THE MAGNERS League Round 17 starts with four games on Friday night, the stand-out being the match between third placed Leinster and fourth placed Scarlets. With just one point separating them in the League table Leinster must be looking to their impressive home record for a victory that will keep them in the Play-Off zone.
Cardiff Blues travel to Edinburgh aware that the loss last weekend to Ulster dropped them three places down the table. Blues will be keen not to slip up again as they are now in 5th place, one point off the Play-Off zone but with a game in hand over the four teams above them.
Benetton Treviso, who have been consistently placed mid table in their inaugural season in the Magners League, travel for the first time to Connacht, Should the hosts run of home successes continue, they could overtake their visitors in the League table as just two points separate the two teams.
The final game on Friday night is another Irish-Italian affair as Ulster host Aironi. Ulster have sat in sixth place since round 11 where they stayed despite victory over the Blues last weekend. However should other results go their way this weekend, victory on Friday night could see Ulster regain a Play-Off spot.
The round concludes with two games on Saturday; Ospreys v Glasgow Warriors and Munster v Newport Gwent Dragons. Victory over Connacht last weekend saw Ospreys return to second in the table, whilst League leaders Munster now have a comfortable nine point cushion between themselves and their nearest rival. Victory for both home sides would raise their expectations of hosting a home semi-final. With just five complete rounds to play after the conclusion of this weekend’s fixtures, the battle for the top four places is definitely hotting up.
Friday 4 March
CONNACHT v BENETTON TREVISO
At Sportsground, 7.05pm. Referee: Graham Knox ( SRU, 11th League game). Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, D O’Flynn (both IRFU)
Connacht’s last four matches have all been won by the home side on the day. Connacht have won their last three home games at the Sportsground in all competitions. Benetton Treviso’s only victory in their last six matches in all competitions was 19-18 at home to Munster on 13 February. Treviso have won just one away game this season: 16-15 at Aironi in the Magners League on New Year’s Eve. The two teams have met just once before, in round 7, when Treviso won 24-17 at the Stadio Monigo.
EDINBURGH RUGBY v CARDIFF BLUES
At Murrayfield, 7.30pm. Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 7th League game). Assistant Referees: David Changleng, Graeme Marshall (both SRU).
Edinburgh Rugby have now lost six successive matches in all competitions since their 28-17 victory over Glasgow Warriors at Murrayfield on 2 January. Edinburgh have lost their last eight encounters with Welsh opponents in all tournaments. Cardiff Blues four game winning run in the Magners League ended at Ulster on Friday night. The Blues have won their last six matches against adversaries from Scotland since January 2010. The two sides have already met on three separate occasions this season with the Blues victorious each time.
LEINSTER v SCARLETS
At RDS Dublin, 7.35pm. Live on TG4 and BBC Wales. Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU, 34th League game). Assistant Referees: Michael Black, M Hermin (both IRFU). TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU).
Leinster’s only defeat in their last nine matches in all competitions was 3-11 at Cardiff Blues in the Magners League on 19 February. The Leinstermen have not lost at the RDS since last season’s Magners League Grand Final against Ospreys. Scarlets’ six game losing run in all competitions ended at home to Edinburgh on Thursday evening. Scarlets are winless in their last four encounters with Irish provinces. Scarlets have won just one of their last eight clashes with Leinster since 2007: 18-16 at Parc y Scarlets in the Magners League on 5 September 2009.
ULSTER v AIRONI
At Ravenhill, 7.05pm. Live on BBC NI. Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU, 5th League game). Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, John Carvill (both IRFU). TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU).
Ulster have won five of their last six matches in all competitions, their only defeat being 22-23 at Ospreys in the Magners League on 13 February. The Ulstermen have met Italian opposition on nine previous occasions and won them all. Aironi are still without a win in the Magners League following their latest defeat, 10-20, at the hands of Munster at Stadio Zaffanella on Sunday. Ulster won 22-15 when the two teams met in Viadana in round six.
Saturday 5 March
MUNSTER v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
At Musgrave Park, 7.30pm. Live on RTE and S4C. Referee: Peter Allan (SRU, 43rd League game). Assistant Referees: David Keane, Eanna O’Dowd (both IRFU). TMO: Brian Fitzgerald (IRFU).
Munster have won six of their last seven matches in the Magners League since November. The Munstermen have won their last dozen home matches since Ospreys visited Limerick in the Magners League on 24 April 2010,
and won 15-11. Newport Gwent Dragons are unbeaten in their last five encounters in all competitions. The Dragons’ only defeat in the Magners League in 2011 was 15-21 at Scarlets on New Year’s Day. The Men from Gwent have won their last two matches against Munster and are going for an unprecedented third successive win against the Munstermen.
OSPREYS v GLASGOW WARRIORS
At Liberty Stadium, 5.30pm. Live on S4C and BBC Alba. Referee: Alan Falzone (FIR, 3rd League game). Assistant Referees: Phil Fear, Neil Ballard (both WRU). TMO: Tony Rowlands (WRU).
Ospreys have rattled off six successive victories in all competitions since they visited London Irish in the European Cup on 16 January. Ospreys have won their last eight home matches since Dragons were the victors when they visited Liberty Stadium in the Magners League on 30 October. Glasgow Warriors are without a win in their last five Magners League encounters. The Warriors have not won away from home in the tournament since they took a trip to Scarlets on 7 May. Glasgow won 31-23 when the two teams met in round six and are going for a first ever season’s double over Ospreys. The Warriors, however, have never won on Ospreys soil.
But who’s going to win? Predictions pls!