Cold snap may play havoc with fixtures
THE Magners League could face some severe disruption this weekend because of the extreme weather.
With the addition of the Italian teams to the competition the schedule is much tighter this year, meaning cancellations would disrupt an already busy fixture-list.
However, with airport closures affecting teams' travel and the weather threatening most Irish pitches, some rescheduling will almost certainly be unavoidable.
The All-Ireland League programme is also under serious threat, with a decision about those games due to made at lunchtime today.
Below we look at the prospects for the Magners League matches involving Irish teams.
Connacht v Aironi ,
Galway has been hit with snow, but it has suffered less than the east coast and the Sportsground will undergo an inspection this morning in order to give the Italian visitors as much notice as possible.
Aironi are due to depart from a frozen Parma this afternoon, but would be spared much of the cost if the match was called off early.
A number of flights out of the Italian airports were cancelled yesterday and a repeat would put the fixture in jeopardy.
Even sunshine in the west failed to thaw the ice at the venue yesterday and with snow forecast tonight, the prospects look glum.
However, rain is due tomorrow morning and could lead to a thaw that would allow the clash to go ahead.
Connacht called off their match against Leinster last January because the area around the stadium was too dangerous for fans.
Any decision on tomorrow's match will again be taken with the supporters' safety in mind.
One event definitely going ahead as planned tomorrow afternoon is Connacht's big announcement on their future plan -- even if the IRFU blazers have to take the train west.
Scarlets v Leinster,
Parc y Scarlets, 7.05
Llanelli has escaped relatively unscathed this week, meaning this fixture will go ahead as long as the Leinster squad can make it across the Irish Sea.
The undersoil heating has been turned on at Parc y Scarlets, but after Aer Lingus cancelled some flights between Dublin and Cardiff yesterday, the Irish province's ability to travel is in doubt.
Leinster were planning on flying today and will spend the afternoon refreshing the relevant websites for information. With a difficult trip to Clermont Auvergne coming up next weekend, the province are also concerned about their chances of getting out of Wales in order to prepare for the back-to-back clashes with the French champions.
Already hampered by injuries to his squad, logistical problems are the last thing coach Joe Schmidt needs ahead of three crucial weeks that could define his first season in charge.
His players have not been able to train out of doors this week as the all-weather pitch at UCD failed to live up to its name and Schmidt admitted the week's preparation was not ideal.
"It is impossible to get out training," he lamented.
"There is no indoor facility available, so it means we are restricted to planning and unable to do any physical preparation ahead of the Scarlets match."
Ulster v Dragons,
Ulster's players were brought in to train on the Ravenhill pitch yesterday in an attempt to loosen up the soil before the frost covers went on in anticipation of the visit of the struggling Dragons.
The surface -- described yesterday as firm, but able to take a stud -- will undergo an inspection today in order to prevent visitors making the trip unnecessarily.
With the snow having largely avoided the area this week (a light fall is forecast for today), the province are cautiously optimistic of the match going ahead.
They will bring in a gritting machine today and tomorrow to ensure the walkways to the south Belfast venue will be manageable for fans, but without undersoil heating there is a risk the match might not go ahead.
Ulster's training has gone ahead, despite regular training pitch Newforge being unplayable, as they were able to use the facilities at University of Ulster, Jordanstown.
Munster v Cardiff Blues,
Thomond Park, 5.0
The hosts announced yesterday that they have brought their kick-off time forward from 7.30 in order to ensure the match goes ahead.
But with no snow forecast in Limerick for the rest of the week, the province are confident they won't have any problems with the fixture.
Munster coach Tony McGahan has had to move their training from the University of Limerick to Garryowen's Dooradoyle venue, but they have been able to train in full.
The Blues will travel tomorrow morning and envisage no problems with their journey, despite problems at Cardiff Airport this week.