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An all-Irish Pro12 decider still possible and more final day talking points

The provinces helped each other out on a nail-biting last round of regular season fixtures.

AFTER AN EXCITING final regular season day in the Guinness Pro12, we’re left with the following semi-finals:

Glasgow v Ulster (Friday, 19.45, Scotstoun)

Munster v Ospreys (Saturday, 14.30, Thomond Park)

Meanwhile, Connacht move on to the Champions Cup play-offs:

Gloucester v Connacht (Sunday, 15.30, Kingsholm)

Paul OÕConnell after the game Paul O'Connell shows his delight at Munster's win in Cork. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Favours aplenty

It proved to be as thrilling a final day as we had anticipated, with the positions inside the top four and top six shifting on a number of occasions throughout the afternoon. In the end, the provinces were reliant on each other to get over the line.

Connacht lost to the Ospreys, but grabbed seventh spot and a Champions Cup play-off on account of Leinster’s win away to Edinburgh. That victory was only copper-fastened late in the game, with Luke McGrath’s try confirming it.

The fact that Connacht launched a second-half revival in Galway also meant that the Ospreys were denied a try-scoring bonus point after scoring three before the break.

That meant Munster could claim the home semi-final they so craved. Meanwhile, Ulster’s weakened team came up well short against Glasgow, meaning they’ll have to return to Scotstoun next weekend.

An all-Irish final?

In fairness to Ulster, they won’t be too surprised to find themselves on the road next Friday, having opted to bench key men like Tommy Bowe, Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson for today’s clash with Glasgow.

Finn Russell scores a try Ulster were well beaten in Glasgow today. Source: Russell Cheyne/INPHO

They will have the benefit of bringing back in a high number of fresh bodies for their semi-final meeting with Gregor Townsend’s men, as well as having had the chance to get a close-up view of what they can expect as the Glaswegians scored four second-half tries.

It’s a difficult fixture, no doubt, but Ulster are mentally ready for it. On Saturday, Munster have the comfort of welcoming the Ospreys to Limerick, though the Welsh side have won there already this season.

Thomond Park perhaps doesn’t have the same fear factor as eras past, but head coach Anthony Foley has his team in the ideal place. The prospect of an all-Irish final at Kingspan Stadium on 30 May is still alive.

Connacht’s European quest

Connacht were forthright in underlining that the top six was their one major goal this season, so in that sense they’ve come up short. Injuries, individuals losing form and refereeing decisions have been unhelpful, but the westerners can only look at themselves.

Eli Walker and Dan Biggar tackle Aly Muldowney Aly Muldowney surges forward for Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They’ve ended the regular season with five defeats in six games, meaning they bring little recent winning experience to Kingsholm next weekend for their Champions Cup qualification play-off.

Being in the top tier European competition next season is a desperate desire for Pat Lam’s men, who will once again give their all in Kingsholm. Whether that desire is enough to eradicate the missed tackles and errors remains to be seen.

It’s going to have to be much better from Lam’s men if they’re to come through a test against Gloucester and then beat a Top 14 side in the second play-off fixture on Sunday, 31 May, but the European dream is still within their reach.

Leinster finish with a win

Leinster ended a season to forget on a winning note, but that won’t mask their major shortcomings in 2014/15. Watching next weekend’s semi-finals from the outside will only make their failings all the more hurtful.

Noel Reid celebrates his try with Sean O'Brien and Ian Madigan Noel Reid, Sean O'Brien and Ian Madigan celebrate the inside centre's try. Source: Robert Perry/INPHO

11 wins in 22 Pro12 games this season simply isn’t up to the standard the eastern province aspires to and demands, meaning coach Matt O’Connor, his backroom staff and every one of the players in the squad needs to improve for next season.

Their process of preparing for what could be a tricky World Cup season is already well underway, and the likes of today’s try-scorer Luke McGrath and replacement back Cian Kelleher will hope that their involvement is set to rise greatly in 2015/16.

To finish in winning fashion was at least a bright note at the end of a downcast campaign.

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