What to watch out for in domestic rugby this weekend

Ireland’s James Lowe 19/3/2022
Now the Autumn Nations Series is done and dusted, all attention turns to how the international stars will fare on their return to domestic duty.

Now the Autumn Nations Series is done and dusted, all attention turns to how the international stars will fare on their return to domestic duty.

Unsurprisingly, several key protagonists are sidelined through injury after a bruising international window but there are still plenty of Guinness Six Nations stars in action this weekend with the focus already shifting towards the 2023 Championship.

Genge to face old club on Bristol return

England prop Ellis Genge will face a familiar foe when Bristol Bears host Leicester Tigers on Saturday evening in the Gallagher Premiership.

Genge captained Tigers to the title last season before returning home to the West Country and will be eager to channel a frustrating Autumn Nations Series campaign into the clash against his old teammates.

Genge was disappointed to be relegated to the bench for England’s defeat to South Africa on Saturday but has put his support behind coach Eddie Jones, insisting the players must take a portion of the blame for some disappointing results.

However, the 27-year-old will not be joined in the Bears front row by England colleague Kyle Sinckler who is out of action for a month with a groin problem.

Six Nations stars on show at Kingsholm

There is plenty of international interest in Gloucester’s game against Northampton Saints with Italy’s Stephen Varney starting at scrum-half for George Skivington’s men.

He is joined in the backline by England wing Jonny May as well as Scotland centre Chris Harris while Azzurri flanker Jake Polledri is among the replacements as he continues his return from a career-threatening knee injury.

Saints have David Ribbans back on the bench, fresh from making his England debut, with fellow international newcomer Alex Coles starting on the blindside and Tommy Freeman returning on the wing with a point to prove after being replaced by Jones at half-time against the Springboks.

Ireland trio back for Leinster

Ireland trio Jamison Gibson-Park, James Lowe and Hugo Keenan will make their first Leinster appearances of the season against Ulster in an exciting clash between the United Rugby Championship’s top two sides.

Scrum-half Gibson-Park and full-back Keenan starred for Andy Farrell’s side during the Autumn Nations Series but wing Lowe is set for his first rugby of any kind this season after recovering from a calf injury.

There is a first start of the season for Ireland international Iain Henderson who was a replacement for Ulster against Zebre last week having recovered from a hand injury sustained on the summer tour to New Zealand.

Weir tribute at emotional Edinburgh

There will be an emotional tribute to the late great Doddie Weir before Edinburgh host Munster on Friday night.

The former Scotland international and motor neurone disease campaigner sadly passed away aged 52 last weekend and in the first professional match held in the country since his death, supporters are being encouraged to wear tartan and particularly clothing from his My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.

A minute’s applause will take place before kick-off and Edinburgh coach Mike Blair is hoping his side can pay a fitting tribute to the legendary second row on the field at the Dam Health Stadium.

He said: “As a squad, we’ve spoken a lot about Doddie this week and what he stood for. It’s brilliant we’re able to pay tribute to a real icon of Scottish rugby and it will be an emotional moment as we celebrate his life pre-match.”

Blair welcomes back a host of Scotland internationals to his side with Gregor Townsend’s new captain Jamie Ritchie and wing Duhan van der Merwe among those returning to the fray.

Willis and Dupont available for Toulouse

Jack Willis is in line to make his first start for Toulouse against Perpignan on Saturday afternoon having debuted off the bench in the Top 14 defeat away to Lyon last week.

The England international was surplus to requirements against the Springboks in the final game of the Autumn Nations Series but will be hoping to put himself back in the frame for the Guinness Six Nations with some eye-catching performances for his new side.

France captain Antoine Dupont is also back on the bench for Toulouse after his ban for the red card he received in the win over South Africa was reduced.

Dupont’s international teammate Damian Penaud will make his first Clermont appearance since being named the Autumn Nations Series Player of the Series.

After winning the public vote ahead of New Zealand’s Ardie Savea and Toulouse’s Italian sensation Ange Capuozzo, Penaud returns to Top 14 action on the wing at home to Montpellier.

There could also be a debut for Wales fly-half Dan Biggar against Racing 92 on Sunday after his mid-season move to Toulon from Northampton Saints.

Elsewhere, ahead of their trip to face Stade Français on Saturday night, La Rochelle have been buoyed by the news that head coach Ronan O’Gara has ruled himself out of the running to be the next England coach.