The Guinness Pro 14 enters its final round this week and there is still plenty to play for as 10 of its 14 teams are still scrapping it out for end of season playoff and European places. For all but 8, the season will end on Saturday, but what is the state of play ahead of the crucial match-ups this weekend?
The Battle For Top Spot
Leinster have already secured top spot in Conference B and the resulting bye straight to a home semi-final, this rest week will surely benefit them as they continue to fight on two fronts in pursuit of the double-double. In Conference A, Glasgow require two points from their derby match against Edinburgh to snatch 1st position, a bye and a home semi from Munster. This fixture will have added spice as a Glasgow win will likely leave Edinburgh’s playoff and Champions Cup qualification ambitions in tatters – there’ll be no love lost between these neighbours.
The Playoff Picture
Conference A is all sewn up, Connacht who have secured third spot (behind Glasgow and Munster) will travel to Ulster (guaranteed 2nd in Conference B) for their quarter-final. The final place in Conference B is a little more complicated; Benneton, Edinburgh and Scarlets all head into the final round with a sniff. However, the Italians hold all the aces, as they know a bonus point win against local rivals, and the competitions lowest ranked team Zebre, should secure their first ever playoff appearance and first outright qualification for the Champions Cup. Surely the Italian Rugby Union will have a quiet word to ensure history is made? Scarlets and Edinburgh can only try and win handsomely to turn up the pressure on this seasons surprise package.
Fighting It Out For Europe
The 7th and final Heineken Champions Cup qualification spot for Pro 14 teams is awarded to the winner of a play-off between the 4th placed team in the respective conferences. The Ospreys and Cardiff Blues are facing off in the WRU’s annual showpiece double-header ‘Judgement Day’ at the Principality Stadium, this straight shootout will decide who will secure 4th place in Conference A. The Blues will be giving up home advantage to team of players with plenty of experience of playing in the Principality in a pressure situation – this promises to be the tie of the round. Playoff contention in Conference B is again between Benneton, Edinburgh and the Scarlets, you’d back the West Walians to pick up a bonus point against the Dragons, which given other fixtures and scenarios would likely be enough to secure 4th place. Thus, setting up the juicy prospect of an all Wales playoff match, and alleviating fears of the possibility of a first Champions Cup with no Welsh representation. But don’t count out Edinburgh who still have plenty to play for.
Written by – James Jones