AFTER five long months, Irish rugby makes its comeback this weekend with a bonanza of live action.
As part of a reduced Pro14 season, which will see several derbies lead to the semi-finals and final, Ireland’s four provinces face off once again.
First up on Saturday evening (August 22) is Leinster versus Munster, followed by Ulster versus Connacht on Sunday afternoon, with both matches to be played at the Aviva Stadium.
Leo Cullen’s dominant Leinster, who lead the league’s Conference A, will be hoping to pick up from where they left off before the league’s suspension as they look to close in on a remarkable unbeaten season.
Yet they know they cannot underestimate Johann van Graan’s Munster, who lie second in Conference B, and who rarely fail to get themselves up for this clash.
With both clubs destined to finish in the top two of the league’s two divided conferences, there is a strong chance this match will be a precursor to the semi-finals, meaning one or the other can lay down a marker this weekend.
With Covid-19, though, so many will be pleased just to see the provinces play once again, even without crowds.
At the start of this month’s snooker world championship, the tour’s chairman and promoter, Barry Hearn, spoke candidly about the importance of sport for people’s mental health.
In Ireland, rugby’s reappearance is certainly something which will lift the mood of the nation.
In contrast to Ireland, the UK Government acknowledged sport’s importance when they decided to make quarantine exemptions for sportspeople coming into Britain and worked hard with the footballing authorities here to get football back on people’s screens.
Although rugby is returning in Ireland, it is a shame that other sports have been more affected - with golf’s Irish Open looking like it will be played north of the border this year in September.
When sport returns, it is inevitable that there will be isolated cases of the virus - as we saw when a Munster academy player tested positive last week.
But there needs to be that acceptance beforehand.
Sport is so health regulated at the moment, with participants being tested on a regular basis, that flare ups of the virus are easy to detect and contain.
With a vaccine still so far away, we may need to learn to live with this virus.
The elation of sport is one way which can make that task easier.