It’s the second to last round and already there’s been a massive upset in the Zebre vs Ospreys match yesterday evening. I’d love to be able to say that I was one of the 2% of people on the SuperBru who picked Zebre but alas I thought Ospreys would have won by 10 or less. That unexpected result changes a few things I was planning on writing for this review. For starters, Glasgow are now guaranteed a spot in the top four but it also takes a little bit of the pressure off Ulster too, who have, to my mind, easily the toughest end of season run in of any of the Pro12 teams. More on all that below:
Benetton Treviso vs Glasgow Warriors
Despite this match being between teams at almost the exact opposite sides of the table, this is a very important game for both sides. Treviso have just been leapfrogged in the table by their Italian rivals after their shock win over Ospreys. If they want to make it into the top European competition next season they need to perform well here to ensure that their position at the bottom of the table is only temporary.
Glasgow on the other hand have been gifted a guaranteed play-off spot since even if they lose their last two games, the Ospreys cannot catch them. The goal for them now must be to solidify their hold on second place to garner a valuable home semi-final game. Treviso last season were a tough side to play at home, although not so much this year. Glasgow were certainly guilty of taking their foot of the pedal at times against Edinburgh last weekend but their form this season has been excellent. I think the fact that Glasgow had a game last weekend (and Treviso did not) will stand to them, and I expect them to grind out a win perhaps even with an unlikely four try bonus point too.
Prediction: Glasgow by 6
Llanelli Scarlets vs Newport Gwent Dragons
This is an important match for the Scarlets as they want to keep their hopes of a European berth alive for next season. A win, a draw or double bonus point loss will all suffice. They’ve already lost to the Dragons, way back in round three, and will no doubt be keen to prevent yet another Welsh team getting a double over them this season (the Ospreys having already achieved that feat). In fact they’ve yet to beat any Welsh opponents so far this season. On the other hand, the Dragons’ recent form has been very poor and really they only have pride to play for this weekend. Often that can be enough but on this occasion, I think Scarlets will take the win and do it well.
Prediction: Scarlets by 17
Ulster vs Leinster
This is the toughest game to call this weekend by far. Both teams are chasing a five point win but in truth either would be happy to get four points. Ospreys’ loss to Zebre means that at best they can do is 66 points, therefore with Ulster currently on 65 they only need to take a point from each of their remaining two games to be in the play-offs yet again. That’s easier said than done as they face top of the table Leinster (in blistering form) and a tricky away game at Munster.
Current form slightly favours Leinster who have only one defeat in their last ten PRO12 matches, although it must be said that Ulster have only lost once at home this season way back in their opening home game to Glasgow, a game they should have won. I think with the pressure on Ulster and the fact that several key players are leaving this season, they will want to ensure they’re in with a chance of some silverware. Leinster have a very good record against Ulster though so this game could easily go either way or be a draw. I think home advantage will swing it but only just.
Prediction: Ulster by 1
Connacht vs Cardiff Blues
Another tricky game to call, especially without the team sheets in front of me. Both side have been up against similar opposition but whereas Connacht have lost their last three matches, Cardiff have won them. The history of this fixture favours the Blues and I think they’re going to extend their run with a hard fought win over Connacht.
Prediction: Blues by 5
Edinburgh vs Munster
Munster’s dream of getting their hands on the last Heineken Cup were dashed last weekend in the south of France. How they bounce back from that will be interesting to see. This is by far the easier game of their final two and thus I would be expecting them to be targeting it before they face Ulster in the final round. Edinburgh are getting increasingly better as evidence by their late surge against Glasgow last weekend and are a much tougher prospect at home this season than in times past as Leinster and Ulster will both testify to. A disjointed, deflated and tired Munster squad could be there for the taking for them.
It’s worth remembering too that Munster lost here in the opening round of this season’s Heineken Cup, a loss which probably cost them a better seeding for the knockouts and ultimately forced them to have to play their semi-final in Marseille. On the other hand, with only one chance for silverware left for Munster they may take that pain of Heineken Cup defeat and use it to destroy Edinburgh, in much the same way that Ulster did to Connacht and Leinster did to Treviso.
Prediction: Munster by 7
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images