AFTER VASTLY CONTRASTING fortunes for Munster and Leinster in their respective European semi-finals at the weekend, the attention must quickly revert to Guinness Pro14 matters as the season enters the home straight.
The final round of regular season action is upon us with a full slate of fixtures on Saturday, including two inter-pro derbies in Belfast and Limerick, while the race for the play-offs goes down to the wire in Conference B.
Conor Murray during Munster training at UL today. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Leinster’s dominance of that conference means Leo Cullen’s side have long assured themselves of a home semi-final and travel to Kingspan Stadium with nothing tangible on the line, although the clash with Ulster gives those hoping to push their claim for selection an opportunity to impress.
The fact Dan McFarland’s side have already booked their place in the quarter-finals means it’s hard to dress this fixture up as anything other than a dead rubber, but with competition high in both squads, there will be no shortage of motivation for those involved.
Ulster will face Connacht — who are back in the end of season play-offs for the first time since their title win in 2016 — in the quarter-finals on Saturday week, with Andy Friend’s men back in action after a week off when they travel to Thomond Park to face Munster.
The southern province — currently three points behind Glasgow Warriors in Conference A — are still pushing for top spot and an automatic passage through to the semi-finals but will need to beat Connacht on Saturday evening and hope Glasgow slip up at home to Edinburgh.
Both of those Scottish teams are in vital need of a win on the final weekend. Success for Dave Rennie’s Warriors means they will host the winner of the Ulster v Connacht quarter-final, but defeat would leave the door open for Munster to snatch top spot in Conference A.
For Edinburgh, they are one of three teams still chasing the final quarter-final berth from Conference B.
Benetton are enjoying a superb season under Kieran Crowley and go into round 21 occupying third position ahead of their clash with Zebre, but both Edinburgh and Scarlets are breathing down their necks.
Can Benetton make history and become the first Italian team to qualify for the play-offs? Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
The Italians know a bonus-point win in Parma would guarantee them an away quarter-final and with it a piece of history, but anything less would leave them anxiously following proceedings elsewhere.
Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh are just one point behind and while victory at Scotstoun would not even guarantee them a place in the play-offs, it would secure their spot in the Champions Cup play-off.
Lose, however, and it is likely that Scarlets will pip them to the play-off or even a quarter-final berth should Benetton slip up against Zebre.
Scarlets go into Saturday’s clash with the Dragons at the Principality Stadium in the knowledge a bonus-point victory will secure a Champions Cup play-off spot against either Cardiff Blues or Ospreys and could even sneak the 2017 champions into the quarters at the expense of Benetton.
The tie of the round, however, looks to be the Judgement Day game between Cardiff Blues and Ospreys at the Principality, as just one point separates the sides in fourth and fifth in Conference A.
It’s a straight shootout for fourth place in Conference A and a place in the Champions Cup play-off game, with the winner also guaranteed to have home advantage in that tie as long as the game does not end in a draw.
Pro14 fixtures [all Saturday]:
Click Here: cheap nrl jerseysDragons v Scarlets, 3pm [Premier Sports, eir Sport]Cheetahs v Kings 4.30pm [Free Sports]Zebre v Benetton, 5pm Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, 5.15pm [Premier Sports, eir Sport]Ulster v Leinster, 5.15pm [Premier Sports, eir Sport]Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh, 7.35pm [Premier Sports, eir Sport]Munster v Connacht, 7.35pm [eir Sport, Premier Sports].
Pro14 play-offs [as things stand]:
Quarter-final 1: Munster (A2) v Benetton Rugby (B3)Quarter-final 2: Ulster (B2) v Connacht (A3)(confirmed)Semi-final 1: Leinster (B1) v Munster or BenettonSemi-final 2: Glasgow Warriors (A1) v Ulster or ConnachtChampions Cup play-off: Ospreys (A4) v Edinburgh (B4)
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