THE RACE to to make the Magners League play-off places is hotting up with just six rounds to go.
Munster are leading the charge for a home draw in the play-offs, with a nine-point lead at the top of the table over defending champions the Ospreys – but there are only six points separating the next five teams in the battle for the next three places.
There are two Heineken Cup quarter-finalists in the chasing pack – Leinster and Ulster – last season’s Amlin Challenge Cup winners Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets.
So there is all to play for as the season reaches its climax and Ospreys skipper Alun Wyn Jones says his side are in no mood to give up their title.
“Right from the start of our season we declared we wanted to become the first team to win the Magners League title back-to-back and the bonus point win over Connacht last weekend really made a difference and moved us nicely into second place,” says Jones.
“The Grand Final win over Leinster in Dublin last year defined our season and after our exit from the Heineken Cup all our efforts will be going into retaining the title in May. Our strength in depth was questioned last season, but the team has held up well during the RBS 6 Nations.
“It would be great to have a home tie in the play-offs, but getting into the top four is the first priority and we believe we can go anywhere and win. The Grand Final concept certainly added to the appeal of the Magners League last season and everyone is now gearing up for a big push between now and 28 May.”
Magners League chairman Andy Irvine has also been impressed by the growth of the tournament this season and says: “We know we have an excellent, expanding product and it is great to see more and more people engaging with it. Some of the world’s biggest names are playing in the Magners League and the level of competition on the pitch continues to rise.”
The headline figures highlighted by Irvine included:
• despite the difficult economic climate, attendance figures have remained constant on a game for game basis and show a 30% increase with the addition of the two Italian teams.
• Almost 700,000 fans through the gates in 16 rounds
• a league record gate of 50,645 for the Leinster v Munster game
• on target to top more than one million fans by the Grand Final on 28 May
• 120 out of 134 matches being show live.
• matches shown on Terrestrial TV in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
• a 10% growth in viewing figures in Wales with weekly averages of 254,750
• on-line audiences of more than 900,000 unique users per month across the Magners League and club websites
• Leinster and Ulster reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and Munster the quarter-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup