Rugby Union: As the start of the autumn international series looms, a tasty weekend of action is in the offing on the domestic front.
In the Celtic League unbeaten leaders Ulster welcome struggling Edinburgh to Ravenhill ground on Friday and it would be a surprise to see the Scottish side coming away with anything after such a poor start to the season.
They have yet to get a point on the board in the European Cup and are likely low on confidence after a last Friday’s last-gasp 29-28 home defeat to Llanelli Scarlets.
Nevertheless, with 14 of the Ulster squad on international duty with Ireland, it remains to be seen how many of those players will be available for duty this weekend.
Of course, this is the situation across the board but with internationals for England and Wales stretching to four Saturdays, club squads will be extremely stretched over the next month.
Game of the weekend in the Celtic League is at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday as the Ospreys welcome an in-form Leinster.
Last week the European Cup holders made light work of the visiting Cardiff Blues as they ran in nine tries on the way to a 59-22 win.
Leinster’s only downside was an ankle injury to centre Brian O’Driscoll, which may affect his appearance in all of Ireland’s autumn encounters.
And once again, both Leinster and the Ospreys will be affected by international commitments.
In the English Premiership, bottom club Sale Sharks entertain London Irish at their new Salford home on Friday night.
Sale are yet to win in the Premiership this season and are firmly rooted to the foot of the table with just two bonus points to their credit.
However the Irish Exiles are only five points ahead of them and home advantage may motivate the Sharks to their first league win of the season.
Their poor form has seen Bryan Redpath removed from his position as director of rugby, prompting speculation about the possibility of former All Black John Mitchell joining the club.
Saturday’s action offers two stand-out fixtures, starting with Leicester’s home match against Northampton.
The Tigers have a point to prove after losing momentum and eventually losing to Gloucester in a rip-roaring rugby fixture at Kingsholm.
For their part, Gloucester seem to have discovered a new lease of life in recent years and their new coach Nigel Davies.
The former Llanelli Scarlets man has encouraged them to play with plenty of width, while with such talented three-quarters as Freddie Burns, James Simpson-Daniel and Charlie Sharples, they are sure to continue making their mark at this level.
Against Leicester their play looked incisive and varied while their defensive work was outstanding, particularly when reduced to 13 men after 10-minute suspensions to full-back Rob Cook and Kiwi scrum half Jimmy Cowan late on.
Their win takes them to third place in the Premiership above the Tigers and the Saints, although on Saturday they travel to face leaders Harlequins, in a fixture that will certainly measure Gloucester’s recent progress.
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.