Alex Waller v Martin Moore
This will be an intriguing contest between two props that have stormed from relative obscurity into everyone’s consciousness this season. Waller has filled the Corbisiero-shaped hole in the Northampton front row with admirable aplomb, while Moore was preferred to Mike Ross in Leinster’s season-defining game against the Ospreys last weekend and helped to demolish a Lions-infused Welsh outfit. Now out of their comfort zones and playing with players they are not used to, it will be intriguing to see who adapts quickest – you suspect that Waller has some way to go before he makes the step up to the full international squad (considering the list of names that are ahead of him), but for Moore, this could well be an audition for a Six Nations squad spot.
Luke Wallace v Tommy O’Donnell
The battle of the back-row can often go a long way to deciding the outcome of a game, and Saturday is likely to be no different. Wallace is a breakdown specialist, and loves doing the dirty work, and while O’Donnell is perfectly proficient in that area his ability as a ball carrier does overshadow it somewhat. While it would take a fair few injuries for Wallace to gain inclusion in the senior squad this Six Nations, the injury to Sean O’Brien means O’Donnell will be using this as a chance to show Joe Schmidt that he is the man to fill the Tullow Tank’s shoes, as opposed to Ulster’s Chris Henry.
Dave Ewers v Robin Copeland
These two are no strangers to each other after facing off in the Exeter v Cardiff Heineken Cup games this season. Copeland’s is a brilliant story, reinventing himself at Cardiff after previously being deemed surplus to requirements in Ireland, to storm into the second string international squad. Ewers, aged just 23, is at the other end of his career, but anyone who has watched the Premiership this season will tell you how dangerous he has been. Both powerful ball carriers, whoever crashes over the gainline more often will dictate which exciting set of backs has more time and opportunity to create chances.
Freddie Burns v Ian Madigan
This is a hell of a match-up, featuring probably two of the most skilful players in Northern Hemisphere rugby right now. Both, however, have found themselves warming the bench at club level more often than they would like this season, and so this is a fantastic opportunity to show the international selectors that they are worthy of inclusion in the Six Nations – and there is a real chance that will happen. If both throw caution to the wind and decide to open the game up in a bid to show off their talents, we could be in for quite a spectacle. Of course, much will depend on whose pack has the upper hand, but expect some moments of magic from both of them anyway.
Anthony Watson v Craig Gilroy
Two brilliant finishers and broken-play runners, Watson and Gilroy’s strengths lay in different areas. Watson is a powerful player, although he does have a menacing sidestep and plenty of pace to burn. Gilroy, due to his more diminutive stature, likes to dart and duck his way through defences – something he does to great effect (just ask Munster). If allowed time and space by the men inside them, or thanks to poor kicking, they both have the potential to carve a path to the try line and, like the two above, will both be looking to push for a place in the Six Nations proper.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images