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Rabo – Provinces Move On To Final Prize

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Once again, May brings the bad news. Irish interest has vacated the Heineken Cup and all the provinces can strive for is Celtic silverware. There has been whispers the last week of the insignificance of the Rabo these days, especially with the shake up it will receive next season due to increased relevance, but I defy you to tell any of these teams that it’s somehow lesser.

Even in the simplest sense of things, Ulster have not put there hand on Celtic glory since 2006 and with this being a pseudo swan song year for them with all the departing names, they will be more than eager to hopefully increase their chances of maintaining a home semi as they take on Leinster this weekend.

Both provinces are in funny places, Leinster coming of a deflating Heineken Cup exit, as are Ulster, and both going from highs to lows week on and week off in this competition. Both teams also know however that they are better than this, proving to be two of the most consistent sides in the league once they hit their stride. One great thing about this tail end of the season too, especially when European interest is gone, is that all sides will produce as close to full strength teams as injuries will allow, as we see with Ulster starting the likes of Paddy Jackson, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble, whilst Leinster welcome Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy and, thankfully, Ian Madigan to the fray. Most interesting though will be the potential impact of Darren Cave for Ulster versus Luke Fitzgerald should both come on from the bench.

Ulster will of course join Leinster and Munster in the semi finals with even a draw this evening, but playing at home with as much strength returned as they have, they just may have the edge.
Ulster win

Munster, thanks to Ospreys shock defeat to Zebre last night, find themselves qualified with a home knock out still up for grabs. They take on Edinburgh this weekend, a team who didn’t cause them much trouble in the earlier fixture this season, but are certainly owed one after providing Munster an embarrassing Heineken Cup opening defeat.

Munster had a pretty bad day at the office last week against Toulon, but even that loss should serve as better preparation than the three game losing streak Edinburgh find themselves on. Home advantage won’t stand to a whole lot for the Scots here, particularly with Munster having a point of self belief to prove above all else. Simon Zebo has called for change after the French mistake, and change will start with victory.

And of course, there’s the clamour for a home semi.
Munster win

Finally for the Irish interest comes Connacht in what is unfortunately a match of less relevance than it should be. Connacht cannot catch Scarlets and so they will not feature in the top tier of European rugby next season, but with the raft of new signings announced over the last few days there is plenty of promise to lay the foundations for in the next two games, as well as a more respectable finishing position on the league table.

Pat Lam’s freshman season has been a mixed one, the victory over Toulouse undoubtedly the highlight, but the loss in the return fixture, as well as that dark day against Saracens will probably stick out more. Second only to the national team until this season, Connacht’s inconsistency can only be tolerated for so long. Of course resources are an issue, but they’re not the only one. Mental strength akin to that of Clermont is even more of a pressing factor and as I have Harold on ad nauseum at this stage, Connacht need to show the same belief in themselves as their supporters do. Only then can they become the true contenders they can be.

Hopefully that can all start tomorrow against Cardiff, though I have to draw the pessimistic card and say
Cardiff win

Image courtesy of leinsterrugby.ie

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