With just four rounds left in the regular season of the GUINNESS PRO12, and all that entails in qualification for both the play-offs and ultimately the final at BT Murrayfield on May 28, as well as next season#s European Champions Cup, there is more at stake than just local rivalries in the Welsh and Irish derbies this weekend.
The two all-Irish affairs will perhaps have the most impact on the table. On Friday night, Ulster, who currently sit in fifth place tied on 51 points with Glasgow Warriors, host top of the table Connacht, who have not slipped out of the top four all season.
Anything other than victory at Kingspan Stadium could hamper Ulster’s ambitions of claiming a play-off spot, especially as the Warriors have a game in hand over them.
On Saturday in Dublin, Leinster already have a seven-point advantage over their opponents Munster in the chase for a home play-off spot, but need to win this game to keep the Scarlets, who are only two points behind them in the table, at bay.
Munster, however, have their own play-off ambitions, so the result of this interprovincial clash could really alter the dynamics of the top four.
In Wales the meeting of the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues could be the defining moment in the regions’ seasons so far. A victory for the Scarlets could secure qualification for the Champions Cup next season, but if Wales are to have any chance of sending two representatives to the European top tier, the Blues need the win to keep their hopes alive.
That result though could damage the Scarlets’ prospects of hosting a home semi-final in Wales, so there is much more at stake than parochial pride in this encounter.
The two Scottish teams play the two Italian sides with Champions Cup qualification once more the main talking point, although Glasgow Warriors, with a game in hand, can still make the top four and a place in the play-offs.
Zebre have been ahead of Benetton Treviso in the table since round five, but Treviso’s knack of picking up losing bonus points has pulled them to within three points of their rivals for the Italian qualification spot. Only two of the four teams can be guaranteed a place as their country’s representative at Europe’s top table, the other places are based on meritocracy.
Most teams take a short break from PRO12 rugby after this round, which gives a chance for the calculators to come out and the permutations to be made ready for the final push towards the end of the season and a chance to lift some silverware.
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 19 FIXTURES:
Friday, April 1 –
Newport Gwent Dragons (10th) v Ospreys (9th), Rodney Parade, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Wales)
Edinburgh (7th) v Zebre (11th), BT Murrayfield, 7.35pm (live BBC ALBA)
ULSTER (5th) v CONNACHT (1st), Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/TG4)
Saturday, April 2 –
Scarlets (3rd) v Cardiff Blues (8th), Parc y Scarlets, 3pm (live Sky Sports 1 HD/S4C)
Benetton Treviso (12th) v Glasgow Warriors (6th), Stadio di Monigo, 5.30pm local time (live Rai Sport/BBC ALBA)
LEINSTER (2nd) v MUNSTER (4th), Aviva Stadium, 5.30pm (live TG4/Sky Sports 3 HD)