ONE IRISH PROVINCE contested the final game of the last rugby season but three are in action this weekend as we say a refreshed, Olympics distracted, hello to a new campaign.
There has been a winning start for the other province, Ulster, after new coach Mark Anscombe witnessed lock Neil McComb race clear for the decisive try against Bayonne.
Ulster trailed 12-3 at the break against the French Top 14 side before scrum-half Michael Heaney contributed with a well-taken try.
Niall O’Connor, fresh back from a stint at Connacht, edged his side ahead with a penalty, which was eclipsed before McComb’s late intervention and an O’Connor conversion made it 20-15.
Next up, Munster
Munster face off against La Rochelle on Friday evening at 7.30pm.
The game will be keenly contested, and feature starts for Doug Howlett and James Downey, but has been hamstrung somewhat by the fact that the second have will be played in two 20-minute segments and will involve a raft of replacements.
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett, Danny Barnes, James Downey, Luke O’Dea; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Ger Slattery, Stephen Archer; Billy Holland, Brian Hayes; Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.
European champions Leinster, who lost that season finale to Ospreys in the Pro12 Final, take on Gloucester from 5pm, Saturday, at Tallaght Stadium.
Shane Jennings will lead a side that includes the talented Ian Madigan and promising talents such as Jack McGrath and John Cooney.
Ticket sales for Saturday’s game have passed the 5,300 mark but many more will be available for purchase, at the West Stand, from 2pm onwards.
LEINSTER: Darren Hudson; Andrew Boyle, Collie O’Shea, Noel Reid, Fionn Carr; Ian Madigan, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Aaron Dundon, Jamie Hagan; Damian Browne, Tom Denton; Ben Marshall, Shane Jennings (captain), Leo Auva’a.
Connacht are away from home for their first taste of 2012/13 action. They play Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park from 2pm on Saturday.
Tiernan O’Halloran, who performed with distinction on the wing last season, starts at full-back while Fetu’u Vainikolo will hope to stake his claim for a backline spot with a strong showing on the left wing.
Adrian Flavin (hooker), Michael Swift (lock) and Miah Nikora (fly-half) are other familiar faces in the starting line-up.
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; James Loxton, Kyle Tonetti, Brian Murphy, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Miah Nikora, Dave Moore; Finlay Bealham, Adrian Flavin, Peter Reilly; Michael Swift, David Gannon; Andrew Browne, Eoghan Grace, George Naoupu.