The Scarlets’ victory in Italy in round 9 saw them return to the top of the GUINNESS PRO12 table after Connacht’s 20-16 defeat by Cardiff Blues, but both leading sides are pulling clear of the chasing pack.
Nonetheless, only two points separate the teams placed third to sixth in the league standings, with two of those, Leinster and Glasgow Warriors, having a game in hand, so the competition for the end of season play-offs will be tight.
The traditional round of festive derbies take place over the holidays, one of the oldest inter-city rivalries in Scotland celebrated with the 1872 Cup being awarded to the winners over two legs of the PRO12 games between Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors. Edinburgh currently hold the trophy after a gap of six years.
Interprovincial rivalry in Ireland takes on added impetus as all four provinces sit second to fifth in the table and with an eye on both the league play-offs and qualification for the European Champions Cup next season, the results of these games will be even more crucial than usual.
With qualification for Europe’s top tier based on meritocracy and with the Scarlets having already pulled out an impressive lead on their regional rivals, the three remaining Welsh sides will need to start mounting a serious challenge very soon, no doubt starting with the traditional regional derbies this round.
The honour of being the highest-placed team in Italy – along with that entry to the Champions Cup next year – is also on the line when Zebre and Benetton Treviso meet in back-to-back encounters over the holidays.
Whilst the festive derbies may provide a highlight for many fans, the players know that the serious business of winning games, especially when they are against your fiercest local adversaries, is what this time of year is all about.
Meanwhile, the postponed round 9 game between Glasgow Warriors and Leinster has been rearranged for Friday, March 18, kicking off at 7.35pm at Scotstoun Stadium.
The GUINNESS PRO12 final will take place at BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh on Saturday, May 28. See www.pro12rugby.com for ticket details.
GUINNESS PRO12 – ROUND 10 FIXTURES:
Saturday, December 26 –
Scarlets (1st) v Ospreys (8th), Parc y Scarlets, 2.05pm (live BBC 2 Wales)
CONNACHT (2nd) v ULSTER (5th), the Sportsground, 6pm (live TG4/BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Sunday, December 27 –
Edinburgh (7th) v Glasgow Warriors (6th), BT Murrayfield, 3.05pm (live BBC ALBA)
Newport Gwent Dragons (9th) v Cardiff Blues (10th), Rodney Parade, 3.05pm (live Sky Sports 4 HD/S4C)
Zebre (11th) v Benetton Treviso (12th), Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 3pm local time (live Rai Sport)
MUNSTER (3rd) v LEINSTER (4th), Thomond Park, 5.15pm (live Sky Sports 4 HD/TG4)