Ok so they’re not technically down and out mathematically, but Leinster look even less likely to make the Pro 12 knock outs after a shambolic display this weekend and we are finally at the failed questions to he asked stage. Munster and Ulster enjoyed much better success whilst Connacht still remain in mild contention for a top six finish. It’s all looking a little alien from an Irish perspective in the league this season.
Ulster had the first bit of victory of the weekend as they overcame a Connacht side who look to be in trouble with regards holding on to their Champion’s Cup hopes. It was a more than spirited display in that Connacht were able to find their way back into the game having been 17 nil down at half time mind you, and they’re certainly not in the worst shape of all the provinces, but fatigue and lack of squad depth has proven to be an even bigger thorn in Pat Lam’s side than expected.
Ulster meanwhile made great use of their returning Internationals with both Tommy Bowe and Rory Best dotting down for tries. Lest we forget that their Champion’s Cup failings saw this looking like an emphatically poor season for the Ulstermen, this win and their table standing are vital to them with a home semi final a real possibility. Like Munster, they certainly could do with a Pro 12 title that would arguably mean more to them than any other side bar Glasgow such is their lack of silverware.
Connacht 20 – 27 Ulster
Not that this level of victory was expected but Munster were never likely to falter to Edinburgh. They too have had nothing but the league to play for since February and know that their support are running on faith alone these days. Five tries scored and the home side kept scoreless for nearly the entirety of the game is certainly a good first step towards turning Munster into something more resembling their heritage. Keith Earls, CJ Stander, Simon Zebo and more all got on the score sheet and regardless of how lacklustre Edinburgh came out, there was a completion here that Munster have been threatening all season.
The Pro 12 has definitely increased its value in terms of relevance this season and indeed in terms of competitiveness there’s been a marked improvement. For teams like Ulster and Munster who uncharacteristically found themselves out on their asses after only two or three rounds in Europe, these tail end fixtures are huge in making sure they don’t waste a season and based on Saturday you would say nobody is more aware of this than Anthony Foley and Munster. Deserved victors indeed.
Edinburgh 3 – 34 Munster
And then there’s Leinster. I won’t shy away from the fact that I am a Leinsterman and as much as possible I try to remain impartial on this site, but that is getting harder and harder to do as Matt O’Connor’s charges insist on losing games in such fashions as this. To squander a 14 point lead in any game is unacceptable, but to do so when they looked to be so assured in the first half was just unforgivable. It just isn’t the mentality of champions, it isn’t Leinster.
With a European Semi Final still in hand the axe is still not coming down in earnest but if this weekend goes against them then they could see themselves with little rugby to play in May for the first time in over a decade. When Munster failed to qualify for the Heineken Cup knock outs back in 2011 no panic buttons were pushed but looking at the path that set them on, maybe they should have been. Regardless, this loss to Dragons comes at their lowest ebb when even winning their next three games still sees the lowest Leinster return since the Pro 12’s inception. O’Connor threw a dice by making 12 changes and it could only have been with an eye to this weekend. What he has would up with however is the harder task of Toulon away being the only shot of redemption for the season, a tough ask at best.
Dragons 25 – 22 Leinster
Image courtesy of walesonline.co.uk