Well here we are, at the final round of the 2013/14 season. The top four teams have already secured their place in the play-offs and cannot be caught. Not that that means we’re in for a dull weekend – for those final four, their final position on the table is still very much up for grabs, and they will all be doing their best to get maximum points. I go into these predictions without a single team named, but since this is the last game of the season and the Heineken Cup will be going either to England or France, I expect most of them to play their full strength squads, barring any injuries.
Glasgow Warriors vs Zebre
Glasgow were in imperious form last weekend away to Treviso, and looked comfortable throughout a game I thought they’d win, but not by such a large margin. A five point victory for them would propel them into first place (most likely temporarily) but it’s more likely that they’ll end in second, which would give them their first ever home-semi final in this competition. Zebre are chasing a favourable result which would see them qualify for Europe next season. While technically this is still a two horse race, and in theory anything could happen on the day, I think it would take a herculean effort from Zebre to overturn Glasgow in Scotstoun this weekend. True, I (and almost everyone else) wrote them off against the Ospreys last week only to have them emerge as unlikely but deserving victors; I don’t think they’ll be able to pull that off again here, especially against a team as hungry for silverware as Glasgow.
Prediction: Glasgow by 22 points
Leinster vs Edinburgh
Leinster, as always, look to be in the driving seat. Current title Holders, sitting top of the table going into the final weekend and undefeated at home this season; any team facing them in the semis will have a big task before them to progress to the finals. In the unlikely event of a loss this weekend, even a single losing bonus point would ensure them a home semi-final, and a draw would seem them finish the season as top seed. Edinburgh’s only solace is that they are one of only four teams to beat Leinster this season. I imagine that every Glasgow fan will be hoping that Edinburgh do them a massive favour and do a rare season double over the men in blue, ensuring they get top spot. Again, in a two horse race such as this, in theory anything is possible but Edinburgh’s away form this season (only one win on the road) and Leinster’s near spotless record at home means I can’t see anything but a mauling.
Prediction: Leinster by 30
Munster vs Ulster
Probably the toughest match of the weekend to call. Munster are guaranteed a top three spot regardless of how this game goes, but could mathematically jump to the top spot in the highly unlikely event that Glasgow and Leinster both lose their respective matches. I don’t think they’ll be thinking like that though – they’ll be expecting to finish third and in all likelihood play against Glasgow in the semis. It’s possible that they (and their opponents) could rest some key players for this game in order to have a better chance of making it from their respective away semis to the final. It is Munster’s last home game of the season though and they’ll no doubt want to go out on a high. Ulster come into this game on the back of another agonising defeat owed to the fact that they had to play the majority of yet another crucial game with only 14 men. That they hung on is testament to their indomitable team spirit and palpable desire for silverware this season. Form and history suggest a home victory, but I expect Ulster to give an excellent account of themselves.
Prediction: Munster by 3
Newport Gwent Dragons vs Benetton Treviso
Both teams have had a woeful 2013/14 and will no doubt be dying to just get this season over with. The new qualifying criteria for next year’s European Competition does add some spice to what would otherwise be a fairly dead rubber match. Simply put, Treviso must do better in this game than Zebre do against Glasgow. The Dragons will undoubtedly want to go out on a high note and have proven tricky for stronger teams than Treviso to beat this year (Scarlets, Blues and Glasgow come to mind). Recent form between both teams favours the home side, but going back a little further favours the visitors. It’s a tough one to call but I think Treviso will want it more.
Prediction: Treviso by 3
Ospreys vs Connacht
Once again Connacht find themselves involved in a match where their opponents were embarrassed the week before and are now looking for revenge. The Ospreys found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard against perennial whipping boys Zebre in what must have been the upset of the week, if not the season. Added to that yet another fifth place finish for them , thereby ruling themselves out of a play-off spot, and you’ve got the recipe for a thorough shellacking of whoever takes to the field against them at Liberty Stadium. Connacht do have the ability to surprise, but I wouldn’t bet on them here.
Prediction: Ospreys by 15
Llanelli Scarlets vs Cardiff Blues
This game is also tricky to call. The Scarlets have already secured a place in Europe next season so at least they go into this final match with less pressure on them. They will no doubt want to reverse the result they got when they last encountered the Blues in the Millennium Stadium last ‘Judgement Day’ where the Blues won by four. That was The Blues’ first win over the Scarlets in eight encounters. They have been on a great run of form lately starting with that shock win over Ulster in Round 18 and are chasing a fifth win on the bounce. Will they get a double over their Welsh rivals? This one could easily go either way, but I think the home side will take it.
Prediction: Scarlets by 4
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images