Leinster midfielder Robbie Henshaw believes the high level of competition that the United Rugby Championship has delivered thus far has been a massive influence in the momentum that Ireland have produced, with the cross-continental series playing an instrumental role in driving the strong Test performances of European teams during the November internationals.
The Irish followed up their win over New Zealand with a 53-7 thrashing of Argentina on Sunday, as all the Northern Hemisphere sides finished the month of Test rugby on a very strong note.
“It is a huge driver for performance within the squad, certainly for me personally; you need competition there to keep you on your toes and keep you trying to stay ahead,” Henshaw said after the victory.
“Definitely the talent we have in the squad is huge and it’s an exciting time for us.”
Munster’s Joey Carbury produced a great performance to score 18 points, while Josh van der Flier crossed twice for Ireland and was set to return to Leinster to continue their unbeaten run in the URC.
Henshaw believed the standard produced by Ireland against the All Blacks was within their grasp on a more regular basis.
“That’s the standard we can produce when we’re on,” he said.
“I think that’s the expectation from us as players, that we’re expected to play like that every time we take the field, and the coaches expect us to play like that every time.
“Things aren’t perfect all the time, but the last two weeks have been unbelievable – really clinical and accurate.
The Irish provinces that have dominated performances have some different challenges this week as the URC resumes.
Leinster host Ulster in a massive derby game, while Munster already signalled their intent to take a younger side without their Test stars to South Africa where they face a highveld challenge against the Bulls at Johann van Graan’s old home of Loftus Versfeld.
While it is a younger side, it is still filled with talent as they try and negotiate a tough trip before returning home to Champions Cup action.
Cardiff, meanwhile, will be boosted by the addition of Rhys Priestland and two other Welsh internationals who flew out later after 29 players had already headed to South Africa.
Wales internationals Kirby Myhill, Ben Thomas and Owen Lane are in the travelling party, while Priestland, Rhys Carre and Shane Lewis-Highes will arrive on Monday at the team’s base in Cape Town.
The Cardiff squad, which includes club captain Josh Turnbull, contains 14 players who have been capped by Wales, but James Botham – who had been targeting a return to action following shoulder surgery – has been ruled out with a foot injury.
Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Willis Halaholo and Josh Adams have not been included and will instead prepare for their match against Toulouse in the Champions Cup.
The other two games for South African sides this weekend will see the Sharks host Scarlets and Zebre Parma head to Cape Town to face the Stormers.
8.35pm – Connacht vs Ospreys
3pm – Stormers vs Zebre Parma
3pm – Benetton vs Glasgow Warriors
5.30pm – Sharks vs Scarlets
7.15pm – Dragons vs Edinburgh
7.45pm – Bulls vs Munster
10pm – Leinster vs Ulster
4pm – Lions vs Cardiff