The final weekend of the regular season before we get into play-off territory is upon us. This weekend most of the teams only have pride to play for as they’ll be hoping next season will bring them better fortunes. But for a few teams this competition is really heating up! In other news, the bulk of the recently announced Lions squad is comprised of players from the Pro12. Hardly surprising considering that three of the four home unions compete in it or given Wales’ dominance in the 6 Nations these last two years, but still it’s quite a windfall for the league.
Connacht vs Glasgow Warriors
Under normal conditions I’d back Glasgow here no question. But this is the last home game of the season for Connacht with Eric Elwood at the helm. It’s also the last game of Johnny O’Connor, who retires at the end of this season. They will be fired up for this, make no mistake. Glasgow did better than I thought against Ospreys but it isn’t the same team lining up this weekend. Gregor Townsend has made a raft of changes to the squad. A victory here, along with other results going their way would mean Glasgow would get a home semi-final in the Pro12, something no Scottish side has ever done. That’s incentive enough to go for the win here one would imagine, but perhaps they feel that it’s more likely that they’ll have an away semi regardless and so want to keep some of their key players rested. They have named a strong bench however and therefore could pull away after the 60min mark. Glasgow’s record at the Sportsground is also worth considering; they haven’t won there since 2007! It’s a tough call but I’m going to go with the home side wanting to give Elwood and O’Connor a great send off.
Prediction: Connacht by 2
Ulster vs Cardiff Blues
Ulster need just 3 points to finish the season top of the table and secure the home semi. They’ve named a strong squad to counter Cardiff’s notable away record against other Irish provinces this season (wins in Connacht and Munster). Ulster have lost only once this season at home, to another Welsh side, so maybe the Blues will be thinking that they can make it three from four this year – although it should be noted that they haven’t won away in their last three matches. In all likelihood, I expect Ulster to dominate and I expect a stellar performance from Rory Best who, it must be said, was criminally overlooked by the Lions selectors this week.
Prediction: Ulster by 15
Edinburgh vs Newport Gwent Dragons
This is another match that could really go either way. Given how poorly both have been performing it’s hard for a neutral to get all that excited about it to be honest. The Dragons will want to build on that victory over Munster last time out, and know that recently Edinburgh have been particularly weak at home. This game marks the end of a 16-year long career for Edinburgh (and Scotland) stalwart affectionately known as ‘Chunk’ (Allan Jacobsen). He lines up for the last time with a record-breaking 285 caps for his club. For Tim Visser and Greig Laidlaw, who were also unlucky not to be going to Australia, this will also be an opportunity for the pair to remind the Lions coaching staff of their skills, should any injuries arise ‘down under’.
Prediction: Edinburgh by 3
Zebre vs Munster
Ah Zebre. Is this to be the one? It’s the last roll of the dice for the Italian team who’ve yet to taste sweet victory. Several of their internationals are back in the squad, they have home advantage, and their opponent’s record (one win in their last seven Pro12 games and no away wins in 2013) will give them some hope. Munster named an almost completely changed line-up from their passionate and gutsy display last weekend in the Heineken Cup Semi-final against French juggernaut Clermont. With both European and domestic glory now out of sight they’ll just be playing for pride, and to finish off with a win even if that win will condemn Zebre to a dreaded whitewashed season. Strangely enough this time my heart wants a Zebre win but my head says Munster.
Prediction: Munster by 8
Leinster vs Ospreys
This looks like it could be the most interesting game of the weekend. Leinster will come out guns blazing looking to lock up second spot (at least) and secure home advantage for the semis. Ospreys need to win here and hope Treviso down the Scarlets for any hope of a playoff spot and keep their title defense alive. Given that all matches this weekend are on simultaneously they won’t have the luxury of knowing if the Italians have done them any favours until after the final whistle is sounded, so they will give it their all. Their recent record against Leisnter is pretty good (six wins in the last seven encounters) and they’ve named four of their players in the squad who will be touring with the Lions this summer. Leinster are of course not without Lions themselves in their starting squad and on the bench and so will probably be too tough to beat at home this time.
Prediction: Leinster by 14
Llanelli Scarlets vs Benetton Treviso
Treviso must be aggrieved by their last performance where they let Connacht back in at the death to snatch that draw (I know I was!). They’ll go into this game as heavy underdogs considering what’s on the line for their opponents. Scarlets know that to ensure they stay in the top four they just have to get 2 match points from this game. Knowing that regional rivals Ospreys will be hoping they’ll slip up will no doubt keep them focused. Their recent record of one loss in their last nine games suggests that they’ll probably take the win here and get into the semis.
Prediction: Scarlets by 12
By John O’Brien
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