Heenan boost for Lam but history is against Connacht in Llanelli
On the basis that points earned during the Six Nations have the same value as those scooped up when the international window is closed, this afternoon's Guinness Pro12 games will be full-on affairs.
There may still be a vital ingredient missing in this league but the race to get aboard the bus into the Champions Cup at least ensures that most clubs will keep running into the last lap.
And that's the theme certainly for Scarlets today (12.45pm, S4C). Having lost in Galway in November they are making noise about this afternoon being a season-defining game for them. Not a great time then to have - between international duty and injuries - a whopping 18 players out of the selection process.
Even so it's a reasonable looking line-up and their home record in this fixture is forbidding: the last time Connacht avoided defeat in Llanelli was 2004, a time when the home team were in Stradey Park, when a last-minute penalty from Eric Elwood got them a draw. Incidentally, the only survivor in the Connacht ranks from then is Michael Swift, who has slipped out of the front line.
For today that vanguard is enhanced by the return from long-term injury of flanker Jake Heenan, and the presence at scrumhalf of Kieran Marmion to partner Jack Carty. If you thought Marmion might have worked his way up to number three in the national pecking order, which would have earned him a bench spot yesterday with Eoin Reddan out of the picture, then that certainly was the plan for tighthead Nathan White.
Joe Schmidt ideally would have used the Kiwi in November, but for his torn bicep, so this is a big game for him this afternoon where a win would put at least seven points between the teams.
For Leinster, minus 12 from yesterday's business with France, they face a Dragons team (3.0pm) with just three league wins this season, and no wins at all in Dublin since the league started. A bonus point then should be the target for Matt O'Connor's side whose target has to be a home draw in the knockouts.
In the bigger picture, Schmidt will be tuning in to see the form of returnees Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden, with Luke Fitzgerald on the bench.
The bonus would have been to see Rhys Ruddock also back in action, after breaking his arm in December, but that will have to wait.
Scarlets: J Williams; H Robinson, R King, H Parkes, M Tagiicakibau; S Shingler, A Davies; P John, K Owens (capt), P Edwards, L Rawlins, J Snyman, A Shingler, J Barclay, J Davies. Replacements: R Elias, B Leung, J Adriaanse, G Earle, R McCusker, G Davies, A Warren, K Phillips.
Connacht: D Leader; N Adeolokun, D Poolman, D McSharry, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, N White, Q Roux, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (capt), G Naoupu, J Heenan. Replacements: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, R Ah You, U Dillane, E Masterson, I Porter, S O'Leary, T O'Halloran
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)
Leinster: D Kearney; F McFadden, B Te'o, N Reid, D Fanning; J Gopperth, L McGrath; M Bent, R Strauss, T Furlong, T Denton, K Douglas, D Ryan, J Conan, S Jennings (capt). Replacements: A Dundon, P Dooley, J Hagan, M McCarthy, J van der Flier, J Cooney, C Marsh, L Fitzgerald.
Dragons: J Tovey; T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos; D Jones, J Evans; O Evans, T Rhys Thomas, B Harris, A Coombs, R Landman (capt), J Thomas, N Crossell, N Cudd. Replacements: R Buckley, B Stankovich, D Way, I Gough, J Benjamin, R Rees, A Smith, M Pewtner.
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales)
Sunday Indo Sport