With the Six Nations taking the first of its scheduled breaks, all attention turns back to our domestic competitions. Not that the Pro12 has been keeping a low profile, what with the disputes going on between the Welsh Regions and their governing union, and Treviso declaring that they want to leave and set up their own eight team Italian league next season. The Pro12 hasn’t been shying away from the headlines. This weekend sees a lot of players released back to their clubs and so many teams will be near full strength.
Ulster vs Scarlets
First up we have a repeat of last season’s semi-final between Ulster and Scarlets. I’m sure the Scarlets will be hoping for a reverse of that final score line (28-17). Ulster have named a strong side and with their home record against the visiting Scarlets it does look like they should have the upper hand here and win fairly comfortably. Scarlets have beaten them already this season in Parc Y Scarlets, though so they could pull off a rare double over the Ulstermen – however, I feel that’s pretty unlikely.
Prediction: Ulster by 17
Leinster vs Newport Gwent Dragons
Next up we have the reigning champions, Leinster, against the bottom tier Welsh side, the Dragons. Ordinarily this should be relatively easy for the champions but since they contribute so much to their national side, and have made seven changes to the side that beat Treviso last week, they might be less cohesive than usual and so could be there for the taking for the Welshmen. Again it’s a similar scenario to the Ulster vs Scarlets match, Leinster’s home record against the Dragons is spotless and while they might have upset the odds with an away victory in Glasgow earlier on this season, this is another step up entirely.
Prediction: Leinster by 20
As I write this none of the team sheets for the following matches have been announced, so I only have history and recent form to go on. A large dash of salt is recommended.
Connacht vs Edinburgh
Connacht go into this match with some optimism having run an (admittedly weakened) Glasgow Warriors side very close last weekend at Scotstoun, losing by only two points. Add in home advantage and the fact that Edinburgh’s last two Pro12 matches were postponed due to adverse weather conditions and you’d be forgiven for thinking this should be a no brainer. However, Edinburgh (and Glasgow) will be eager to restore some pride to Scottish rugby and will see this weekend as the time to start. Edinburgh have been getting steadily better in the latter half of this season, notching up surprising wins at home over Leinster and away to Gloucester in both the Pro12 and Heineken Cup respectively. Edinburgh won this fixture last season and have won in the last three encounters between these two sides. It’s a tough one to call, as it will probably go to the side who wants it more. But who will that be?
Prediction: Connacht by 1
Cardiff Blues vs Glasgow
This one is also tricky to call, especially without any team sheets. This encounter is the last of four scheduled between both sides this year, with two matches in the Pro12 and two in the Heineken Cup. Glasgow were victorious in atrocious conditions against Cardiff in their season opener in Scotstoun last September, and despite being unbeaten away from home so far this season in the Pro12, have lost home and away to the Blues in the Heineken Cup. Glasgow have also been providing the bulk of the Scottish national side meaning that they may be under strength as evidenced by Connacht running them close last weekend. The Blues suffered a bit of a thrashing from Munster last weekend and will no doubt want to restore some pride to the faithful at Arms Park. Glasgow invariably flummox my predictions, more often than not they win games I think they shouldn’t only to then lose games they should’ve won. I think they’ll lose this weekend, which means that they’ll probably pull a rabbit out of a hat and take the win…
Prediction: Cardiff by 5
Munster vs Zebre
It’s top of the table versus second from the bottom. Munster are unbeaten at home this season and have only lost twice on the road. Both teams are shorn of players for the national sides, but even so with the depth that Munster have, I would expect them to beat Zebre easily. Zebre’s only hopes are that last season Musgrave Park wasn’t quite the fortress that Thomond is (Munster losing several times to visiting Welsh sides there) and that perhaps Munster will be keeping one eye on their away fixture to Ospreys in round 15 and slip up here. It’s highly unlikely but not impossible.
Prediction: Munster by 15
Ospreys vs Benetton Treviso
Again this looks to me to be similar to both Ulster and Leinster games. A great home record against their opposition means things look good for the Ospreys. Undoubtedly they will be under strength due to 6 Nations commitments, but that also applies even more so to Treviso. Ospreys are currently sitting in fourth place and have a Glasgow team (with two games in hand) breathing down their neck. Now is the time to pick up some soft wins and bonus points. I doubt they are going to let this opportunity slip, especially at home.
Prediction: Ospreys by 12
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images