Premier Sports’ Darren Cave believes Ulster can still reach the Final ahead of a packed weekend of rugby as Guinness PRO14 action sits alongside the thrills of Six Nations.
A trio of Friday night games kick starts the excitement as the battle continues for the PRO14 Final and places in next season’s European rugby competition.
At the top of Conference A, Leinster (55 points) have extended their lead over close rivals Ulster in second (50 points) after a bonus point win against Dragons last weekend.
Leinster are back at home in Dublin on Sunday this time meeting fourth-placed Glasgow Warriors. Leinster remain the hot favourites to win the title for a fourth successive season having won 11 of their 12 games, their only defeat coming against Connacht in Round 10.
Ulster host third-placed Ospreys who are in a rich vein of form and looking for a fifth win in a row. Conference B has plenty to play for with just 11 points separating second-placed Connacht from Cardiff Blues in fourth.
Cardiff Blues suffered a 32-17 defeat at Connacht last Saturday and now they host Munster while Connacht take on Benetton in Treviso on Friday night, and third-placed Scarlets travel to Edinburgh on Saturday with an early kick off at BT Murrayfield (Premier Sports 1 from 11.30am) ahead of Six Nations games in Italy and Wales.
Look out for some exciting top of the Conference Irish rivalry coming soon as Connacht travel to Munster on Friday 5th March and Leinster and Ulster meet for a potentially decisive clash at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday March 6th.
Premier Sports’ team for Round 13 coverage lines up as follows:
- Fri 26 Feb Benetton v Connacht: Reggie Corrigan
- Fri 26 Feb Cardiff Blues v Munster: Tom Shanklin and Eddie Butler
- Fri 26 Feb Ulster v Ospreys: Graham Little, Darren Cave, Sean Holley, Paul Mitchell, Mark Robson
- Sat 27 Feb Edinburgh v Scarlets: Dougie Vipond, Chris Paterson, Rory Lawson, Rory Hamilton, Paul Mitchell
- Sat 27 Feb Zebre v Dragons: Reggie Corrigan
Highlights this weekend include an exciting return home for Cardiff Blues to the Arms Park for the first time in 12 months – but with it comes tough opposition as Munster have won their last three encounters against Cardiff Blues and have not seen defeat in Wales in almost two years.
Ulster are at home having won their last five Championship matches at Kingspan Stadium but face a confident Ospreys team unbeaten this year and winners of their last four away games - so the hosts will have to be on their mettle.
Expect a close call in Scotland as Edinburgh seek a morale boosting home win at BT Murrayfield against travelling Scarlets who are 11 points clear of their Scottish rivals after their 41-17 victory over Benetton last weekend.
Edinburgh have two games in hand so there’s plenty on this game too as Scarlets can’t afford any slip ups with Cardiff Blues breathing down their necks in fourth.
Premier Sports’ rugby pundit Darren Cave, the former Irish international and Ulster’s most capped centre with 225 appearances over 12 seasons for his club and 11 tries for Ireland said that the chase is still on for Ulster.
He said: “Ulster can still do it but no doubt it’s going to be tough.
“Ulster and Leinster have won the same amount of games this season - 11 out of 12 - but it shows how Leinster dominate as they’ve had 11 bonus point wins. Just to think Ulster have been as successful as they have been and could win every game now and still not make it to the final. They have to keep winning and keep an eye on those bonus points as well.
“Ulster may fancy themselves at home but Ospreys have a good bit of motivation to come to town and spoil the party and the showdown between Leinster and Ulster. They will want to continue their momentum and if I was an Ospreys player I’d take great pleasure in getting a win in Belfast and disrupting the dominance of the top teams and how successful Ulster have been this season!
“We may not have the excitement of quarter-finals but there is still so much to play for, we don’t know what’s happening about European qualification as yet and for sure there’s no PRO14 team that’s sitting there saying if we finish at or near the bottom it doesn't matter. It’s not how it works.
“Teams will not be resting on their laurels, they will be fighting to finish as high as they can – it does matter, it’s professional sport. I was in it for a long time and players and teams simply don’t have that attitude – there will be a late push to finish as high up as they can. So for Edinburgh v Scarlets expect another good game, two teams that may feel they have under achieved a bit this season but both will be battling hard for points.
“Home advantage hasn’t seemed to have counted for as much this season without crowds but it’s still tough for teams not play at home. I am sure it will be really great for Cardiff Blues players to return home - even if it isn’t packed to the rafters. But Munster are Munster. You watch them and they don’t set the world on fire, but they just win. There’s a lot at stake for Munster - I think it could be another good game as I’m sure Cardiff Blues back at home are capable of a big win and would take great pleasure helping throw Connacht’s hat back into the Final.”
All six Guinness PRO14 games are being shown live on Premier Sports:
- Fri 26 Feb Benetton v Connacht, Live on Premier Sports 2 (from 5.25pm)
- Fri 26 Feb Ulster v Ospreys, Live on Premier Sports 1 (from 7.30pm)
- Fri 26 Feb Cardiff Blues v Munster, Live on Premier Sports 2 (from 7.30pm)
- Sat 27 Feb Edinburgh v Scarlets, Live on Premier Sports 1 (from 11.30am)
- Sat 27 Feb Zebre v Dragons, Live on Premier Sports 1 (from 5.10pm)
- Sun 28 Feb Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, Live on Premier Sports 1 (from 5.25pm)
Premier Sports will continue its coverage of the final stages of PRO14 with all 23 fixtures from rounds 13 to 16 to conclude the PRO14 pool stages ahead of the Final.
Every game will be live on Premier Sports’ channels including the showcase Final on Saturday March 27th where the winners of Conference A will meet the winners of Conference B.
In addition, Guinness PRO14 rescheduled games from previous rounds will now take place during Finals weekend with Glasgow Warriors v Benetton as the warm up to the final on Saturday March 27th from 1.45pm live on Premier Sports and also Dragons v Edinburgh on Sunday 28th March from 2pm.
And the excitement doesn’t stop there. Premier Sports’ rugby coverage will continue in April with the exciting arrival of the new Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup as four South African ‘Super’ teams; the Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers, join the 12 PRO14 clubs in a new 16 club competition running from April 17th until June 19th. Premier Sports will be broadcasting every one of the 57 matches live in this ground-breaking new competition as the best Springbok talent faces some of the British and Irish Lions biggest stars.