Munster happy to escape the big chill
While most of you are concerned about getting back under the covers because of the weather, or the amount you put down your neck to take your mind off the weather, you would imagine Munster want to escape for other reasons.
Like the combination in the space of a few days of losing to the Ospreys and then having their Christmas party end up in the national media. And to cap it off Paul O'Connell's appeal gets chucked out.
Then along comes a spin up the road to Galway tomorrow where the game will go ahead in what we fully expect to be classic western weather. Maybe it's for the best, this opportunity to get back on the field and make a positive statement about an organisation that is now perceived as having a problem with discipline, in the way that Doug Howlett struggles with nights out.
At this time of year in fact it's an opportunity for those who have a problem getting into the team.
In the corresponding fixture last year, Ronan O'Gara and Denis Hurley were the exceptions, the only players backing up from the bonus-point demolition of Perpignan in Stade Aime Giral the previous week. Munster are some distance from that form currently, but then they were under the cosh going to Perpignan back then and delivered spectacularly. This time they will be looking to fewer of the support crew -- who hammered Connacht a year ago in Thomond -- to refloat the boat in Galway.
It will be interesting to see how Connacht respond to their latest setback -- the injury to John Muldoon on top of the news of the departing trio -- but you can only hope it's positive given the trip to Dublin on Saturday. True, their results have taken a slide since the terrific start to the season but under Eric Elwood they are playing infinitely better rugby than compared to the previous management.
Up north, Ulster, having saved their season, are looking to make Leinster another notch on their bedpost. The lavish praise heaped on Joe Schmidt's breakaway unit hasn't gone unnoticed in Ravenhill.
"Leinster and their back row are playing brilliant rugby at the moment," says Robbie Diack "To go to Clermont and get a losing bonus point and then beat them at home last weekend, they're all going to be on top form. It's going to be a huge battle for all of us, especially in the loose forward department. I'm very excited to go up against them and hopefully I can perform."
Since that awesome win in the Aviva, Leinster have been picking holes in their second-half display that day, and the excellent Nathan Hines -- one of the best recruits ever to this country -- is settling on their return out of touch.
"We need to make sure our lineout is more effective than last weekend and that's an ongoing area for improvement that you want to sharpen because you're always looking to give good quality ball to the backs and lay a platform," he says. "Apart from that, we just want to make small improvements in every aspect of our play and keep progressing."
Connacht: I Keatley; D Fanning, N Ta'auso, K Matthews, F Carr; M Nikora, C Willis; R Sweeney, S Cronin, J Hagan, M Swift, M McCarthy, A Browne, E Taylor, J O'Connor. Replacements: A Flavin, B Fa'amausili, D Rogers, B Upton, M McComish, F Murphy.
Munster: P Warwick; B Murphy, T Gleeson, L Mafi, D Hurley; R O'Gara, P Stringer; W du Preez, M Sherry, P Borlase; D Ryan, I Nagle; A Quinlan, N Ronan, P Butler. Replacements: S Henry, Dave Ryan, J Hayes; B Holland, T O'Donnell, C Murray, J Murphy, S Deasy.
Ulster: A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, N Spence, I Whitten, S Danielli; N O'Connor, R Pienaar; P McAllister, N Brady, BJ Botha, J Muller, D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, C Henry, R Diack. Replacements: A Kyriacou, D Fitzpatrick, B Young, T Barker, W Faloon, P Marshall, L Marshall, T Seymour.
Leinster: Not available.
Sunday Indo Sport