Rugby Stats: How do Irish teams fare the week after Europe?
Leinster look set to continue unbeaten streak when Irish rivalries are renewed this weekend
Munster’s John Ryan makes a break before being tackled by Paddy Jackson of Ulster: Munster were unbeaten away in matches immediately after the commencement of European fixtures during the 2012-2016 period. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The results from the opening matches in European competition this season have been reasonably kind to the Irish provinces. Leinster charged forward with two bonus point victories in the Champions Cup while Munster and Connacht are also unbeaten, the latter in the Challenge Cup.
Six wins and a draw from eight matches is a highly commendable return, better than any in the 2012-2016 five-year period and an improvement on last season’s strike-rate of five wins from eight matches.
This weekend, the Irish provinces directly renew their rivalry in the Guinness Pro14 tournament as they last did in the week preceding the first round of European competition. For the past couple of seasons, the Irish provinces have squared up immediately after the commencement of European fixtures.
As the graphic above illustrates, Leinster have won all five of their matches on the weekend in question, having played each game at their RDS base. It doesn’t matter how they fared in Europe, so for example when enduring their worst set of results – they lost to Wasps 33-6 at home and Bath 19-16 at the Recreation Ground in 2015-2016 Champions Cup – they still managed to beat Ulster the following weekend.
Munster, who face Connacht at the Sportsground on Friday night, are unbeaten on their travels over those five matches, accounting for Ulster 15-14 at the Kingspan stadium, the Cardiff Blues 28-24 at the Arms Park, and Glasgow Warriors 13-6 at Scotstoun, so they’ll be seeking to maintain that trend. In 2015 they lost 18-12 to Connacht at Thomond Park and beat Zebre (2012) at the same venue.
Ulster have lost both their interprovincial fixtures in the first match after Europe, last season to Munster at the Kingspan stadium and the previous year in a trip to the RDS in Dublin. They host Leinster in Belfast on Saturday hoping to avoid an unwelcome hat-trick. Their sequence includes home and away wins against the Newport Gwent Dragons.
Connacht lost 24-13 against Leinster at The RDS. Indeed they have faced Leinster (lost 16-13 in 2013) twice during this period in what is frankly a ridiculously difficult series of matches that included two against the Ospreys and one against Munster, exacerbated by the fact that they were all away from home.
That sequence comes to an end on Friday night when they take on Munster, the only team they have beaten in the five years in question, a prescient occasion from a Connacht perspective as it was the year they won the Pro12.
No Irish province has lost all three matches in the period under scrutiny, incorporating the European and domestic fixtures, and all four have managed at least one season when they won all three matches.
Quite apart from the points on offer it’s interesting to draw a parallel from this year’s upcoming November Test series and, specifically, Ireland’s 52-21 victory over Canada in the middle Test of three last season.
Joe Schmidt gave Irish debuts to eight players: Garry Ringrose, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, James Tracey, John Ryan, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath and Niyi Adeolokun. Seven played for their provinces in this weekend’s equivalent domestic fixture last season; the exception was Ringrose.
Indeed 20 of Ireland’s 23-man squad for the Canadian match – Ringrose, Munster’s Keith Earls and Ultan Dillane of Connacht didn’t tog out – played in the specified league game, 18 started, with Connacht duo Finlay Bealham and Kieran Marmion introduced as replacements.
The point of this roll-call is that, while the Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht coaches like to play a reasonable approximation of their strongest team in the week prior to Europe, the same is not true of the weekend after. This is because the national player management programme come into consideration and not many front-line players will see four competitive starts in succession.
So the composition of the Ireland team for next month’s middle Test against Fiji at the Aviva is likely to include a substantial number of players in this weekend’s two provincial derbies who aren’t necessarily considered first choice in a national team context and who won’t start either of the internationals against South Africa or Argentina.