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Magners League: Three things to watch
Ahead of another weekend of Magners League action, JOE picks out three things to look out for in the games involving the Irish provinces.
The return of Andrew Trimble
In what was an extremely disappointing summer tour of the southern hemisphere, one of the major positives was the performances of Andrew Trimble, who was one of the few players to come home from the tour with his head held high.
Against New Zealand and Australia, Trimble showed a return to form that marked him out as such a precocious talent a few years back and showed that he has added a little more finesse to add to his power and pace, which had always been his hallmarks.
Trimble has made a quicker than expected return from a finger injury sustained on the tour and has been named in the Ulster side to face Edinburgh on Friday evening. A versatile performer who is comfortable on the wing or in the centre, it will be interesting to see if Trimble can carry his form into this season, both for province and for country.
Playing for as strong an Ulster side as there has been for years will help him no end and a Trimble at the top of his game, along with a fit-again Luke Fitzgerald, will add to the wealth of backline options at Declan Kidneyâ€™s disposal, a welcome development with the World Cup only around the corner.
Ian Madiganâ€™s performance against Benetton Treviso
Ahead of last weekendâ€™s clash with the Cardiff Blues, Leinster fans were looking forward to the sight of Jonny Sextonâ€™s first competitive appearance this season. Unfortunately, Sexton was ruled out prior to kick-off with a quad injury, but Joe Schmidt resisted the easy option to slot the versatile Isa Nacewa in at out-half and instead put his faith in youngster Ian Madigan to fill the pivotal fly-half berth.
Schmidt was rewarded on two fronts. Firstly, Nacewa delivered a man-of the match performance from the wing, scoring 19 points including a try, and looked far more at home than he did when donning the number 10 shirt against Glasgow a week earlier.
Ian Madigan was impressive against Cardiff Blues last weekend
Perhaps more encouraging, however, was Madiganâ€™s display. The 21-year old looked lively throughout and was rewarded for an accomplished performance with an excellent try at the death, where he gave a glimpse of the pace and skill that could see him figure more prominently in the future.
Despite running Leinster close, however, Cardiff were hardly firing on all cylinders and having been given the nod to start against Treviso, Madigan will no doubt be targeted by the Italians, who have already accounted for Llanelli Scarlets at Stadio di Monigo this season. It will be serious test of Madiganâ€™s temperament and if he can emerge unscathed, it will do his reputation no harm at all.
Munster looking to re-establish fortress Thomond
Saturday nightâ€™s clash with the Ospreys will be the first time Munster play competitively in Thomond Park this season, having defeated newcomers Aironi in Musgrave Park a fortnight ago. It may seem like a meaningless statistic at this early stage of the season, but Tony McGahanâ€™s side have lost the last two Magners League games on the ground - against Leinster and the Ospreys in the latter stages of the competition last season.
A number of players and coaches, Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley and Cardiff Blues coach Dai Young to name two, have spoken in recent times of how the aura the Irish provinces, particularly Munster, had when playing on their home patch has diminished of late. As a result, rightly or wrongly, travelling teams do not have the same fear factor coming to Limerick and Dublin and to a lesser extent, Belfast and Galway as they once had.
To Munster, however, the suggestion that they have gone soft in their own back yard is fighting talk and they will relish the chance to stuff words like that down the throat of whoever would dare utter them. Thomond Park is still the most intimidating place to play in Europe and Munster will be determined to show that it will be the case once again this season, when home form will be particularly important in a tricky Heineken Cup pool including Ospreys, London Irish and Toulon.
Munster's clash with the Ospreys is the game of the weekend in the competition and offers McGahanâ€™s men the perfect opportunity to lay down a marker that they will not be messed with on their own turf this campaign.