Ospreys vs Leinster
This is probably the toughest game of the weekend to call. Ospreys need to win this game if they have any hope of staying in contention for the playoffs and are a tough side to beat at home. They will be well rested going into this game while Leinster have had two big taxing games in succession, away to Toulon last weekend and at home to Munster the week before. They held on against Toulon in the first half but were left well behind in the second. Being out of contention for European silverware this season will focus them on the PRO12 and they have named a strong side to play this weekend. Of the four regular season games they have left, this game is one of the tougher ones but they will be looking to cement their spot at the top with a win. In the last four encounters between these sides Leinster have won three and had one draw (in the reverse of this fixture this season). This one will probably be tight, but I think Leinster will prevail.
Prediction: Leinster by 3
Ulster vs Connacht
Ulster, oh Ulster. To be down a man for 75 minutes and still be in with a shot of winning at the death against Saracens was nothing short of remarkable. That game has taken its toll, though, and Ulster are coping with a raft of injuries (and one suspension) and have named a strong if not settled side. If Connacht are looking for that rare victory in Ravenhill (their 1st since 1960), now is the time and Pat Lam has opted for an unchanged line up for their fourth game in a row, which should see them having more cohesion than their opponents.
Unfortunately that is about the only positive they can take going into this game. Ulster are out of the running for Europe and will be setting their sights on the PRO12. They’ve got a difficult set of games coming up (away to Glasgow, at home to Leinster, and then away to Munster) so will be targeting this one. Last weekend brought a lot of pain to Ulster and their supporters. I expect them to share that pain with Connacht with a comprehensive dismissal of their fellow Irishmen.
Prediction: Ulster by 20
Edinburgh vs Cardiff Blues
Both teams are coming into this match on the back of rather unexpected but nonetheless fully deserved victories. Edinburgh finally got an away win this season against the Dragons in their rescheduled fixture last weekend and Cardiff’s win over Ulster two weeks ago was easily the upset of the round. Looking at recent form between both sides, and we see that the Blues have the upper-hand here but only just. In fact their last away victory in the Pro12 was in Edinburgh this time last year. The news of the new European cup just being finalised might give new impetus to Edinburgh who will be hoping to finish the season in the top half of the table in order to qualify for Europe. It’s a long shot but if they are to do it, then simply put they must win this game. Meanwhile Cardiff’s chances of making it to Europe are far too long. Having said that I dismissed them against Ulster two weeks ago and they put me in my place. Again it’s tough, but I think home advantage (despite it not being in Murrayfield) will swing it.
Prediction: Edinburgh by 3
Benetton Treviso vs Newport Gwent Dragons
Treviso come into this on the back of a pasting by Glasgow in Scotstoun last weekend. They are currently at the bottom of the Pro12 table, just one spot (and four points) above fellow Italian side Zebre. Any slip ups here could mean that Zebre will leapfrog them and end up representing Italy in next year’s top tier European competition. Treviso have some tough matches ahead of them with an away trip to Leinster and hosting Glasgow in a few weeks time. They have only won once in their last eight matches to at home to Edinburgh, (who incidentally beat the Dragons last week). The Dragons recent form has been slightly better (a notable double over Glasgow this season) but in their last six encounters with Treviso, they’ve only won twice. This is tough to call without the teams in front of me, but I think home advantage and European dreams for next season will get Treviso over the line.
Prediction: Treviso by 5
Munster vs Glasgow Warriors
Munster’s performance against Toulouse last weekend was superb and they remain the only PRO12 side still in contention for the last Heineken Cup trophy. They have lost a few key players to injury and will need to keep focused as on domestic matters even while fighting on two fronts. They’re unbeaten at home so far this year but will be wary of a Glasgow side who have demonstrated a knack for sneaking unlikely away wins this year, doing so at Ulster, Ospreys and the Scarlets. Munster won the reverse of this fixture earlier this season, so if any motivation were needed for either side, they can both look to that game for inspiration.
Glasgow have been in the semi-finals for the last few years but have yet to get themselves into a position to have those games played home. With a relatively easy run in to the end of the season against Edinburgh, Connacht, Zebre and Treviso, they know that an upset here and other results down the road going their way could lead to that elusive home semi-final with all the advantages that playing at home brings. I don’t have the teams in front of me, but I suspect both sides will name as close to their first choice match day 23 as possible. Add to that Munster’s home advantage and I’ll side with the hosts this time.
Prediction: Munster by 10
Llanelli Scarlets vs Zebre
Scarlets need to win as they have Edinburgh breathing down their neck for that that potential last spot in Europe next season. Their run into the end of the season will be an exclusively Welsh affair after this match, so will be wanting to pick up four or five points from this game. Zebre’s record against the Welsh regions this year has been their only highlight, with two wins over the Blues and draws against the Dragons and the Scarlets in the reverse of this very fixture way back in round six. Could they do one better this time? I really don’t think so.
Prediction: Scarlets by 17
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images