We’re into the closing stages of the Pro12 and it’s shaping up to be two Irish sides, one Scottish and one Welsh outfit in the playoffs. There’s home advantage to play for so the top teams will want to turn the screw and stake their claim on that prize. With only a few fixtures left nobody can afford to slip up now.
Llanelli Scarlets vs Glasgow Warriors
I’m looking forward to this clash. Scarlets are still sitting just behind Ospreys in fifth spot. Looking ahead at the fixtures Scarlets have a slightly easier time of it having to play their next few games at home, but know full well that they can’t afford to slip up if they are to claw their way into fourth. They also beat Glasgow earlier on this season in the reverse fixture. Glasgow are on fire right now, brimming with confidence and they seem to be scoring tries just for the fun of it. While they thoroughly outclassed Munster last time out, it should be noted that their opponents shipped three intercept tries which padded the scoreline a bit. Still, with a home playoff spot up for grabs I imagine they’ll bring it here and take the win.
Prediction: Glasgow by 5
Ulster vs Newport Gwent Dragons
Oh how fortunes can change. After the last round of the Pro12 Ulster were flying high, in second place in the league and having just ground out a well earned and rare win on Leinster’s home ground. Then last weekend in the Heineken Cup Quarter-finals the team stumbled pretty badly, going down far too easily to Sarries. They must be hurting from that and I think they’re going to share that pain with the Dragons. As for the men of Newport, they did far better against the Scarlets last week than I expected and with a demoralised and re-shuffled Ulster outfit they might fancy their chances but I think it’s too big of an ask for them to get the win in Ravenhill.
Prediction: Ulster by 15
Edinburgh vs Connacht
Tricky to call this one. Edinburgh notched up their 1st win in a long time over Ulster in Round 18 but narrowly avoided defeat against Zebre last time out. Connacht’s form has been patchy to say the least and their away record hasn’t been very good, winning away only twice this season. Normally in a situation like this, I’d take the home side, but I think Connacht have what it takes to pull off a surprise victory here.
Prediction: Connacht by 1
Cardiff Blues vs Zebre
Ah Zebre. How many times have I given you the benefit of the doubt only to be let down again and again? They came so close to getting their first ever win over anyone in the last round against Edinburgh. If that kick hadn’t hit the uprights they’d finally have got that monkey off their backs. Their only hope at this stage is Cardiff’s poor home record this season (5 out of their 6 victories were in away fixtures). With their next two opponents being Scarlets and Ulster (both away), this is the Blues’ last chance to give the home crowd something to cheer about. I think they will.
Prediction: Cardiff by 12
Munster vs Leinster
This is an intriguing match up. Leinster have shown great form in the European Challenge Cup and are still in contention for top spot in the Pro12. Munster pulled of a stunning victory (especially given recent form) over English Premiership champions Harlequins last weekend in the Heineken Cup. Truth be told, I didn’t rate their chances all that much – I had Quins by 6 but I was glad to be wrong. With their chances of winning anything in the Pro12 now gone, all focus will surely be on their clash with Clermont in a few weeks time, but given the rivalry built up between these two sides in recent years it’s hard to imagine Munster rolling over especially in their last home game of the season. This prediction is tricky as I don’t know the teams for either side yet. That would give a much better indication of what’s to come. Assuming Leinster pick a full strength side and Munster don’t, I’d back the visitors.
Prediction: Leinster by 3
Ospreys vs Benetton Treviso
Ospreys are hanging on in there in fourth spot. They have yet to face both Glasgow and Leinster away and know that Scarlets are just waiting for them to slip up. Simply put, they cannot afford to lose this game. Treviso’s away record doesn’t inspire much confidence with only two wins this season, both against underperforming opposition. Their fight back at Ravenhill to snatch a draw against Ulster a few rounds back will be something they can draw on for inspiration, but I think it’ll also mean that they won’t be taken lightly by their hosts here.
Prediction: Ospreys by 15
Feel free to tell me how wrong (or right) I am in the comments below:
By John O’Brien