Irish sides must do without World Cup stars for festive inter-pros
This will be a serious strain on the resources of each province.
This weekend sees the return of the Guinness PRO14 and there are three sets of inter-provincial fixtures for Irish supporters to look forward to.
Each of these games will be well attended and Munster have already confirmed that they are bringing in extra seating for the December 28 game against Leinster. If that tie has half the fire of last season's Thomond Park encounter then fans are in for a treat.
Many of these games will be played out, however, without the Ireland players that featured in Japan at the World Cup. Such is the IRFU's player welfare programme that all of those Ireland players that are fit and active will require a two-week rest over the festive period.
While many fans would have expected each provincial coach to mix and match, it will come as a surprise that the likes of Peter O'Mahony, Iain Henderson, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose and more will only be allowed to feature in one of the three festive fixtures.
That was confirmed by Munster coach Johann van Graan after his side's Champions Cup loss to Saracens. The South African told reporters that he will only be able to use his 12 World Cup stars just once over the coming weeks.
Added to that, Munster lost Tadhg Beirne and John Ryan to injuries and Andrew Conway did not return to play after going off for a Head Injury Assessment. Munster also have the likes of Joey Carbery, Dave Kilcoyne, Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshall and Tyler Bleyendaal on the sidelines.
The provinces will now be faced with a choice - stacking the XV with internationals for a crucial fixture or spreading them out over the three games. The likelihood will be coaches focusing on the games in their PRO14 conferences. To that end, Leinster may go strong for their home game against Ulster, on Friday, while Connacht may go likewise for Saturday's visit of Munster to The Sportsground.
Ulster hooker Ron Herring flew out to Japan as a replacement for the injured Sean Cronin so he may be excluded from the designated rest period. Here are the players that are set to only feature once over the holiday period.
- Niall Scannell
- Jean Kleyn
- Peter O'Mahony
- CJ Stander
- Conor Murray
- Chris Farrell
- Keith Earls
- Andrew Conway
Injured: Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Joey Carbery
- Tadhg Furlong
- Cian Healy
- Andrew Porter
- James Ryan
- Rhys Ruddock
- Josh van der Flier
- Luke McGrath
- Robbie Henshaw
- Garry Ringrose
- Jordan Larmour
- Rob Kearney
Injured: Sean Cronin, Jack Conan, Johnny Sexton
- Ian Henderson
- Jordi Murphy
- Jacob Stockdale
- Bundee Aki
- Jack Carty
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Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble are joined in the House of Rugby studio by Jerry Flannery to look back on all the latest Champions Cup action. Rory Best also drops in for a chat with Jerry.