With the Rainbow Cup tournament, consisting of the twelve PRO14 sides and four SA frachises, only a litle more than a month away, South Africa's franchise coaches and leading players could do well to watch this weekend's PRO14 matches
It includes two massive PRO14 Irish derbies which could once and for all determine the finalists for this year’s competition in a few weeks’ time, reports PRO14 in press preview.
The Round 14 showdowns see Conference B leaders Munster host their only real challengers in Connacht on Friday while Saturday will see defending champions Leinster travel to their nearest rivals in Ulster, with the latter needing a big win to keep in touch with the Dublin side.
Johann van Graan’s Munster side can secure their place in the final with a win over Connacht, but it will definitely not be easy. The Galway side are three wins on the trot, but were almost shocked last weekend when a late Bundee Aki try was necessary to see them to victory over lowly Benetton.
Munster have also won three in a row to leave them on the brink of booking their place in the final and have recent history on their side having won the last six meetings with Connacht. The side have been boosted by the return of four Irish internationals, including winger Andrew Conway. Van Graan in particular has been very happy to receive the winger back into the fold.
“Andrew’s in a very good place. Obviously he played against Edinburgh for us, it was a comeback performance after quite a bit of time away from the game. He’s in a very good space and he’s available for selection on the weekend.
“He’s still one of the premier wingers in Ireland and still one of the important players: phenomenal in the air, his finishing ability, his X-factor. There’s a long season to go and he’s very important for us in terms of where we want to get to in the coming weeks.”
Nine points behind Munster, Connacht’s forwards coac Jimmy Duffy knows they face an uphill battle, but if they don’t try then they may as well give up.
“I think the numbers don’t lie. For us, we just prepare as well as we can to get the result and we’ll see where we are after the game,” said Duffy.
“Munster are in the driving seat, they’ve got the nine points ahead of us. So we’re under no illusions, we just want to go and put in our best performance and see where we are at the end of it.”
“We’ve been good at playing a high-tempo brand of rugby and keeping the ball alive. We can amplify and turn it up, when we’re efficient we’ll score some tries. You have to be clinical when you play top sides. If you play anyone in that top three in the table, you have to maximise your opportunity when you’ve a chance to accumulate points.”
Meanwhile Leinster have been buoyed by the news of a new contract for Johnny Sexton and know it is up to Ulster to bring the fight to them. Ulster’s lack of bonus points will cost them if they aren’t able to put in a stellar performance against the champions.
Prop Andy Warwick said this week his side need to up their performance if they are to give themselves a chance of making the final.
“They are good teams (Glasgow and Ospreys) but yeah, the position we were in there we probably didn’t perform too well, especially in the first half and then against Ospreys,” said Warwick.
“We needed to be scoring more points in the first half and we were putting ourselves under pressure near the end of the game to force it, but if we want to get to the next level we have to be taking those opportunities and getting those bonus points.”
Ulster need to do more than just beat Leinster on Saturday, but at least they will give themselves a chance of sneaking into the final if they do
“There’s no looking past it, Leinster are the one of the top teams in Europe and for us to get to that next level we have to beat them and we’ll maybe not have a better opportunity than this week.
“If we’re going to prove to others outside this group that we’re good enough we have to beat Leinster.
“You obviously have to respect how good Leinster have been over the past few years and this season we played them over Christmas and they beat us well down there, and I suppose you just have to block out that noise and just focus on what you can do individually in your role for the team.
“We’re confident of going out and giving a good performance and look this will always be a hard task against Leinster,” he added.
In other games Zebre host Glasgow Warriors on Saturday while Ospreys host Dragons in an all Welsh affair. Sunday sees Edinburgh host Benetton in the final game of the weekend.
Munster v Connacht (9.35pm)
Zebre v Glasgow Warriors (3pm)
Ospreys v Dragons (9.35pm)
Ulster v Leinster (9.35pm)
Edinburgh v Benetton (5.15pm)