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Rabo – Connacht Fight For European Qualification

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Ah yes the news has finally officially come, the Heineken Cup is no more. Next year it will be replaced with the European Rugby Champion’s Cup (or, ERCC, hmmmm) and as well as having a second tier challenge cup there will also be a third tier competition. Arguably this is the best news of the entire deal, and that the ERC could never pull it off maybe justifies their exit from proceedings. The biggest news from this announcement however is that Connacht now know for certain that the final leg of the Rabo is crucial for their European dreams.

The biggest issue for the Westerners however is that their table mates, Edinburgh, have a game in hand and also the fact that Scarlets play Zebre this weekend. Connacht on the other hand must face Ulster in Ravenhill. That said, they’ve produced bigger upsets this season, and Ulster are absolutely ragged after the attritional mission they undertook last weekend. Six players in total lost to injury from that weekend, forcing a start for Rob Herring at hooker and more notably Tommy Bowe at 13. It’s not a new position to him by any means, but Connacht’s back line has been getting more and more potent and the likes of Robbie Henshaw will fancy their chances running at a make shift defense of sorts.

Still, if Ulster show even half the resolve this weekend as they did a week ago, this should be no issue for them. Like Leinster, this is all to play for now and injuries or not, at home with faith to retain from the incredible support seen last week, they won’t sit back.

Ulster win

Leinster, like Ulster, are smarting. Personally I don’t think they had the tools to beat Toulon based on their performances this season however they could have earned more pride in defeat. Like Ulster they count the injury toll, with Fergus McFadden’s injury compounding the already huge loss of Luke Fitzgerald.

Ospreys will control the game via Dan Biggar and Justin Tipuric as they always do, and though not so much in recent fixtures, they will always be the bogey team for Leinster. Being away won’t help Leinster’s chances either as two games on the road in succession never would, but they are stung. They need silverware. It likely won’t be the return to glory from last week the fans want, and definitely not with the insistence on starting Jimmy Gopperth, but it will be an improvement.
Leinster win

Pity Glasgow. If the Munster team of last week turn up then the Scots are in for a horrible time in Limerick. That said, Munster’s solid but not spectacular season so far would suggest the French job was a flash in the pan, but they now sit as the one great Irish hope in Europe, the wind is at their back and their tails are up.

It’s a relieving situation for all fans of Irish rugby as Munster did look like they could have been going down a bad road with mixed results and only one off games to retain merit. After their destruction of Toulouse, even the early loss in the Heineken to Edinburgh can nearly be forgotten. They are back, and in Rob Penney’s final season as coach they are headed towards a grand flurry of a finish.
Munster win

Image courtesy of RTE.ie

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