It’s the penultimate round and a lot is still to play for – for five teams at least. Home semi-finals await thesome of the top teams should lady luck smile on them, while derailing their opponents’ chances of a favourable spot should motivate teams at the bottom of the table to give it their all.
Newport Gwent Dragons vs Munster
This match is tricky to call. Munster are no doubt resting vital players for their upcoming Heineken Cup semi-final against tournament favourites Clermont so they could be there for the taking for the Dragons. To claim a major scalp like this would be good for them especially at the end of a fairly dismal season. Add in their home advantage, the fact that it’s Dan Lydiate’s last time lining up for them at home before his move to the Top 14 and that celebrated hooker Steven Jones will unfortunately be retiring at the end of the season due to injury, and the Dragons could be well fired up for this. I don’t think Munster will be a walkover in this game by any means but I’m going to betray my province and say they’ll find it too tough.
Prediction: Dragons by 3
Benetton Treviso vs Edinburgh
Don’t let Treviso’s 28-3 mauling by Ospreys fool you. The will be up for this, their 2nd last home game of the season* and have proved already this season that at home they are a formidable presence. Edinburgh’s loss at home to Connacht last weekend won’t have done their already low confidence any good. They surely must want this horrible season to be over and already have an eye on the 2013/14 season. Treviso will want this victory more, ending the year having done the double on their Scottish opponents and finishing at a high of 7th in the table (their best finish so far in the Pro12 is 10th). Away to the Scarlets in their last fixture, this is their best chance to do just that, so I’m backing them to win here.
Prediction: Treviso by 17
*Due to the rescheduled game against Connacht (see below)
Glasgow Warriors vs Ospreys
Tough to call and for my money this looks to be the game of the weekend. Glasgow were brought back down to earth with a thud last time out against Scarlets and will be feeling that pain. That 29-6 scoreline could be a wake-up call, or symptomatic of a loss of momentum/confidence for the Warriors. Ospreys’ last two games of the season are both tough away games to Glasgow and Leinster who sit above them in the table. If they are to guarantee staying in with a shout for the playoffs they need to beat one of these teams and Glasgow look to me to be the better bet, given their recent loss, so now is the time to strike. I think it’ll be tight but I’m backing the home side to bounce back here.
Prediction: Glasgow by 9
Connacht vs Ulster
Connacht rewarded my faith in them last week with their win away in Edinburgh. They have two very tough home games left against Ulster this weekend and Glasgow in two weeks time. They are fully capable of upsetting the odds-makers at home as Quins and Biarritz will tell you, but I think Ulster will do whatever it takes to stay on top of the table. They won’t treat Connacht lightly and will be there to get the win.
Prediction: Ulster by 15
Llanelli Scarlets vs Cardiff Blues
This match is potentially very interesting. Scarlets are just a hair’s breadth from squeezing out their Welsh rivals Ospreys from a playoff spot. They are also in the fortunate position in that they know going into the match exactly what they need to do to ensure that happens, especially should Ospreys lose. The Blues meanwhile have demonstrated an ability to win on the road this season, although not in their last two away fixtures. I think it’s too much to expect a Blues victory here especially given what’s at stake for the home team.
Prediction: Scarlets by 15
Zebre vs Leinster
Leinster. I mean, I could go on about this close result or that narrow defeat but unless there’s a meteor shower during the match that hits only Leinster players I cannot for the life of me imagine that Zebre will win here. Even without seeing the sides named.
Prediction: Leinster by 20
Treviso vs Connacht (rescheduled Round 19 match)
When I wrote my preview for this game in late March, I predicted Treviso to take it by 11 points. While Connacht have improved somewhat in the meantime with that away win in Edinburgh, I remain convinced that Treviso will probably still win by roughly the same margin. It’s way too far out to see the teams named and results in the meantime could obviously play a factor, but either way, I don’t think Connacht will pull off a win over the Italians at home.
Prediction: Treviso by 7-14 points
Feel free to tell me how wrong (or right) I am in the comments below or on Twitter.
By John O’Brien