We are down to the business end of the Guinness Pro14 regular season. A loss now could have disastrous consequences for a side’s playoff ambitions. In this blog posting, Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the playoff picture in both conferences and pinpoints a couple of key fixtures down the stretch.
Given that Zebre Rugby in Conference A and Dragons / Isuzu Southern Kings in Conference B are out of the playoff picture, they have been excluded in this fixture schedule illustration. Hopefully, these sides can use it as motivation for next season!
Conference A: One playoff berth up for grabs
It is fair to say that Munster Rugby and Glasgow Warriors have secured the first two playoff berths in the conference. One more win for either will officially lock them into the post season which means that one from four sides will secure the third playoff berth.
The key question is who will top the conference and significantly secure a home field semi-final playoff fixture. Munster Rugby currently on top right now but they face a very tricky away assignment to Scarlets this evening. If Munster Rugby secured a win here, it would be massive given that Glasgow Warriors have a tricky last three league fixture run with Ulster Rugby, Leinster Rugby and a local derby against Edinburgh Rugby to finish off the season. All to play for in the top spot battle and bonus point try points could be decisive.
The other question is who will join Glasgow Warriors and Munster Rugby in the playoff postseason. Cardiff Blues currently hold sway but a tricky fixture run in beckons with fixtures against playoff rivals in the run in. It could be an extremely nervy run in for the Blues given their inconsistent performances this season.
A key indicator on the Conference A playoff battle could be revealed in Galway later today. Connacht Rugby and Ospreys lock horns in a must win fixture for both sides. Momentum for the victor while the loser will be facing an uphill battle to get back in the playoff race. An intriguing fixture beckons.
Toyota Cheetahs are currently looking from the outside at present after another road trip loss in Ireland. A home stand at the end of the regular season may be too little too late so the South Africans are looking for results to go for them to get in the race.
Conference B: Leinster Rugby in the big dance
The Conference B top spot race was officially wrapped up for Leinster Rugby last night during their 19-7 win over Toyota Cheetahs. In truth, this was a done deal since before Christmas such has been the dominance of the side in Conference B fixture play. It will be intriguing to see how Leinster Rugby management play the remainder of the regular season as they face Conference B sides who are vying for playoff berths. Do we look to give game time to squad players or integrate international players into these fixtures at various stages? Selection could be decisive in the fortunes of the sides below them.
Benetton Rugby are currently in second place of the conference. For me, they have been the story of the Guinness Pro14. Their progression started at the end of last season with a good unbeaten run and they have continued that form into this season. A run in which sees the Italians face Edinburgh Rugby, Leinster Rugby and Munster Rugby looks tough but it would be great for the tournament organizers to get Benetton Rugby into the big dance. This afternoon’s fixture against Edinburgh Rugby is pivotal, a win at home to Richard Cockerill’s gives them control of their own destiny given their tough fixture run in.
Ulster Rugby have progressively improved since a sticky spell of results just before Christmas. The emergence of Eric O’Sullivan and timely return to form of Marty Moore in the front row providing pack platform in which the back line have flourished. The run in looks really exciting but tough. Any road trip to Scotstoun is a daunting task. The home finale against Leinster Rugby could make or break Ulster Rugby’s season at this point.
Edinburgh Rugby out of the Conference B playoff contenders have the trickiest run in. Fixtures against all their main conference playoff protagonists feature and then there could potential distractions with the Heineken European Cup campaign. The side are loaded with attacking and pack unit threats but this fixture list looks quite daunting and a loss away to Benetton Rugby today could the beginning of the end of their playoff ambitions.
Scarlets are the team lurking in the long grass. Injuries, club departures have exposed the club this season. A key fixture against Munster Rugby beckons today, a win here and they are back in the playoff hunt. The last two fixtures potentially are ten point hauls with Zebre and Dragons on the fixture list. Scarlets have the ability to secure a playoff berth but the fixture today cannot be understated. A loss to Munster Rugby and their playoff hopes are in dire straits.
- Munster Rugby (mixed results but should just do enough)
- Glasgow Warriors (tough run in decisive in top spot battle)
- Connacht Rugby (close with Cardiff Blues; Ospreys fixture key)
- Leinster Rugby
- Ulster Rugby
- Scarlets (to break Benetton Rugby hearts on the last day)