The final weekend of the regular Pro12 season came to a dramatic finale on Saturday with Glasgow Warriors and Munster securing home play-offs against Ulster and Ospreys respectively.
This scenario was looking unlikely for the Warriors at half-time as they trailed Ulster 10-6 at Scotstoun Stadium. At that stage the Scottish side were fourth in the table and facing a play-off trip to Munster, but second-half tries from Finn Russell (2), Stuart Hogg and Richie Vernon secured a 32-10 victory, and the bonus point required to finish top of the league table. The result means Ulster will return to Glasgow on Friday night for the first of the weekend’s play-offs.
Glasgow are looking to go one step further than last year’s final defeat against Leinster and become the first Scottish team to be Pro12 champions. The value of a home play-off for the Warriors cannot be underestimated as they have won all 11 home Pro12 matches this season, compared to just five victories away from Scotstoun.
However, the Ulster team that travels to Glasgow on Friday is likely to be very different from the side that lined up on Saturday, with coach Neil Doak having made 12 changes for the match. The men from Belfast are searching for their first title since 2005/06 (then Celtic League), and also have the added incentive of the Pro12 final being held at their very own Kingspan Stadium on Saturday May 30.Ulster almost have as formidable a home record as Glasgow this season with 10 wins and a draw (23-23 v Munster in round 21).
The second play-off will see Ospreys travel to Thomond Park on Saturday, looking for a repeat of the 19-14 win they achieved in round four back in September. The Welsh side missed out on the bonus point they required for a home play-off, despite scoring three first-half tries in their final match at Connacht. Their failure to add a second-half score will make their pursuit of a record-breaking fifth title that bit more difficult. However, they will have the newly-crowned Players’ Player of the Year Rhys Webb in their ranks, an award to cap off a memorable week for the scrum-half, with son Jesse also being born.
Munster were the regular season’s leading points scorers with 581 and top try scorers with 68, but they managed only 26 points and three tries in their two matches against Ospreys. The Swansea-based side were the only team Munster failed to beat in the regular season this campaign, a record they need to rectify if they want to reach their first final since they won the Celtic League in 2010/11.
Of the teams that failed to reach the play-offs, Leinster, Scarlets and Treviso will play in the Champions Cup next season, while Connacht’s reward for their best-ever finish of seventh is a Champions Cup play-off semifinal against English Premiership sideGloucester. Edinburgh, Newport Gwent Dragons, Cardiff Blues and Zebre will have to settle for a place in the 2015/16 Challenge Cup.
BY: GRANT FISKEN