Munster fans may watch tonight’s PRO14 clash between Edinburgh and Leinster with more intensity than supporters of the visiting side at Murrayfield.
Leo Cullen’s men already have a PRO14 semi-final in their pocket having stormed to the top of their Conference.
But Edinburgh — a full 30 points behind them in Conference B — still have a play-off spot to fight for, and there’s the small matter of a Champions Cup quarter-final against Munster next week to focus the mind.
Timing is vital in sport, and flanker John Barclay has picked quite a time to make his Edinburgh debut.
The 32-year-old backrow injured his achilles tendon last May when still with former club Saracens, and he’s had to wait until now to pull on the Edinburgh shirt.
The 71-times capped Scotland international joins Hamish Watson and Bill Mata in a back-row that would test any in the competition.
“It’ll be good to have John on the field and he can share his experience with the rest of the team,” said Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill.
He’s a fantastic player and his leadership and knowledge of the game is very good.
Barclay is joined by nine other internationals, with four of them starting just one week after starting Scotland’s dramatic 38-38 draw with England at Twickenham. Darcy Graham, who scored two tries against England, is joined by backrow forward Watson, lock Ben Toolis, and prop WP Nel.
“With four league games to go, we’re going to have to win all of them to qualify for the play-offs,” Cockerill said.
Leinster know they can afford to drop points without any consequences, but with Ulster visiting the Aviva Stadium next week, Cullen and company will be eager to see a positive display. Although without their frontline Ireland stars, Leinster have a few names of interest in the matchday 23 — with Dan Leavy the standout.
The flanker has not played for club or country since December, and goes right into the starting lineup after recovering from a calf injury.
Luke McGrath and Joe Tomane are two other players making a return from injury, with McGrath starting at scrum-half, as usual, and Tomane in a less familiar centre position.
Some players will be coming into the game ready to run off their Six Nations frustrations, with Seán Cronin, Rhys Ruddock, and Ross Byrne top of that list. Cronin came off the bench against England and Scotland, before earning a first Six Nations start in Rome.
He was dropped for the France and Wales games. Jack McGrath and Andrew Porter are on the bench after their own mixed championships.
There’s a new-look backfield, with Ciarán Frawley making his first start at fullback after impressing at out-half over the past 12 months.
Fergus McFadden and Barry Daly start on the wings, with Noel Reid partnering Tomane in midfield — the Australian making his first appearance since injuring his hamstring in November.
In the backrow battle, Barclay will get a warm welcome back to the sport from Ruddock, Leavy, and Max Deegan.
C Frawley; F McFadden, N Reid, J Tomane, B Daly; R Byrne, L McGrath; E Byrne, S Cronin, M Bent; J Murphy, M Kearney; R Ruddock (c), D Leavy, M Deegan.
B Byrne, J McGrath, A Porter, J Dunne, O Dowling, N McCarthy, J O’Brien, C O’Brien.
D Fife; D Graham, J Johnstone, M Scott, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos (c); P Schoeman, R Ford, WP Nel; F McKenzie, B Toolis; J Barclay, H Watson, V Mata.
C Fenton, A Dell, S Berghan, C Hunter-Hill, M Bradbury, C Shiel, S Hickey, C Dean.