Anyone that has clicked on our ‘Magners League’ link on the left hand side would have noticed a growing sense of irony. Until now, all that appears in the category is an article entitled ‘Magners League: we will not forget you this year’. And since then…nothing. Thankfully, that is about to change as we introduce Denis Brennan’s debut article…
Well, it’s about the halfway point in the Magners League, ten down and eight to go. Unlike the English Premiership, this Celtic league doesn’t play on international weekends but the action returns this weekend, albeit without the international stars.
The presence of these stars, particularly for the Irish provinces has been one of the big plus points of this season. Too often in the past, the likes of O’Driscoll, O’Connell and their ilk featured rarely in the league, saved for the Heineken Cup and international duty. But this season they’ve featured and it’s no surprise to see Munster heading the league with Leinster on the same points as the Ospreys in joint second.
What may perhaps be a surprise is that Scarlets lie just three points behind them despite having endured a horrible few months. Recent weeks have shown a welcome return to form and also to fitness as missing players reappear.
On Saturday, Scarlets host Leinster in the game of the round as Glasgow Warriors travel to Cardiff, Munster entertain Edinburgh in Cork not Limerick, the Ospreys are at home to Connacht and Ulster visit the Newport Gwent Dragons.
My predictions are for five home wins, Scarlets being less affected by international calls than their Irish visitors and their form of recent weeks likely to give them the edge. Try count here is crucial as denying a bonus point to Leinster would see Scarlets leapfrog them into outright third place.
The anomaly of the season to date has been Cardiff Blues inability to show any of their stunning European form in the league and they languish second bottom one point ahead of perennial losers Connacht and four behind the Dragons whose own form in recent weeks has been much better. It wouldn’t be a great shock to see Glasgow pull of a win at the Arms Park with both sides severely affected by international call-ups.
The decision of the Irish provinces to field their international players has also paid dividends in excellent crowds in Thomond Park and Leinster’s home, the Royal Dublin Showgrounds. Thomond had 25,000 for the Ulster visit and like Dublin’s RDS, regularly gets attendances in the high teens. Crowds are more of a worry in Wales where new stadiums are becoming the order of the day so it will be interesting to keep an eye on the finances as well as the games, especially as we know that talks are ongoing about the possible introduction of Italian clubs, with everything that entails in terms of travel.
For those in England who are interested BBC Wales and S4C cover all the home Welsh games and these channels are freely available to any Sky subscriber (the red button allows you to have English commentary on S4C). For the other games, you’ll have to subscribe to Setanta Sports.
I plan to report weekly on Magners League events so you can check in after the weekend to see if I can actually be relied upon to forecast anything!
By Denis Brennan