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Celtic League – Ulster Continue To Set The Pace.

Celtic League –  Ulster Continue To Set The Pace.

With the honourable exception of Ulster who have been there or thereabouts right from the start, Irish sides have struggled in the past few weeks as the Celtic League enters the final stages

Ulster remain on course to add the Celtic League trophy to the Celtic Cup they won earlier this season and are realistically the only Irish side who can deny the trophy ending up in Wales.

Over the past number of weeks, the Welsh sides have moved to the top of the League table with their five regional sides now lodged in the first seven places. Ulster continue to set the pace while Munster are in 6th spot, one place and one point ahead of The Ospreys.

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Alan Gaffney’s side have lost their last three games and on Friday face 3rd placed Gwent Dragons who were comfortable 29-6 winners when the sides met in Rodney Parade last October.

Leinster Lions and Connacht meet in the Sportsground on Saturday (2.30) and ironically Leinster haven’t managed a win since the beginning of January when they beat current fron-runners, Ulster in Donnybrook.
Since then however, they have gone into free-fall, their squad decimated by injury and the demands of international duty.

Ulster stormed back to the top of the Celtic League with a 36-13 victory over Munster – but are wary of Celtic Warriors dangerman Neil Jenkins as the title race heads for the 16-match mark.

Andy Ward’s team are no strangers to setting the pace in the 12-team tournament and travel to the Brewery Field on Friday night well aware that the Warriors have title ambitions themselves.
Obviously this is a big game for both of us, said Ulster coach Alan Solomons. “We are leading the Celtic League but there is only five points separating the top four sides – the Warriors are in that fourth spot – and that difference can be wiped out in just one game.

There really is nothing in it and that is great for the tournament, having a real battle for the top spot. But, as I keep saying, there are still seven games and a long way to go.

The Warriors are a quality side – and it will be very tough at their ground. Neil is playing fantastically well and is just incredible with the boot. Now that he has retired from international rugby he is under no pressure and is enjoying himself.

The Celtic League is a very tough competition and the Warriors are up there in fourth place for good reason – they have won nine of their 15 fixtures so far while we, along with Llanelli Scarlets, have 10 wins. It could hardly be closer.

We have a lot of respect for the Warriors and we are certainly expected a huge challenge on Friday. We played well against Munster, and it was good to get the try bonus point. But most importantly it was good to put together a disciplined performance for the full 80 minutes.

Against Glasgow Rugby we lost concentration just before half-time and they scored 14 points and then against The Dragons we lost our composure so it was important that we got it all together for the full match against Munster.

Celtic League – Friday 12th March.
7.05: Celtic Warriors v Ulster, Brewery Field, Gregg Davies (S), BBCW/TG4.
7.30: The Borders v Glasgow Rugby, Netherdale, Phil Fear (W).
7.30: Edinburgh Rugby v N-S Ospreys, Meadowbank, Alain Rolland (I).
7.30: Munster v The Dragons, Thomond Park, Graeme Hannah (S).

Celtic League – Saturday 13th March.
2.30:Connacht v Leinster Lions, Sportsground, Nigel Williams (W).
5.30: Cardiff Blues v Llanelli Scarlets, Arms Park, Donal Courtney (I), S4C.

The Borders and Glasgow Rugby clash in a crucial all-Scottish Celtic League match at Netherdale on Friday night with Glasgow Rugby coach Hugh Campbell declaring this is a double-pointer.

The teams are level-pegging on 20 points apiece and, with Edinburgh Rugby 12 points ahead and qualification for the Heineken Cup next season high on the agenda, the points are like gold dust.
All the matches which involve any of the Welsh or the Scottish professional sides are a wee bit different because of their needs to finish well up the Celtic League in order to qualify for next year’s Heineken Cup. This year the top four Welsh sides and top two Scottish sides qualify whereas the bottom place Scottish and the bottom placed Welsh sides qualify for the Parker Pen Tournaments, said Campbell.

Qualifying for the Heineken Cup is vital – and in that sense, with us level on points, this is a very big match.

The games between Scottish sides are always tight and hard fought affairs and this one will be no different, the local rivalry always adds an extra flavour.

Glasgow Rugby gave themselves a massive confidence boost with an emphatic 48-20 victory over previous leaders The Dragons, while The Borders also picked up a try bonus point in their home win over Connacht.
The Dragons had been leading the Celtic League before the game and we knew it would be a tough challenge but our game has improved over the last month or so and this performance confirmed that improvement, said Campbell.

I am pleased with the way we have picked up our game in all areas but our defence has shown the biggest step forward. It will be an interesting game, because The Borders have also picked up in recent weeks and are going well – I think we could have a real cracker of a game.

“They are strong at half back and back row forward Semo Sititi is a fine player but we have got the ability to put quality phases of play together and on Friday night I think it will all come down to which team manages to win the better quality possession.

We will have Jon Petrie and Andrew Henderson available to us for selection but we have been fortunate that the guys who are our back-up during internationals are pretty good players and have done a fine job for us.

Cardiff Blues notched up the only away win of Round 15 to move up into fifth place – but coach Dai Young expects the visit of Llanelli Scarlets to the Arms Park on Saturday evening to be our stiffest test so far.

The Blues were out of sorts at the start of the season but with five wins out of their last six appearances they have signalled that they are back on track.

We have put in a good run over the last few weeks – five straight wins in the Celtic League – but the important thing is that we have won games from positions that, six months ago, we would have lost, said Young.

We have coped well with the absence of our Six Nations players and have not hesitated in using our full squad and giving young players their chances.

But they have new injury worries as they prepare for the Scarlets – Dan Baugh, Matt Cockbain and Pieter Muller joining the injury list last weekend.