When Stuart Barnes on Sky mentioned that it would take a long time for Saints to get over the trauma of having been derailed so dramatically by Leinster he didn’t realise they were back on track for another collision – in August. Perfect timing or what?
We don’t normally get over excited about the pre-season schedule for the provinces – and this summer Ireland will be dominating that month ahead of the World Cup – but this match-up has a certain appeal.
It was interesting to see the English RFU shift the goalposts last week on the salary cap in so far as each Premiership club next season will be allowed one player who falls outside that limit. The absence of a bench undermined Saints’ effort in the Heineken Cup final. They are a well-supported club and will be leading the charge for a marquee name to add to what is a thin squad.
Leinster’s other pre-season warm-up – the Melbourne Rebels – will draw a few punters to Donnybrook as well. It’s the first time in Dublin we’ll get to see one of the newer arrivals in Super rugby, though international demands mean that both Saints and the Rebels will be without their Test stars (hardly a great handicap for the Aussies for whom the likes of Adam Freir, Sam Cordingley and Stirling Mortlock are past their international sell-by).
Incredibly it seems Danny Cipriani will be with them – what’s hard to fathom is that he hasn’t been turfed yet, and that a player of his talent has managed to put himself so far out of Martin Johnson’s orbit that he has zero chance of making England’s World Cup squad.
Remember the version of Cipriani that tore Ireland apart in Twickenham in 2008? True, it was an Ireland that hadn’t recovered from the grief of the 2007 World Cup, and were about to lose their coach, but if that was the benchmark for the outhalf then what has passed since Down Under has been bottom of the barrel stuff.
He is quoted this week on the lines that a spin with Toulon in the autumn would be great to get him in shape for the restart of the Super 15 in February. What would be better still – if he plans on seeing out his second year in Melbourne – would be a little less clubbing and a lot more tackling. Winning over his teammates there will be a huge mental challenge for a player who hasn’t shown much steel in that department.
Leinster will not be heading to the sun to prepare for these August games as was the case under Michael Cheika. Munster however will take in a few days in the lovely French resort of La Rochelle before coming back to play Wasps in Cork and London Irish in Limerick.
Connacht have three games on their schedule: Exeter (13th), Ireland (19th) and Saracens (26th). The Ireland game has been dropped in to give Declan Kidney a chance to give game time to his list of injured players who have missed so much time this season, which is a worrying issue for him.
Ulster will head to France for a few days early in the month to play Bayonne, before playing Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins in Ravenhill on the 26th.