he and Ian Keatley should be able to do just that.
If Stephen Archer can also lead a solid effort in the scrum, that should provide enough of a platform for Munster’s quality in the backline and back-row to drive the team on to victory.
RaboDirect Pro12 Predictions:
Glasgow 19-13 Leinster
Benetton Treviso 11-25 Munster