Finally we’re down to the last four teams slugging it out. It’s a good mix of teams, two Irish one Scottish and one Welsh. Italian sides have a way to go yet but Treviso will be happy with their best ever finish this year (7th in the table) and their big surprise win over Llanelli last week (who saw that coming?). Zebre just lost out to Munster and so unfortunately ended the season with a whitewashing – scoring 9 losing bonus points will be poor consolation for them. Hopefully they’ll be able to get some wins under their belt next season. Ulster and Leinster’s respective domination in their games last week means that unfortunately Glasgow weren’t able to secure a first ever Scottish home semi-final, but they will definitely be a force to contend with for Leinster in their upcoming clash.
Ulster vs Llanelli Scarlets
Reasons to back Ulster
No disrespect to the Scarlets but it’s hard to see past an Ulster win here. They played superbly at the start of the season, went off the boil a little but have rallied well and fully deserve their top spot in the league table. They’ve got a serious hunger for some silverware and having lost in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup this season (and in last season’s final) it means they will be determined not to let this chance slip away. They’ve got strong home advantage (Scarlets last won in Ravenhill in the 08/09 season), have named a solid side (despite not having Afoa) and have already done the double on the Scarlets in the regular season this year.
Reasons to back Scarlets
After just missing out on a top four spot in the two seasons previously it’s great for Scarlets that they’re finally in their first ever Pro12 semi-final. The hunger is definitely there. They’ve recorded some good away wins this season against Munster and fellow semi-finalists Glasgow and so they know they can travel and cause an upset. It’s true that their impressive 5 win run came unstuck with a mauling by Treviso last weekend, but frankly that could work to their favour. With most people writing them off now is the time when a team can be at their most dangerous. Ulster, by virtue of having the favourites tag, go into this game with much more pressure on them than the visitors. If Scarlets can start well, they might rattle them and then, who knows?
Prediction: Ulster by 10
Leinster vs Glasgow Warriors
Reasons to back Leinster
This one is potentially tougher to call not least because as of writing, the teams haven’t been named. To be fair on form you’d have to back Leinster – they have the history and the pedigree to go all the way (they won this exact same fixture this time last season). They’ve had home advantage in their last three semi-finals in the Rabo all of which they have won. They’ve lost at home only once all season, to Ulster, meaning they’ve done the double over Glasgow already, who have only one win at the RDS in their last nine visits. They’ve gotten over their injury worries that plagued them at the start of the season and should they win here and have a stong chance at an elusive European/Domestic double. Probably not the double they were hoping for at the start of the season but winning an Amlin Final and their own domestic league is nothing to sneeze at for any team. Added to these factors is that regardless of who wins in the other semi-final, should Leinster win here they’re effectively getting a home final. This is thanks to Ulster naming the RDS as their preferred final venue given that Ravenhill currently lacks the required capacity.
Reasons to back Glasgow
It must be said that Glasgow have been playing the most exciting rugby in the Pro12 this season. There’s a lot of joy and camaraderie in this team and this season they seem to be scoring tries just for the hell of it as evidenced by their thrashing of the Dragons (3-60, a record away score for the league), Treviso (41-7) and Munster (51-24). It’s great to watch so for those reasons, even though I’m normally inclined to root for any Irish team against any non-Irish opposition, I’d love to see Glasgow win the whole thing this year. It’d be fantastic for this team and a big boost for Scottish rugby. They may have lost to Leinster twice already but bear in mind that their narrow home loss to Leinster (0-6) was played in absolutely atrocious conditions. They were the last Scottish side to beat the men in blue in the RDS in September of 2011 so they certainly know it’s possible. Leinster also have to be careful as they are fighting on two fronts, domestically and in Europe whereas for the men from the Clyde this game (and its potential for revenge) gets all their focus.
Prediction: Leinster by 5
So it seems like I’m predicting an all-Irish final for the Pro12 for May 25th then; though I do hope that Glasgow pull off an upset. Feel free to tell me how wrong (or right) I am in the comments below, or on twitter here: @tiptackler
By John O’Brien