With only six rounds left for most of the teams in the GUINNESS PRO12, the race for the play-offs and European Champions Cup 2016/17 qualification is intensifying, and there were some significant results last weekend.
The top five teams all stayed the same, although Leinster closed the gap slightly on Connacht thanks to a try-scoring bonus point in their victory over Zebre.
However, with the Scarlets and Ulster losing, Edinburgh and Munster had a chance to draw closer to the top four while their losing bonus point saw Benetton Treviso keep chipping away at Zebre’s lead for the Italian place in Europe’s top tier.
Round 16 saw wins for three Irish provinces (Connacht, Munster and Leinster); three victories on the road (Glasgow Warriors, Munster and Leinster), and three more losing bonus points claimed by the Newport Gwent Dragons, Benetton Treviso and the Scarlets, while the PRO12’s top try scorer, Matt Healy, has tallied five tries in his last three games for Connacht.
Four of the top five teams are in action as round 17 opens on Friday night, with almost every game now taking on a ‘must win’ scenario.
Top of the table Connacht face a much improving Edinburgh, but Pat Lam’s men did win on their last trip to the Scottish capital.
The third-placed Scarlets and fourth-placed Ulster host the Italian clubs, Treviso and Zebre, respectively. And with each team looking to garner as many points as possible in their quest for placings in the table these should be very entertaining encounters.
On Saturday, Leinster, the team in perhaps the most favourable position in the table – second with a game in hand – host an Ospreys side that slipped from sixth to eighth after their loss at Connacht last time out.
Munster, who were leading the table after round 4, will hope to consolidate their European Champions Cup qualifying slot when they host the tenth-placed Dragons at Thomond Park.
The round wraps up in Scotland on Sunday when current champions Glasgow Warriors face a Cardiff Blues side who beat Ulster 23-13 the last time out. Despite having two games in hand, the Warriors really need to maintain their recent run of successes against the Welsh region if they are to progress to the end of season play-offs and earn the chance to retain their title.
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 17 FIXTURES:
Friday, March 4 –
Edinburgh (5th) v CONNACHT (1st), BT Murrayfield, 7.35pm (live TG4/BBC 2 Scotland)
Scarlets (3rd) v Benetton Treviso (12th), Parc y Scarlets, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Wales)
ULSTER (4th) v Zebre (11th), Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Saturday, March 5 –
LEINSTER (2nd) v Ospreys (8th), the RDS, 3pm (live Sky Sports 1 HD)
MUNSTER (6th) v Newport Gwent Dragons (10th), Thomond Park, 7.35pm (live TG4)
Sunday, March 6 –
Glasgow Warriors (7th) v Cardiff Blues (9th), Scotstoun Stadium, 2.30pm (live BBC ALBA/S4C)