Connacht blow their home field playoff chances
Connacht have flat out blown their chance of securing home field advantage in the Guinness Pro 12 playoffs. 22-21 reversal to Treviso is a terrible result considering the emphatic Munster victory only a couple of weeks ago. Several first team players were unavailable and unfortunately it showed in leadership when the men from the West went 14-0 up.
Playoff rugby is achieved but with a rampant and I mean rampant Glasgow Warriors coming to Galway in two weeks time, sense that Pat Lam’s will be travelling to either Scotstoun or RDS in the playoff semi-final. A sour taste to an otherwise terrific season. Glasgow Warriors love this time of year. 70 points racked up last night and with rugby pitches drying up by the day, they will relish the fast track conditions. They are the team to beat in the league now and one would not back against them retaining their crown.
Ulster comprehensively trounce rudderless Leinster
30-6 scoreline speaks volumes, one team needed to perform to consolidate their top four position, the other going through the motions knowing full well that a five point haul beckons against Treviso in two weeks time to secure a second place in the league. Ulster produced their best performance of the season; their defense and tackling tigerish and their back row wholly dominated the breakdown exchanges.
People point fingers at the dismal season of Munster but I think Leinster’s season has being in the same vain, the only difference is that their squad depth (numerous Ireland internationals) has come to the fore. Their ponderous one dimensional play today at Kingspan Stadium is a contrast to the free flowing rugby of Leinster when the likes of O’Driscoll was in their ranks. No imagination to unlock the Ulster defense. Sexton tried to launch attacks by engaging the Ulster defense but no support running put paid to that game plan.
Ulster were dominant in all facets of play. Pienaar again producing a man of the match performance full of creativity and composure when required. The South African international spotted a Leinster defensive gap and his kick behind forced Rob Kearney to shoulder charge the scrum-half. The punishment was served by George Clancy; yellow card for the Leinster full-back and then a penalty try which on another day would not be awarded (inconclusive whether Pienaar would have run the foot race to touch down).
Sexton responded for Leinster with two penalties in the opening period but there was a lack of spark from Leinster throughout. Nacewa was a busy man throughout; running back to clear ball when numerous ponderous Leinster attacks broke down and Ulster identifying space behind to launch long relieving kicks particularly in the second half to win the territorial battle.
Ulster made their dominance finally tell with two late tries and had an opportunity at the death when Rory Scholes blotched a 2-1 chance. Leinster were now in total disarray and one wonders how Leinster will react when they get to the playoffs.
A huge interpro fixture and Leinster again failed to reach the standards required; a trend which has continued since that shocking Wasps home loss. Munster for all their issues should have at least shared the spoils with Leinster several weeks ago. Leinster may be heading to the playoffs but their distinct lack of attacking prowess is now being seriously exposed. Leo Cullen could conceivably be in Anthony Foley’s position next season if changes are not made in the summer.
Ulster stride out to the playoffs in renewed mood; former players and pundits should stick the knife on Ulster more often as the reaction today was first class. Ulster coming into the form but can they sustain this level of performance for the rest of the season? Their squad is first rate, their management ticket is first rate. It is time for the Ulster boys to deliver silverware.
Intriguing regular season finale
If Newport can defeat Scarlets, it will be yet another twist to the top six race. Edinburgh’s task of overhauling Munster in two weeks time has being helped by the fact that the Blues lost to Ospreys today 40-27.
It means that the Blues are now out of the top six race. Ospreys have now emerged as a team who could get into the top six but for them to do so, they will need to beat Ulster at home (no easy task) and hope that Munster slip up against Scarlets at Thomond Park.
It is setup nicely for the battle for last European Cup spot in the league. Scarlets will be comfortable if they can win at Rodney Parade tonight but it is a local derby contest and anything is possible. Nerves will be frayed in Thomond Park in two weeks time otherwise.
The top of the league is not as dramatic but nonetheless compelling. Connacht entertain the rampant Glasgow Warriors at the Sportgrounds. Only a win will do for Pat Lam’s charges to secure a top two berth but this could be one game too far for a squad whose injury list is now becoming a clear negative.
The lack of leaders in the Connacht ranks in their loss to Treviso was decisive and the likes of Muldoon, Bealham are required to the first team fold. Glasgow will love the fast track conditions and their expansive offload game will catch the eye; expect them to win this contest and top the league. Leinster are thankful that Treviso are the visitors to RDS; five point haul looks easily attainable but massive questions of Leinster will remain and will be asked again in the playoffs.
The Guinness PRO 12 league has a love, hate relationship for me personally but the final set of fixtures will be interesting and compelling view for fans and neutrals alike. I think the following table standings will be the prediction come the end of the regular season.