Battle For Champions Cup Places Hots Up For PRO14 teams

 

Leinster and Munster retained their strangleholds on their respective conference standings and still look on course to clash in the Guinness PRO14 final but after 12 rounds of competition, it is the battle for Champions Cup places that is starting to look particularly interesting.

The top three teams from each conference advance to the European competition and there are several sides that are in contention still, although for some the situation is starting to become more desperate with each passing week.

An example of a side that has to start winning now or forget about the Champions Cup is Edinburgh. Their coach Richard Cockerill refused to give up on his team clinching one of the European places after his team slumped to their seventh defeat of the season, their conquerors this time being Johan van Graan’s Munster, who completed a hard-fought but well earned 12 point win in a tough away game.

It has been a miserable campaign for Edinburgh, who have arguably not been the same team since Ulster turned the screws on them late in last season’s semi-final at Murrayfield and came back to win at the death. Edinburgh is struggling in the second last position on the conference table, but if you look at the mathematics you can see why Cockerill still has hope.

The Scots are 11 points behind third-placed Scarlets currently, but the important point to consider is that the Welsh team is one of the few teams in the competition to have completed 13 games, while Edinburgh has just played 11. Full points from their two games in hand will put Edinburgh within one point of Scarlets and in with a shout of qualification. That doesn’t look very likely at the moment, however, and Edinburgh’s hopes weren’t helped by Scarlets winning comfortably with a bonus point against Benetton at the weekend. Cardiff Blues, four points behind Scarlets after the same number of games, have a better chance than Edinburgh of making it, but Cardiff didn’t help themselves by being comprehensively outplayed by Connacht.

The Irish province remains in with a mathematical chance of catching Munster at the top of Conference B. They are nine points adrift after the same number of games, but Munster appears to have too much momentum to be caught.

Leinster meanwhile has increased their lead at the top of Conference A with a bonus-point win over the Dragons, with the difference between them and second-placed Ulster now being five points after both teams have played 12 games.

But Leinster was made to fight by the Dragons, who held a 9-0 lead early in the game and who pushed the champions all the way. Ulster maintained their interest in the top spot by beating Glasgow Warriors 19-13 at Scotstoun. The defeat all but ends the Warriors’ interest in the Champions Cup as they are now 15 points adrift of third-placed Ospreys in their conference. Ospreys maintained the pressure by winning 10-0 against Benetton.

Weekend Guinness Pro14 results

Glasgow Warriors 13-19 Ulster
Dragons 29-35 Leinster
Scarlets 41-17 Benetton 
Ospreys 10-0 Zebre
Connacht 32-17 Cardiff Blues
Edinburgh 10-22 Munster