Finally into the business end of the league now that all Pro 12 teams are out of European contention, the table is looking awfully crowded. Funny that it is given that form would suggest the top 4 teams are as good as qualified but with three weeks remaining it could fall either way. There’s a lot of notions and permutations to rattle through so we’ll do our best to get our heads around them now.
Glasgow top the table on 65 points and given that they are the most consistent team of the league they aren’t likely to slip. That said, two away fixtures to Connacht and Ospreys leading into a final fixture against Ulster at home mean it certainly won’t be easy for them. Still, their nearest rival below them is Munster by two points and you would see Glasgow nabbing more bonus points in this three week period than them and so their top spot should be safe enough to see them finish winners of the regular league season.
Moving on to the aforementioned Munster, they are certainly looking at a more appealing fixture list starting off this weekend with Treviso in Cork. After that the biggest banana skin that could see them slip into third arrives in the form of travelling north to face Ulster. Since that Heineken Cup Quarter Final in 2012 the subtle rivalry between these two sides has provided great sport indeed and both sides based on the last 18 months have equal points to prove. After Ulster, Munster will welcome Dragons to Cork in what could be an extremely tight final weekend but, assuming they overcome Ulster by at least a draw, second place and a home Semi Final should be secured for them.
Ulster themselves are still battling Munster for that coveted home advantage and currently sit behind them on points difference alone. Their key disadvantage is their run in to the end of season with Leinster and Munster in the Kingspan followed then by a trip across the water to face Glasgow on the final weekend. It is a tough ask for any team to take down these three in a row, it is even tougher at this end of the season when goals and targets are more focused than ever. Munster have the loss of knock out European rugby to make up for, Leinster have a stinging Semi Final exit to account for and Glasgow, well they’re just damn good. Two wins, without bonus, would seem most likely for Ulster which may see Ospreys overtake them into third, depending on how the Welsh side’s own nightmare run in goes. Starting off with Cardiff this weekend, Mark Tandy’s side then have to go on to face Connacht and Glasgow, all the while watching Leinster who will be hoping to be hot on their heels.
And those plucky Blues, how are they looking? Leinster are eight points off levelling with Ospreys but on top of that they can’t possibly pass them out on games won or points difference. Therefore Leinster need 9 match points to none from Ospreys, or anything else in that ratio in order to finish in the top 4. On top of that, Leinster are facing down Ulster this evening in a game that should prove tricky at best which means they will be looking for ultimate return from their final two games, though the fact that they are against Edinburgh and Treviso is some small comfort. Mathematically, Leinster aren’t out of it. It’s closer than they have ever run it before, but still not out. Question is, with Karl Douglas, Fergus McFadden and now Marty Moore out of action for the remainder of the season, can Leinster mount a strong enough front? We can only wait and see how it unfolds.
Image courtesy of ebow.ie