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GUINNESS PRO14: Round 20 Preview

GUINNESS PRO14: Round 20 Preview

Scrum half John Cooney celebrates after kicking a late match-winning penalty to seal Ulster's 30-29 home win over Edinburgh back in September ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Last weekend saw the rare occurrence of two draws out of the seven GUINNESS PRO14 matches in round 19, including Benetton Rugby’s last-minute converted try to earn a draw with Leinster. That result, coupled with Ulster’s loss to Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh’s win at the Scarlets, has kept the battle for second place in Conference B wide open.

In Conference A, Glasgow and Munster are still well clear of the chasing pack, but even the Ospreys have an outside chance of pipping Connacht and Cardiff Blues to the final series depending on performances in the final two rounds. Particularly as Connacht and Cardiff face each other this Saturday, while the Ospreys and the Blues meet in round 21.

The focus is narrowing on the GUINNESS PRO14 final on Saturday, May 25, which will take place at Celtic Park in Glasgow. Fans can book their places now by clicking here to get their hands on the best seats. As things currently stand, the fixtures for the PRO14 final series and Champions Cup play-off would be:


Quarter-Final 1: MUNSTER (A2) v Benetton Rugby (B3)
Quarter-Final 2: ULSTER (B2) v CONNACHT (A3)

Semi-Final 1: LEINSTER (B1) v MUNSTER/Benetton
Semi-Final 2: Glasgow Warriors (A1) v ULSTER/CONNACHT

Champions Cup Play-Off: Cardiff Blues (A4, 52 points) v Edinburgh (B4, 51 points)

It is all to play for from positions three to five in Conference A. Victory for Connacht against Cardiff would guarantee them a PRO14 play-off place and a berth in next season’s Champions Cup, while the Blues need a win or a draw to keep themselves in the hunt. The Ospreys are still in with a shout for the third final series spot if they can get five points against the Kings and then beat Cardiff in the final round.

Connacht have to play Munster in their final fixture of the regular season so would prefer to get the job done this weekend rather than risk having to beat their provincial rivals on the last matchday to qualify for the final series.

The Blues lead the head-to-head as comfortably as 23-6, although the Welsh side won by just a single point when they met in Cardiff at the start of the year. Connacht had a single-point win in their most recent outing – at Zebre last Saturday – as well as winning their previous two at home to Benetton and the Ospreys. Cardiff’s previous three results saw wins at home to the Scarlets and Kings preceding a heavy loss at Munster last Friday night.

Conference B is even more open than Conference A with the home quarter-final yet to be secured. Any of Ulster, Benetton or Edinburgh could finish second come two rounds’ time. The Scarlets could even sneak into the last final series spot if they can take maximum points in their final two games.

Friday night’s Edinburgh v Ulster fixture has big consequences in Conference B – an Edinburgh win would guarantee them at least a Champions Cup play-off place as well as good chance of reaching the final series, and it would leave Ulster needing to pick up a win against Leinster in their final round clash.

There was just one point between these teams at Kingspan Stadium in September when Ulster just prevailed over Edinburgh, taking their head-tohead lead to 21-11 during 32 match-ups. Having struggled earlier in the year, Edinburgh have beaten the Scarlets, Leinster and Benetton in their most recent three PRO14 matches. Ulster lost to Glasgow last Friday night, but beat the Kings and Dragons comfortably enough in the two weeks before that.

The weekend kicks off with the Kings hosting the Ospreys at Madibaz Stadium. The South African side sit just a point clear of the Dragons at the foot of the Conference B table, Friday’s match likely being their best chance of distancing themselves further from the wooden spoon position. Their final match of the PRO14 season is a South African derby in Bloemfontein.

The other Friday night kick-off is Benetton Rugby v Munster at Stadio di Monigo. The Italians travelled home from Dublin with mixed emotions after their last-gasp draw at the RDS in a game they could have won. Munster were the highest scorers in round 19, putting 45 points past Cardiff.

Johann van Graan’s men still have a chance of replacing Glasgow at the top of Conference A, with second spot already confirmed. Benetton have only beaten Munster three times in 15 meetings, but this weekend’s tie arguably has the most importance on it, a win for the home side and an Ulster loss could take Benetton level with Munster in second place in the Conference standings.

Saturday sees a battle of the top two as Leinster host Glasgow Warriors. Leo Cullen’s charges have confirmed top spot and a home semi-final on the weekend of May 18/19, while Glasgow still have Munster chasing them for that same privilege. Leinster are 21-12 up in the head-to-head between these two great sides, but Glasgow prevailed 31-21 at Scotstoun Stadium in November.

Leinster, the defending champions, have stumbled a little since guaranteeing home advantage in the last-four, drawing at home to Benetton having lost at Edinburgh the round before. Glasgow know they have to keep on winning as they have done in their most recent three fixtures.

The Scarlets play Zebre still with an outside chance of making the final series from Conference B, but will need other results to go their way as well as near maximum points from their final two matches. This is more than realistically attainable with the Scarlets fortunately playing the two bottom sides in their final PRO14 outings of the regular season. Helping this, too, is the fact that Zebre have never beaten the Llanelli men in 11 previous meetings, just the one draw the best they have managed. The Scarlets won 41-10 in September.

The Toyota Cheetahs entertain the Dragons in the only Saturday night kick-off this weekend. Neither side can qualify for the play-offs, but the Welshmen have the incentive of overtaking the Kings to not finish bottom of Conference B. The Cheetahs will especially want to take winning momentum into their final game, the derby showdown with the Kings.


Friday, April 12 –

Benetton Rugby (3rd, Con B) v MUNSTER (2nd, Con A), Stadio di Monigo, 8pm local time/7pm Irish time (live eir Sport 1 Xtra & App/Free Sports/DAZN/highlights TG4)

Edinburgh (4th, Con B) v ULSTER (2nd, Con B), BT Murrayfield, 7.35pm (live Premier Sports 1/eir Sport 2/DAZN/highlights TG4)

Isuzu Southern Kings (6th, Con B) v Ospreys (5th, Con A), Madibaz Stadium, Port Elizabeth, 7.35pm local time (live SuperSport 6/Premier Sports 2/DAZN)

Saturday, April 13 –

CONNACHT (3rd, Con A) v Cardiff Blues (4th, Con A), the Sportsground, 3pm (live TG4/Premier Sports 2/DAZN)

LEINSTER (1st, Con B) v Glasgow Warriors (1st, Con A), the RDS, 3pm (live eir Sport 1/Premier Sports 1/DAZN/highlights TG4)

Scarlets (5th, Con B) v Zebre (7th, Con A), Parc y Scarlets, 5.15pm (live Premier Sports 1/DAZN/eir Sport 2)

Toyota Cheetahs (6th, Con A) v Dragons (7th, Con B), Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, 7.35pm local time (live SuperSport 5&CSN/Premier Sports 2/DAZN)