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Munster’s PRO14 semi-final qualification is in their own hands

(Pictured: Joy at Thomond Park as JJ Hanrahan goes over for a Munster try)

CHRISTIAN Cullen comes to mind as Munster’s injury woes continue to mount. The casualties last Saturday, added to the earlier report that Joey Carbery’s ankle problem is causing concern, have been unfortunate and on Sunday the province will be hoping for the required victory over Connacht and a clean bill of health at the final whistle. They will also be keeping a keen eye on the Dragons v Scarlets game the previous day in Rodney Parade with victory for the latter Welsh side making a win over Connacht a necessity if Munster are to qualify for the semi-final and another crack at holders Leinster.
Despite the mishaps Munster look well capable of getting a win over a side that has rarely succeeded in beating them over recent seasons. Unlike previous campaigns when adequate replacements were thin on the Thomond Park ground, there is a room-full of baying replacements drooling at the mouth to get the nod from Johann van Graan before kick-off on Sunday. The number ten jersey, which has been a cause for concern, has been firmly filled this season by former UL Bohemian Kerry man JJ Hanrahan who is currently the league’s top points-scorer with 111 and Munster top the Fairplay league – with just four sin-bins all campaign.
Almost a year after the Guinness PRO14 season began, the curtain is now set to come down on the league campaign this weekend – leaving a sprint to the finish in the Semi-Finals and Final. Leinster, Ulster and Edinburgh are already home and hosed in the last four. Here is a look at what we can look forward to over the coming week-end.
FRIDAY – Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh | KO 19:35 UK | Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 1, DAZN, SuperSport 1, pro14.tv
Friday marks the fourth and final meeting of Scotland’s two clubs and Glasgow Warriors need to win in order to draw that mini-series 2-2.
Edinburgh came from behind in the final quarter last weekend to secure a 30-15 victory and the 1872 Cup, and they have a Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final against Ulster to look forward to.
Warriors are safely third in Conference A but last week’s defeat ended their slim post-season prospects and head coach Danny Wilson has already promised changes to his team. One man who looks set to remain is makeshift full-back Huw Jones, converted from centre to start at No.15 last weekend.
SATURDAY – Dragons v Scarlets
Rodney Parade, Newport | KO 17:15 | Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 1, DAZN, Super Sport 1, pro14.tv
If results go their way, Scarlets could end up in the Semi-Finals and Conference A table-toppers Leinster will surely not fancy a tangle with the Welsh region’s electric attack.
But, before they can sit and scream at the TV urging Connacht to do them a favour on Sunday afternoon, Scarlets must first take care of business against the Dragons – and that is easier said than done.
Dean Ryan’s side showed plenty of spirit to come from behind and draw at Ospreys thanks to a last-gasp try, and have beaten Scarlets in each of their last two meetings – including a 22-20 win in December – but have never won three straight.
In addition to a possible Semi-Final spot, there is plenty on the line for Scarlets winger Steff Evans – who is just two behind the league’s leading try-scorer Rhyno Smith (10).
SATURDAY – Ulster v Leinster
Aviva Stadium, Dublin | KO 19:35 | Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 1, Super Sport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Is this a warm-up for the final?
Ulster and Leinster have battled hard all season long in Conference A and both will be getting ready for the Guinness PRO14 Semi-Finals, starting next week.Although both will have to get through those last-four clashes first, this could be the second of three potential meetings this season and if the first is anything to go by, we are in for a treat.
Leinster, victorious in every match this season, obviously prevailed but the contest was as breathless as the 54-42 scoreline suggests. Ulster’s recent record against their rivals is a cause for concern, with just one win in five league meetings, but the shackles are off at the Aviva Stadium.
SUNDAY – Cardiff Blues v Ospreys
Rodney Parade, Newport | KO 17:00 | Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Cardiff Blues and Ospreys don’t do one-sided affairs and we can expect another close battle again on Sunday afternoon.
The last time one side beat the other by more than ten points was in 2017, six matches ago, with the Blues edging this season’s lone encounter by just three points at Christmas.
Both teams are looking up the table, hoping to improve their current position, with Ospreys keen to avoid finishing bottom of Conference with a first win against a fellow Welsh team this season.
A win is imperative for them to put the pressure on Zebre, currently three points above, while the Blues are aiming to pip Benetton into fifth place.
SUNDAY – Zebre v Benetton
Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma | KO 19:00 (UK), 20:00 (IT) | Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 2, DAZN, pro14.tv
The two teams that played the first Guinness PRO14 match since lockdown, will also play the last of the regular season.
Zebre were outstanding in their 17-13 win at Benetton last Friday, their first success against their neighbours in six attempts, and will hope to build on that and edge ahead of Dragons into fifth in Conference A.
Benetton no doubt have a point to prove and have Cardiff Blues breathing down their necks in the battle for fifth in Conference B.

SUNDAY – Munster v Connacht
Aviva Stadium, Dublin | KO 15:00 | Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 2, DAZN, Super Sport 1, pro14.tv
Munster’s task is simple on Sunday: win and they are in the semi-finals.
Of course, it’s never easy when you’re playing a derby and especially against an opponent full of beans after such an impressive victory last weekend.
Munster do hold an advantage, winning each of their last four Guinness PRO14 matches against Connacht, but arrive with injury scars after losing new signing RG Snyman for at least six months after he damaged his knee against Leinster.
Connacht, fourth in Conference B, will be underdogs but it will be interesting to see how they cope with Munster at the breakdown.

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