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Rabo – Last Roll Of The Dice For At Least One Province

MUN_552655kAnd so we come to a close, the regular league season done with Leinster on top and Glasgow at their heels. You could say it’s all becoming a bit repetitive, or you could say it simply is a representation of how far beyond the rest of the league Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Glasgow and (sometimes) Ospreys are year in year out. The Rabo will change dramatically next season, the new importance of qualification fresh in minds from day one, but for now, like its grown up European counterpart, we will see out the last of the current incarnation and see what lies ahead this weekend.

Munster find themselves under the most pressure this evening as they travel to meet Glasgow for their semi final. Since the game against Toulon in the Heineken Cup they have not looked right at all. Any sniff of backline brilliance that may have existed earlier in the season is all but eradicated, and against a side as dynamic at his level as Glasgow they could do without that. Rob Penney could be staring down his final game in charge of the province, and as much as he can look back on his tenure with pride, there will be many lingering thoughts of lost opportunities too you would feel.

For Glasgow, well Gregor Townsend has kept alive the Rabo dominance they have built for years. They’re just such a bogey team at times, nearly as if their opponents can’t shake the fact that they are supposed to be poor simply for being Scottish (which let’s face it, they hardly are at this stage). Still they have earned their place this season, taking scalps from Leinster, Ulster, Munster and of course a double victory over Exeter in the Heineken Cup. Quite simply, they’re never beat. Leinster nearly found that out the hard way last season with a narrow semi final win over them, and this will still be smarting for Glasgow.

What can either side do to bring that extra edge over their opponent? Well Glasgow don’t really have to do much, like I said, the pressure’s on Munster. If they don’t get some sort of rhyme or reason to their backline soon, all hope is lost. This game cannot be won with a typical stand up and fight Munster approach, too many holes for Sean Maitland, Alex Dunbar and Tommy Seymour appear that way. Home advantage will be crucial to Glasgow too, as much as it was against them last year at this point. This could be the one negating factor against that all enthralling All Ireland final we all seem to so desperately crave.

But one thing never changes, write Munster off at your peril. Just to make things doubly confusing.

Verdict: Glasgow win

Leinster and Ulster, slowly but surely surpassing Munster and Leinster for age old rivalry. With the Heineken Cup Final in 2012, up to the most recent meeting that had more cards than a Hallmark factory, the last few years have been boiling Ulster’s blood via Leinster’s dominance. That’s not to say that Ulster have been constantly on the backfoot and failing to come out on top against their southern neighbours, but every Leinster win has seemingly been a trouncing like Twickenham in 2012, or Les Bleus have somehow snaked their way past the Ulstermen at the last minute every time. It can’t be anything but infuriating.

Ulster will not be helped by the absence of Tom Court and John Afoa either as the scrum could have been that one area of strength for them but now could very well get hammered. Mark Anscombe came into the Ulster fold under dubious circumstances, with the majority absolutely flabbergasted at Brian McLaughlin being ousted after such successful improvements being implemented under his reign. Anscombe has by no means failed to live up to his prophecised potential as head coach, but still Ulster remain without a trophy since 1999, barring a non-knock out Celtic League title. They need this win, they need the final at least.

Leinster however could be staring down their first title-less season since 2010 if Saturday does not go to plan. Both of these sides have immense pressure on, although both do have less of a “wasted season” element to them than Munster which is small consolation to be thankful for I suppose. Arguably with both these sides the coaches are under the worst of it, Matt O’Connor desperately wanting to prove his worth at Leinster with at least one trophy in his freshman season and Anscombe now at the point where reward is expected, if not demanded.

Ulster’s chip on their shoulder should just about cancel out Leinster’s home advantage, but either way expect this to be one of the weekend’s more exciting games should both these sides turn out with as full strength as possible, expect the men in blue to prevail.

Verdict: Leinster win

Image courtesy of thesundaytimes.co.uk

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