Another break from that “International Distraction” known as the 6 Nations sees many of our teams back to full or nearly full strength for their domestic duties. Last week was a disastrous one for me, getting only three out of six, which simply isn’t good enough. I admit I took a gamble on the Glasgow vs. Ulster game but I was very surprised by Connacht and Treviso getting their respective wins. In particular Treviso who were missing a fair few of their starting XV to international duties. Luckily last weekend was the last time the 6 Nations will be clashing with the Pro12 this season and our teams should be returning to normal strength very soon.
Newport Gwent Dragons vs Leinster
Last week I predicted that the Dragons probably wanted/needed the win more than Zebre in order to atone for the hammering they got from Glasgow the week prior. They certainly left it to until the last minute though, in a very unconvincing display against the Italians. Leinster on the other hand dominated the Scarlets in a convincing display and with the aid of the bonus point they’ve solidified their 3rd place position in the table. I think they’ll be too strong for the home side this weekend.
Prediction: Leinster by 24
Llanelli Scarlets vs Edinburgh
The Scarlets’ loss to Leinster last week means they sit just outside the top four spot, a solitary point behind Ospreys. No doubt they’ll be chasing the bonus point in their clash this weekend. Edinburgh must surely want this season to be over, 10 consecutive defeats across all tournaments (their worst performance since turning professional) must be a massive drain on their confidence and desire to even show up. Their record in Wales is also not a cause for optimism and without De Luca’s presence (due to suspension) I suspect this will be another unpleasant trip south.
Prediction: Scarlets by 15
Ulster vs Benetton Treviso
This game could be an interesting clash. Ulster, still sitting top of the table with Glasgow breathing down their necks, will be up for extending their lead. Reportedly Paddy Jackson will be handling the kicking duties instead of Pienaar, and the young fly-half will no doubt want to banish the memories from Ireland’s massive underperformance in Edinburgh last weekend. Kicking aside, I thought he had an okay debut; his partnership with Marshall looked very encouraging. Treviso were on top form and very clinical against a stuttering Munster side last weekend. They go into this match as underdogs but can take some confidence from their last few encounters with the Ulstermen, losing narrowly in Italy earlier this season and recording a win at Ravenhill last season. They know what it takes to win there, but I don’t think they’ll experience that again this time.
Prediction: Ulster by 15
Glasgow Warriors vs Cardiff Blues
Cardiff’s away record this season is, bizarrely, better than their home one. Winning five of their last seven on the road is impressive. They’ll come to this game with very little to fear. Glasgow have made several changes in the lead up to this match as they welcome back some of their international stars. They were impressive in their last two matches against Ulster and the Dragons despite being severely depleted. I think they’ll win here too.
Prediction: Glasgow by 12
Connacht vs Zebre
Connacht’s Willie Faloon proved vital in their victory away to the Blues last week. They held their nerve well and ground out the win. This was Connacht’s first back to back win since April and they’ll be confident of making it three in a row when the Italians come to town. Zebre had the Dragons on the ropes early in the 2nd half last week but they were unable to truly capitalise on Welsh indiscipline and then their own infringements let the visitors back into the match to snatch the win. They’ll rue that game as yet another victory that got away especially since I don’t see them prevailing in Galway.
Prediction: Connacht by 15
Munster vs Ospreys
This one is tough for me to call as always, because when predicting Munster matches it’s heart versus head time. Last weekend Munster were thoroughly outplayed by a heavily depleted Italian side and looked rudderless and devoid of ideas. Ospreys on the other hand have being doing well home and away lately. Munster have already lost twice to Welsh sides at home this season but those games were in Musgrave Park, not Thomond (although it must be noted that Ospreys themselves were the last Welsh side to win in Thomond). Ospreys will be chasing the bonus point if they are to keep Scarlets at bay in the table. After they beat Ulster I had no doubt that they’d beat Connacht the following week, yet they lost, so them getting a win here is not dead certain by any means. As I write this I have no idea about the team selections yet either so this call is even tougher. If Howlett is playing then Munster could easily get the win. Heart would love a Munster win; head says Ospreys will take it.
Prediction: Ospreys by 5
Feel free to tell me how wrong (or right) I am in the comments below:
By John O’Brien