Having had the same leaders for 11 of the first 13 rounds of the GUINNESS PRO12, the top of the table has now changed hands twice in the last two weeks.
Munster’s bonus point win over Glasgow Warriors last Saturday was enough to see Anthony Foley’s men take over pole position, while the Ospreys’ draw with Leinster on Friday was not enough to lift the Welsh region back into the play-off places.
The competition for Italian qualification for next season’s European Champions Cup intensified with Zebre’s win over the Dragons narrowing Benetton Treviso’s lead to just 4 points, while there is an eight-point spread over the three teams, Connacht, the Scarlets and Edinburgh, aiming for the sixth and possibly final automatic qualification spot in the top half of the league.
Round 17 gets underway on Friday when Connacht make the trip to BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, looking for their first three in-a-row of league victories since the opening rounds of the season.
The pick of this weekend’s matches must be the game at the Liberty Stadium when the Ospreys, leaders for so long this season, host Munster. The Welshmen will be hoping they can claw some points back to regain at least a play-off place.
Ospreys v Munster sees the third trial of the Hawk-Eye SMART Replay system in the PRO12. Also on Saturday the Scarlets have a ‘must win’ home encounter with Leinster if they are to keep up the challenge to play in Europe’s top tier next season.
Ulster, who are level with second-placed Glasgow on 52 points, have a Sunday afternoon date with the Dragons in Newport. The province are gunning for their third straight away success in the league – a feat they have not achieved since December 2012.
With the national unions releasing some of the RBS 6 Nations squad members back to their provinces and clubs during the fallow week, this final round of four consecutive weeks could be crucial for several sides’ aspirations to win the PRO12 this season. There are now just over 1,500 tickets left for public sale for the final in Belfast on Saturday May 30.
GUINNESS PRO12 – ROUND 17 FIXTURES:
Friday, March 6 –
Cardiff Blues (9th) v CONNACHT (6th), BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 7.35pm (live TG4/BBC 2 Wales)
Glasgow Warriors (2nd) v Zebre (12th), Scotstoun Stadium, 7.35pm (live BBC ALBA/Nuvolari TV)
Saturday, March 7 –
Ospreys (5th) v MUNSTER (1st), Liberty Stadium, 2.40pm (live Sky Sports 1 HD)
Scarlets (7th) v LEINSTER (4th), Parc y Scarlets, 5.15pm (live Sky Sports 1 HD)
Benetton Treviso (11th) v Edinburgh (8th), Stadio di Monigo, 7pm (live BBC ALBA/Nuvolari TV)
Sunday, March 8 –
Newport Gwent Dragons (10th) v ULSTER (3rd), Rodney Parade, 4pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/S4C)