Potentially, there could be as many as fifteen Lions appearing in the Pro12 play-offs this weekend, as the top four battle it out for place in the final.
One look at the history of this competition, and you will see that there has never been an away win in the semi-final play-offs. With the two Irish provinces playing at home, and a final at the Aviva Stadium awaiting, is there any realistic prospect of the two Welsh teams upsetting the odds and preventing an all-Ireland final?
Leinster vs Scarlets
Leinster have topped the table for much of the season, and with their consistent home form it is difficult to see past them making it to yet another Pro12 final. They are the top try and point scorers in the league this season are likely to have the Lions contingent of Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Sean O’Brien, Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw available for selection.
They will, however, be up against a Scarlets side which is performing well at the moment. They are on a five game winning streak, with their last defeat being to Leinster when the two sides met at the RDS at the beginning of March. Leinster were impressive 45-9 winners that day, however I suspect it will be a lot closer this time. The Scarlets have their own Lions in Ken Owens, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams, and their back-line has a fantastic ability to counter attack from anywhere.
However, with their superior forward power and so many of their own attacking threats, I am backing the home side to continue their incredible record, and reach their seventh domestic final in the last eight years. Leinster by 8.
Munster vs Ospreys
Munster have exceeded all expectations this season; a European Cup semi-final and finishing top of the Pro12 at the end of the regular season. Depending upon fitness, their Lions trio of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray could take centre stage alongside Tyler Bleyendaal, who has been one of the most influential fly-halves this season.
The Ospreys, on the other hand, seemed to be well placed for a top two finish before a horrendous run of results almost derailed their season (winning only one of their last five Pro12 games). Their capitulation two weeks ago against Scarlets will have been particularly concerning. They eventually squeezed in to the semi-finals; finishing just one point ahead of Ulster. Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar should play, however whether Alun-Wyn Jones will be fit remains doubtful.
Whilst the visitors do have some dangerous runners and are capable of springing a surprise, it is up front where Munster should boss the game; their back-row in particular appears to be more dynamic and capable of dominating the breakdown. Add into the equation the ‘Thomond Park factor’ and it all points to a home win. Munster by 13.
By Keith Mackenzie
Follow Keith on Twitter: @Keith_Mack7