Star names return as host of domestic derby matches await over New Year’s weekend

A host of derby fixtures headline the weekend’s domestic action with teams from all nations hoping to make their new year a happy one.

A host of derby fixtures headline the weekend’s domestic action with teams from all nations hoping to make their new year a happy one.

The first game of the weekend comes in Scotland as Edinburgh Rugby do battle with Glasgow Warriors, who travel east bidding to regain the coveted 1872 Cup.

With just three rounds of domestic rugby to play prior to the start of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, rugby’s star names will be desperate to remind their international coaches of their pedigree before the squads for the Championship are named.

So let’s take a look at the players hoping to make their mark this weekend.

Guinness Six Nations 2023 Ticket Competition

Talismanic Jones looking to start 2023 on a high note as Williams returns

Alun Wyn Jones returns to the Ospreys starting XV for their crunch fixture with Cardiff Rugby in the United Rugby Championship, hoping to get his 18th year as an international off to the perfect start.

Second row Jones will no doubt play a huge role when the Championship rolls back round following Warren Gatland’s reappointment as Wales boss.

He skippered Wales for the final Grand Slam of Gatland’s first reign and it would come as no surprise if the returning chief were to reinstate his trusted lieutenant as captain for the first assault of his second spell.

Also in the running for a start in Wales’ Championship opener against Ireland is Dewi Lake, who returns to the Ospreys bench following a shoulder injury he picked up prior to the Autumn Nations Series.

Cardiff full-back Liam Williams is also returning to action this weekend and will make just his second Blue and Blacks appearance as they bid for a first win in five matches over their fierce rivals.

Scotland internationals go head-to-head for second week running

It’s a mouth-watering URC clash at BT Murrayfield on Friday evening, with 19 Scotland internationals set to star at the home of Scottish Rugby.

Arguably the most intriguing match-up comes in the midfield where Sione Tuipulotu lines up against Mark Bennett.

Both towering centres will be crucial to their team’s success and will be desperate to win this individual duel, with the pair vying for the Scotland No.13 jersey.

Guinness Six Nations 2022: Best of social

Back-row Jack Dempsey rose to the occasion in the first leg, suffering a bloodied head as early as the first minute but it was his first-half try which helped Warriors see off their nearest and dearest 16-10 at Scotstoun.

Ali Price is also back in the Warriors starting line-up and will be looking to outwit veteran and 29-cap Scotland scrum-half Henry Pyrgos.

Baloucoune back in action while Leinster ring the changes

Wing wizards Robert Baloucoune and Jacob Stockdale will start Ulster’s URC match against Munster on New Year’s Day.

Baloucoune has not played for Ulster since October, while Stockdale has missed the past two games – both will be in Andy Farrell’s thoughts ahead of the Championship.

Leinster, meanwhile, have made 13 changes for their first match of 2023 but field a side packed full of international talent who will be determined to strengthen their grip of top spot.

Following a 20-19 win away to Munster on Boxing Day, Leo Cullen’s men moved eight points clear of the Stormers and kick-off their year at home to Connacht, who are without Bundee Aki, who has been stood down as part of the IRFU player management programme.

Johnny Sexton captains the league leaders, while Ronan Kelleher, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park and Jimmy O’Brien all return.

Tuilagi faces former club in top of the table clash

Manu Tuilagi returns to face his former club as Sale Sharks entertain Leicester Tigers at AJ Bell Stadium in the first Gallagher Premiership Round 14 contest.

He and England teammate Tom Curry will be looking to get one over several of their international colleagues, including Freddie Steward and Anthony Watson, as Sharks bid to close the gap on table-toppers Saracens.

Elsewhere, 13-cap England flanker Ben Earl is in line to make his 100th Saracens appearance when his side welcome Exeter Chiefs to StoneX Stadium on New Year’s Eve.

Can Jalibert and Bordeaux continue their Top 14 march?

Bordeaux Begles edged La Rochelle to make it back-to-back wins in the Top 14 and now face high-flying Montpellier.

Top of Matthieu Jalibert’s to-do list for 2023 will be to establish himself as France’s first-choice fly-half and he would do his chances of that no harm at all in another Bordeaux win.

Antonie Dupont’s Toulouse were pushed hard by struggling Castres last time out, having been level at the hour mark, so will hope to deliver a more assured display when they take on Clermont on Sunday.