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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 11 April 2021
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Everything up for grabs in frantic final weeks of Pro12

Just nine points separate the top four and there are still three inter-pros to be played in the final three weeks.

IT HAS BEEN weekend to forget in the Pro12 for three of Ireland’s four provinces, not that the competition itself will mind too much.

The combination of the Ospreys’ (now almost routine) win over Leinster and Munster’s dismal night at home to Glasgow means that just nine points separate first from fourth, where the Warriors have one game in hand on those above them.

Source: RaboDirect PRO12/YouTube

Leinster will go into this week promising to focus on beating Treviso, but it will be the second consecutive week bemoaning a sub par performance away from home.

That said, the eastern province had build up enough of a cushion at the summit to hold onto their lead league. And with two home games from their three remaining fixtures they are still very much in the driving seat in the hunt for a home semi-final  - and potentially another final.

The one away trip in that trio is perhaps the one real real mouth-watering fixture in the remaining weeks of the season. On May 2, Leinster go to Belfast. And the return of Jared Payne at fullback won’t be the only similarity between that fixture and last Heineken Cup fixture at that venue.

That date has been reserved as Ravenhill’s official opening. While Sarries came and (just about) conquered the 14 men while the paint was still drying in parts of the new stand, Leinster will visit the fully redeveloped ground with their hosts comfortable in their surroundings and desperate to ensure their fans don’t feel another angry anti-climax after a carnival build-up.

The wanton destruction of Connacht on Friday night spoke of a team with a few grievances they needed to work out. Underestimating Ulster and their sports psychologists, the assumption had been that they would require time to heal body and mind before returning to anywhere near their peak, but unfortunately for Connacht they were viscously clinical. Under Mark Anscombe they seem to purposely play in waves of varying intensity, but there was no easing their foot off the pedal on Friday.

Source: RaboDirect PRO12/YouTube

Ulster are a driven team in magnificent form, but their along with the most difficult run in of the top five they are having to contend with a growing injury list. The move into second place entering the final month of the season will be a massive fillip, but with trips to Glasgow and Thomond Park sandwiching that home encounter with Leinster, their foot must be kept flat on the floor if Ravenhill is to have any bonus fixtures to host and help pay its way.

Spare a thought for Connacht: few teams would have withstood the kind of intensity and accuracy Ulster took into the league on Friday, the visitors were just got caught in the cross-fire. Before that sizeable blip, Pat Lam’s side had strung together four impressive victories and a settled team really started coming together.

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Source: RaboDirect PRO12/YouTube

 

‘Settled’ is an all too unfamiliar word around Connacht rugby. This week’s growing doubt over Robbie Henshaw’s future in Galway can only be a destabilizing factor for a team with so few focal points. But while it would be easy to suggest they will already have one eye on next season, Lam will want to maximise every single game he puts his young squad into.

11 points off Llanelli, seventh may well be the highest that Connacht can hope to finish the campaign – that would be no mean feat having spent so long near the foot of the table – but with Munster next up in Galway, they will dearly want to atone for the 58 points shipped in Belfast by making the playoff hopefuls feel their presence.

Source: RaboDirect PRO12/YouTube

Munster’s other two fixtures bring them to Edinburgh before a final round home clash against Ulster. This weekend’s woeful display at home to a weakened Glasgow side can only e forgiven to a team who fancies it has bigger fish to fry.

Their reputation in the Heineken Cup has been hard-earned and they have ensured it won’t be easily lost. It is impossible to replicate European intensity on a week to week basis, but it is possible to limit basic errors and it’s this which Penney will bemoan if in a fortnight’s time, they are left with only an under-threat Pro12 playoff place as their best hope of silverware.

Of course, Munster could turn up and pass on another punishment Connacht’s way and end up level at the top of the league next weekend.

The endgame of the RaboDirect Pro12 is poised finely enough for a variety of outcomes to sound plausible, and with no sponsor confirmed for next season, that can be no bad thing.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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