Round 5 brings the first interprovincial games of the season. This marks the start of the serious competitive rugby with a lot of rivalry and personal battles to ensure players aren’t looking after themselves ahead of European action in two weeks’ time.
With the return of internationals such as Keith Earls, Niall Scannell, Iain Henderson, Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale we should be getting closer to seeing the strongest 23 available to all coaches over the next fortnight.
These players will feel like everyone else is getting an opportunity ahead of them since the season started and they’ll be eager to return. Momentum is key to a player’s performance and European games will offer another opportunity to impress the Irish management in a World Cup year.
The IRFU will still be managing a few players, I’m not sure we’ll see Jonathan Sexton gracing the Sportsground but selection should start to settle down and form can be analysed that bit better.
It’s a funny time of year for opposition doing their own analysis because you’re still not sure what team will be put out against you. Sometimes a gameplan will have particular set-piece plays or kicking strategies based on an opposition player's strengths, weaknesses or personal traits.
Leinster will be looking to settle a score from last season. Whether they care about John Muldoon’s conversion or not, they will be hurting from losing 47-10 last season in Galway. That’s not something Leinster do too often, I wouldn’t expect to see it again.
Connacht have been in good form with a narrow loss to Glasgow in the first round. They’re coming off the back of a great win at home to Scarlets, which will give them confidence going into this weekend.
Lining out for their fourth home game in a month will bring a sense of momentum to their preparation. The routine will be familiar and they will be in the comforts of their home town.
Connacht have won three of the last five games against Leinster in Galway, which shows you how hard it is to get a result there. The Sportsground isn’t an easy place to go. Conditions can be tough and the crowd get behind their team really well.
That will go a long way towards stopping what looks like the most dangerous attack of the Irish teams. Leinster have been very exciting, especially when they unleash their well-rehearsed trick plays, but it’s speed that they can punish you with if you lose your concentration for that brief 10-minute period.
Shutting down that ruthless Leinster attack early on is going to be key if Connacht are to stay in the fight and make it the close affair that we are expecting.
It almost seems like déjà vu for Munster fans after a poor loss to a hurting Cardiff side. We saw what they did to Ospreys after a similar performance away to Glasgow but that Ospreys side weren’t up to scratch.
Munster have a tendency to punish teams the week after such poor defensive efforts especially when they get to return to Thomond Park. Having lost only one game at home since February 2017 they won’t be giving this one up too easily two weeks out from Europe.
Joey Carbery will be relishing the opportunity to link up with someone of Earls’ quality as the detailed cues that wingers give to an out-half can be a huge help in the decision-making process
I would expect to see the return of Keith Earls which will give them another spark in attack but also offers an experienced head in a youthful back line.
Joey Carbery will be relishing the opportunity to link up with someone of Earls’ quality. The detailed cues that wingers give to an out-half can be a huge help in the decision-making process.
Ulster have started the season quite well and remain unbeaten but they haven’t won in Thomond Park since 2014. They have also suffered a couple of injuries from their recent trip to South Africa.
I’m not sure how much that will impact their fatigue levels because those games were only introduced last year and I haven’t experienced it first-hand. It didn’t seem to do Munster any favours against Racing last year. It could also develop a camaraderie in the group that early in the season but only time will tell.
John Cooney has recovered from a head knock during the tour but it comes with a big cost. Henry Speight, Jordi Murphy, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Marcell Coetzee and Sean Reidy have all been ruled out.
From an Ulster point of view you’d hope they can rely on their international players returning for the Thomond Park clash to strengthen their team. Leaders make a massive difference to a team and especially away from home.
Ulster haven’t beaten an Irish team away from home since Connacht at the end of 2015. I find it hard to see them rectifying that this weekend. Leinster should also be too strong for Connacht but I’d expect it to be close if the hosts can start well.
Personally, I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of rugby. It will show us where teams truly stand and the Heineken Champions Cup is always special.
Read Jonny's column every Friday on RTÉ.ie and the News Now app.