Guinness Pro12 preview: Leinster, Munster & more

Gareth Llewellyn looks ahead to rounds five and six of the PRO12 for the four Irish professional teams

By Gareth Llewellyn

Connacht

Who will they face?

Connacht kick-off October hosting Cardiff Blues before a trip to Italy to take on Benetton Treviso.

How have they done so far?

Not great. The Men of Gwent have been hampered injuries and slumped to three defeats on the bounce to Connacht, Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors before last week’s win over Benetton Treviso. A team in transition, nobody is expecting miracles overnight – especially given their current problems. They look a better outfit than last year, but have had a tough start to the season.

How have the opposition done so far?

The Scarlets have been hit and miss. One win, two draws, one defeat. 15 tries scored, but 12 conceded in the process. No shortage of entertainment here. Disappointed to have thrown two wins away against Ulster and Edinburgh, were woeful at times against Leinster, and they took advantage against Treviso.

The same can be said of Edinburgh. Did enough against a poor Munster performance to leave Thomond Park with a win, but then threw away a win at home against Connacht, were demolished in Swansea against the Ospreys, but somehow fought back for a draw with the Scarlets – a match they could have won in the last minute.

How will Connacht do?

On paper, it’s another two defeats. For all the defensive frailties at the Scarlets – they score tries for fun, are at home and it’s a first Welsh derby of the season for them. That, however, could raise the Dragons’ game further. It will be an interesting one, but expect the Scarlets to be too strong.

Edinburgh should also be tough and, while a home win is more likely, this is one that the Dragons could sneak as Connacht did last month. Both teams have players coming back from injury and the jury is still out on whether either could achieve a top six finish. At present, neither will, but Edinburgh have the edge. Just.

Leinster

Who will they face?

The reigning champions host Munster at the Aviva Stadium before taking on Zebre in Parma.

How have they done so far?

Leinster have had a mixed start to the season. Two losses on the road in Glasgow and Galway, but two wins at home have shown glimpses that they can’t be written off too early with 18 matches remaining and they did well to play until the death against the Cardiff Blues last time out to secure a bonus-point win.

How have the opposition done so far?

Munster aren’t quite in freefall, but there’s a definite decline. Home defeats in Limerick to Edinburgh and the Ospreys have set the tone for their season. Their only wins have come against the Italian clubs, which is to be expected, but they don’t yet look the top four side they have been in recent seasons.

How will the reigning champions do?

The expectation has to be two wins from two. They haven’t lost to interpro rivals Munster in Dublin since 2008 and if they come through that, a win in Parma should be assured as confidence builds for Matt O’Connor’s team. The last few contests between Leinster and Munster have been close on the scoreboard, but Leinster are overwhelming favourites this week.

Munster

Who will they face?

Munster face Leinster at the AVIVA Stadium before a home tie against the Scarlets.

How have they done so far?

As said above, there has been a notable drop off from the Munster team that were unlucky to lose in last season’s PRO12 semi-finals against Glasgow Warriors. It is difficult to read too much into what they have done against the Italians, but there will be some alarm at the manner of the defeats to Edinburgh and Ospreys – matches they were expected to win. That said, at 48, they have conceded the fewest points in the league so far.

How have the opposition done so far?

Leinster have had a mixed start to the season. Two losses on the road in Glasgow and Galway, but two wins at home have shown glimpses that they can’t be written off too early with 18 matches remaining and they did well to play until the death against the Cardiff Blues last time out to secure a bonus-point win.

The Scarlets have been hit and miss in their opening four matches. One win, two draws, one defeat. 15 tries scored, but 12 conceded in the process. No shortage of entertainment here. Disappointed to have thrown two wins away against Ulster and Edinburgh, were woeful at times against Leinster, and they took advantage against Treviso.

How will the Munstermen do?

The smart money is on a Leinster win at the AVIVA despite players coming back for Munster, but you can never rule out the interpro factor and they need a win against a top six team to get their season going. On form, it should be another defeat in Dublin.

Their match with the Scarlets could go either way. Both teams have sizeable packs, but the Scarlets are playing a more expansive game this season. If Munster’s defence can hold strong, they should be able to find another home win.

Ulster

Who will they face?

Ulster face Scottish duo Edinburgh then Glasgow Warriors at the Kingspan Stadium.

How have they done so far?

Ulster have had a solid start to the season after they came back to draw 32-32 with Scarlets in their opening game. A good win against the Zebre at home followed by a strong performance at Cardiff Blues was dampened last week by a shock defeat to Zebre in Parma.

How have the opposition done so far?

Edinburgh had a dream debut with a win over Munster at Thomond Park, recording just their second win in Ireland in the last 24 visits, but they lost to Connacht at BT Murrayfield Stadium despite leading for most of the match. Then came that woeful performance in Swansea that led to the 62-13 rout against Ospreys, before they came from 17-3 down to draw 20-20 with the Scarlets in Edinburgh.

The Warriors have four wins from four matches, taking care of Leinster and Connacht at home and Cardiff Blues and the Dragons away, pumping in 15 tries and two bonus points in the process. They’re a side who continue to improve under Gregor Townsend and have shown they can be ruthless in attack and defence.

How will the Ulstermen do?

Nothing short of a home win will do against Edinburgh, who have yet to find much rhythm to their game. The Ulster backline can rip apart the Gunners’ defence in the way the Ospreys did a couple of weeks ago if their problems haven’t been fixed.

The Warriors will be a tougher proposition on Saturday week. The way they are going, the Scots will go to Belfast expecting to win if they play the way they have so far this season. This could be a cracking match with the Sky Sports cameras at Ravenhill. Could be a close one, but the Warriors should win.

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