Incredibly, a mere two rounds into the 20-match RaboDirect PRO12 campaign, only three sides remain unbeaten.
And two of them — Ulster and Munster — go head-to-head at Ravenhill on Friday night (7.05). The following afternoon in Galway, Connacht will host the third of the trio, Scarlets.
While the destination of trophies is not going to be decided at this stage, there is important ground to be made or lost, for points won or forfeited now will figure in the final analysis next May.
Alas, the advent of professionalism has robbed Irish inter-pro battles of some of their status, with under-strength sides the norm. But on this occasion, a number of the big names are going to be in action.
Just how many of Ulster’s front-liners should become clearer today when coach Mark Anscombe names his provisional squad.
Having deployed Tom Court, John Afoa, Declan Fitzpatrick, Darren Cave and Paul Marshall against Glasgow in round one, last weekend saw Ulster add Stephen Ferris and Andrew Trimble to the panel for the Ospreys game in Swansea.
All along Anscombe has said: “As players become available to us as a result of having recovered from injury or because they have had the required rest period following their international duties, it then becomes a matter of filtering them back in at the right time.”
Undoubtedly that will be the major factor in his thinking, as will Ulster’s determination to add a third prized scalp to those of Glasgow and the Ospreys.
Irish international loose-head Court is one of those who has been eased back after surgery to correct the serious thumb problem he picked up in the Heineken Cup final.
Having had a last-quarter work-out against Glasgow on August 31,
Court followed that up with a 40-minute shift on Saturday evening at the Liberty Stadium.
Court said: “I felt a lot better this week than last week. Your first game back is a bit of a clearing-the-head thing; you’re rusty so you’re just trying to get up to speed and get a bit of momentum going. Obviously there’s still a long way to go with things like combinations and precision.”
To that end he wants more game-time, not least because an Ulster-Munster set-to is a very significant fixture in which to impress.
With three home autumn internationals coming in November — against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina on November 10, 17 and 24 respectively — he knows a big display in Friday night’s inter-pro would do his cause no harm at all.