THIS is the kind of week that tests your squad to the limit.
You hear about the importance of squad depth an awful lot around this time of year because it’s usually when the Irish provinces are shorn of their elite, international players for the annual Christmas camp in Carton House.
After the rigours of a four-game November Series and the bruising back-to-back section of the Heineken Cup, the Irish internationals will more than likely see a break for this week’s interpros as they plot next year’s path in the plush surrounds of Kildare’s finest hotel.
For Munster, that means Joey Carbery, Tadhg Beirne, CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and others will all decamp for this week at least so this week’s inter-provincial derbies provide ample opportunities for the squad men of Munster rugby to make their claim on future representation. I love these weekends of rugby.
These are the games where future stars — the residents of Carton House in a year or two — put their hands up for national consideration.
In Munster’s case, there’s a good few young lads and squad players who’ll have been looking at the last two weeks in Castres and Thomond Park and thinking “I want to be out there”.
If they aren’t thinking that, they need to buck up their ideas pronto. To get to Thomond Park on the big days, you’ve got to go to Ravenhill on a night like tonight to prove your worth.
That’s the challenge waiting for this squad of Munster players, can you show you’re too big for this game?
Johann Van Graan has already said that he expects a raft of changes for this game and that disruption brings with it challenges of its own.
Combinations will be off. Things like the set piece won’t run as smoothly but the players who come in will be that little bit fresher and with a point to prove.
This is one of those 10-week blocks - and Christmas is a particular block all on its own - where a squad gets tested quite considerably.
Munster will have O’Donnell, Kleyn, Sweetnam and Goggin back in contention after injury.
Along with that, they’ll have guys like Wycherley, Coombes, O’Shea, Loughman, Oliver, Nash, Botha, Wootton, Daly, O’Mahony, Johnston and Mathewson who’ll be itching for a start after a relatively low amount of action over the last few weeks. This is their time to grab attention.
From an individual perspective, these few weeks can be tough to manage from a performance perspective.
If you’re a young player, you’ll be wanting to slowly ease yourself into PRO14 level and the particularly challenging environment of an InterPro.
If you’ve been playing AIL, you’ll be a hair off where you need to be because the change in levels is quite a steep one and that takes time to adjust to in training.
Even the difference from helping the first 15 prepare for the weekend over the last three weeks as an “opposition” guy to being the guy on the other side of the line takes a bit of adjusting to.
Young players are in that sweet spot at the moment where they’re a work in progress.
Some will develop into the guys that are sitting in Carton House a few years from now. Some will naturally level out at a spot just below that elite level and a few will find their way at another club or profession as the years tick on.
That’s the thing with potential - it goes both ways. Guys with a bit of hype behind them will want to continue that development into their coaches and the public’s consciousness.
Others will be looking to make an initial impression but they’ll all be looking to build the basics of their future rugby careers.
The progression is U20/A/club, low-level PRO14 time, B level Interpros, high stake PRO14, A level Interpros, European, and then test level.
Navigate those, and you’ve a fine career ahead of yourself with a bit of luck.
A few senior players will still be around to maintain standards and drive on the changes in personnel but the challenges in reintegrating players at different mental levels of preparations remain a tricky prospect.
All three groups (senior guys, young guys, returning injured players) are at different stages and that’s the juggling act waiting for this Munster squad - indeed all the Irish provinces - over the course of the next three weeks.