With the 6 Nations now truly behind us we’ve got some fantastic match ups this week in the Pro12. I was so close to getting a clean sweep in the last round, but fell at the final hurdle thanks to Connacht getting their fourth win in a row for the first time in ten years! Huge congrats to them, and to anyone who tipped them to triumph last weekend. This round’s match ups seem a lot more difficult to call however and I could easily have stumped for 6/6 away team victories as you will see.
Glasgow Warriors vs Ospreys
This is the perfect start to the weekend as this is a huge match for both teams. To have any hope of making the playoffs this is an absolute ‘must win game’ for the Warriors or Ospreys. The visitors are currently in 4th spot and just 4 points ahead Glasgow on the table but will be mindful that the Warriors have two home games in hand. Both teams have some difficult games coming up as we wind down the season too, and so neither can afford to lose here. Current form, history and home advantage all favour Glasgow, as they’ve only lost two home games this season in the Pro12 and Ospreys haven’t won outside of Wales since September (against Connacht). I’m torn on this one, I want Glasgow to win but they seem to be lacking pace/urgency whenever I’ve seen them play lately which leads me to think Ospreys will sneak the win.
Prediction: Ospreys by 3
Zebre vs Newport Gwent Dragons
Not too much info to go on for this one. Zebre have the opportunity to get two home wins on the trot for the first time in their, admittedly short, history. The lost in the reverse of this fixture earlier on this season pretty handily (30-7) though, but as fate would have it, currently have yet to be lose to a Welsh side so far at home this season. The Dragons have only won on the road once so far this season with a shock win over Glasgow in Round 8. They also, only narrowly won this fixture last season and I think Zebre have improved since then.
Prediction: Zebre by 1
Benetton Treviso vs Edinburgh
Treviso have yet to name a squad so I can only tell you that Edinburgh will be welcoming back three internationals this weekend as they face a tough challenge in the Stadio Monigo. The stats are fairly equal between the teams, Edinburgh having won 4 of the last seven encounters. Treviso seem to be on the decline at the moment having lost their last 6 games, four of those being on the road though. Treviso are a much tougher team to beat at home however, losing to three of the current top four sides; Ospreys, Leinser and Ulster by 5, 1 and 2 points respectively, not to mention beating Munster (currently in 2nd place) by 10. Edinburgh are not without bragging rights either though, having beaten both Leinster and Ospreys, also at home, and have picked up a losing bonus point in their last four defeats. I think it comes down to home versus away records and who wants to win this more. And that gives a slight edge to Treviso, who will want to stop the rot and finish this season off well.
Prediction: Treviso by 5
Cardiff Blues vs Ulster
Boy, are Cardiff having a season they’d rather forget, only four wins and one draw from seventeen matches, losing home and away to Pro12 whipping boys Zebre, losing Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny to injury and getting brushed aside at home fairly easily by Ospreys in the last round, 34-9. This week they take on Ulster who are in excellent form and looking to solidify their place in the top four and no doubt hoping to leap frog into 2nd (assuming other results go their way). History and form side with the Ulstermen and as we can see from last weekend’s Blues vs Ospreys match, home advantage isn’t really there for the Blues. In fact the only ray of hope I can see for them is that Ulster had a tough time in horrendous conditions in Edinburgh last weekend and are facing their second away fixture in as many weeks. I don’t think that will be enough to save them however.
Prediction: Ulster by 15
Leinster vs Munster
This is being billed as the clash of the weekend and it’s certainly has all the credentials to be. This game has it all; intense rivalry, massive bragging rights at stake, 1st and 2nd sports in the table up for grabs, not to mention complains coming from Limerick and Cork about Munster’s under representation in the national side in this year’s 6 Nations. And it’s not just the die-hard fans moaning about some perceived selection bias in favour of Leinster players, ex-Munster players and their current coach have been writing columns and/or making quips to the media about how this is essentially Munster vs The Current 6 Nations champions. Historically Leinster have been the dominant side in the last number of years but it’s hard to separate these sides this year, both having only lost three matches so far. Crucially for Munster they won the reverse of this fixture earlier on this season and will be chasing a double they’ve not achieved since the ‘08/09 season. If Munster do genuinely feel aggrieved about selection, then clearly there’s only one way to make a case for their inclusion next time and that’s by winning this match against fairly sizable odds. Neither team have been named as I write this but you can imagine with what’s at stake, both sides will be putting out very strong squads. I do not for one second feel that Munster were unfairly slighted in some way by Joe Schmidt’s selections but I would say that before you plump for one side or the other, to look at the teams named and then compare those lists with the list of who played in green over the last several weeks. You’ll find that most of them are now in blue. Then ask yourself, are those guys battle hardened or are they weary and in need of a break? And then ask yourself who wants this victory more?
Prediction: Munster by 3
Llanelli Scarlets vs Connacht
This one is hard to call so far out and without the teams. Scarlets have lost their last two matches on the road but have won their last three home games this season. Connacht have four wins on the trot at the moment and a fifth one would equal their best ever performance in this competition. History and current home form give the edge to Scarlets though, who have not lost to Connacht in Parc y Scarlets since 2004. Although that’s similar to what I thought last weekend and Connacht proved me wrong then so who knows?
Prediction: Scarlets by 10
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images