JUST WHEN YOU thought the top four places in the Pro12 might be about to sort themselves out, last weekend comes along and squeezes everybody a little closer together.
Before we go any further: let’s remind everyone about the factors that will separate teams who are level on points:
Ospreys, having begun last weekend in fourth, sit top of the table after sending Glasgow home pointless. Munster sit third after Ulster turned a seven-point deficit into a draw in a dramatic finish in Kingspan Stadium.
It means the play-off shake-up looks like this going into round 22, the final hurdle before the semi-finals.
The goal for all four teams is a place in the top two. Third and fourth must take up the away berths in the semi-finals and, through 20 attempts, no team has managed to win a Pro12 semi-final away from home. So here’s what’s required.
Munster sit third with 70 points, level with the teams above them, but behind because they have won fewer games.
Anthony Foley’s men host the Dragons in Cork tomorrow and the ninth-place Welsh club have nothing tangible to play for. The goal therefore must be a bonus point win.
That would put them beyond the reach of Ulster and put some huge pressure on Ospreys (away to Connacht) and Glasgow Warriors (home to Ulster).
If the Welsh and Scottish title-chasers do manage to get bonus point wins, then their 75-point total(s) would edge either or both ahead of Munster on by virtue of that ‘games won’ column.
The host club for this year’s final are now in real danger of being passive bystanders.
Sparky congratulates Paddy Jackson on saving Ulster from a first home league defeat. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO
Ulster lie in fourth place, the only play-off side short of the 70 point line and will try to take hope from Ospreys’ leap from fourth to first last weekend. They travel to Glasgow to face the Warriors badly needing a win.
If Connacht cannot do their provincial rivals a favour by beating Ospreys, then the Welsh side will advance beyond reach of the Neil Doak’s side on games won.
Victory over Glasgow would see Ulster frog-leap Gregor Townsend’s side, but they would need a bonus point victory to overtake Munster if Foley’s men beat Dragons without a BP – and even then only if they ground three more tries in Glasgow than Munster manage in Cork.