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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.
Leinster to bounce back
Itâ€™s a bit early to call it a crisis, but three games into the season, Leinster are looking a bit flat and in need of inspiration. Like the rest of the provinces, the Blues will be without their Irish internationals for the November tests and the Six Nations, while the Heineken Cup is also likely to be a further strain on playing resources. With that in mind, Joe Schmidtâ€™s side need to pick up form - and quickly - and the need to do so seems to be reflected in Schmidtâ€™s team selection for this weekend.
Although he has continued to chop and change in the backline, with Cian Healy and Jamie Heaslip on the bench and Devin Toner handed his first start of the season, the backline of Kearney, Horgan, Oâ€™Driscoll, Dâ€™Arcy, Fitzgerald, Sexton and Reddan is, Isa Nacewa excluded, as strong as Leinster will have this year.
Leinsterâ€™s opening Heineken Cup tie is only a fortnight away and it will be important for Schmidt to establish some consistency and continuity in his team selections going into a group containing his former employers Clermont Auvergne, Racing Metro and Saracens, arguably the toughest pool in the competition.
It is good for Schmidt and Leinster that this weekend they will come up against an Edinburgh side struggling for form following three losses in their opening three fixtures. With some experienced figures restored to the starting line-up, Leinster should be good enough to come away from Murrayfield with a victory.
Last week, we advised you to look out for Andrew Trimbleâ€™s return to the Ulster colours and the winger duly delivered with a try within two minutes of the opening whistle against Edinburgh at Ravenhill. In what is something of a golden age for wingers in Irish Rugby, yet another option has emerged for Declan Kidney in recent weeks.
Fionn Carr has been outstanding for Connacht this season
It would be harsh of us to say that Fionn Carr has suddenly come of age following his scintillating displays in the Magners League this season, for he had already displayed plenty of signs of his potential since arriving in Galway two seasons ago.
Last year, for example, he was joint top try scorer in the Magners League, a position he also holds this season along with Edinburghâ€™s Tim Visser, with both players having scored four tries in the competition. Carr is blessed with blistering pace and a wicked sidestep and if he maintains his current form, is in with a great chance of being in Declan Kidneyâ€™s Irish squad for the November internationals.
Paddy Wallace at 10. Necessary?
Providing that Ian Witten recovers from a dead leg to start for Ulster against Connacht this weekend, Paddy Wallace will start at out-half at the request of the Irish management, who have asked that Wallace be played in the number ten position in three matches before Christmas.
It is an interesting request from Declan Kidney and company, considering that Wallace went a long way to establishing himself as first choice inside centre during the summer tour of the southern hemisphere. He is an extremely versatile performer and is very capable of playing fly-half, but barring injury or a disastrous loss of form, it would seem that one of Jonny Sexton or Ronan Oâ€™Gara (probably Sexton) will be the first choice at number ten with the other as back up in the November tests, the Six Nations and even the World Cup next year.
There is a similar situation at Ulster, with Wallace only likely to be played out-half in the absence of Niall Oâ€™Connor or Ian Humphreys. Wallace playing in the position hardly seems necessary then, while it may also be damaging to his prospects of securing a place beside Brian Oâ€™Driscoll in the centre for Ireland on a more long-term basis.