Guinness Pro12 Semi-Final Weekend: The Preview

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Ospreys v Munster - Guinness Pro12
SWANSEA, WALES - FEBRUARY 18: Munster's Francis Saili under pressure from Ospreys' Rory Thornton during the Guinness Pro12 Round 15 match between Ospreys and Munster at Liberty Stadium on February 18, 2017 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Simon King - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Ireland has provided six of the last nine winners for the Guiness Pro12 and 60% of the play-off teams for the last five years and no team has won an away semi-final in the Pro12 era.

In short: the Welsh battalion has a lot on their hands. Scarlets and Ospreys travel across the Irish sea to take on Leinster and Munster at their respective home grounds.

The two Irish sides have dominated the Pro12 table this term finishing almost 20 points ahead of fifth-placed Ulster. Last season’s winner Connacht underwhelmed this season under the weight of expectation and following the announcement that head coach Pat Lam would leave at the end of this campaign.

Nevertheless, the Pro12 trophy looks like it’s set to stay on the Emerald Isle unless Scarlets or Ospreys can lift domestic Welsh rugby out of the doldrums it has self-imploded into it. They have equally tough ties but who (if any) have the best chance of reaching the Aviva Stadium a week on Saturday?

Scarlets Visit The Capital

Leinster remain unbeaten at home this season with their four Pro12 losses all coming on the road – one of which was at Scarlets.

Their excellent home record features a seven try mauling of the Scarlets back in March when Leo Cullen’s side won 45-9 at the RDS Arena. The ounce of solace for the men in red is not only their current form which has seen them win nine of their last ten, but the fact that game came during the Six Nations when Wales had called upon their stars to step up and represent their country.

The strength in depth of Leinster at current rendered that came as a no contest, but the Scarlets have an array of Welsh stars in their squad and expect many of them to be present on Friday. The likes of Liam Williams, Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies, Samson Lee and Ken Owens are all in line to start in Dublin on Friday night and their individual talent will be essential if Scarlets are to cause an upset.

Especially given the resurgence of Leinster this year that owes much to both the incredible conveyor belt of academy products and one Stuart Lancaster who arrived this season and has set about re-establishing himself as a top coach.

Revival of Leinster a Credit to Academy and Lancaster Input

The Irish side came close to making the final in Europe before Clermont eventually proved too much for them, but the way in which they dismantled Premiership table toppers Wasps a little over a month ago was as comprehensive a statement from a side you will see this season.

If they come anywhere near the levels they set that day then Scarlets can begin planning for next season. They must already do that minus Liam Williams who is Saracens bound – scary I know – but if he and his fellow Lions can step up to the plate then those visiting Dublin 4 on Friday evening could be set for a mouth-watering clash.

Honoring a Legend

Munster’s season from the minute former head coach and captain Axel Foley tragically passed has been fuelled on raw emotion and they have just two games left to gift Foley the perfect tribute.

Having already completed the Pro12 double over an Osprey’s side that have meandered to the season’s finale Munster will arrive at Thomond Park on Saturday evening full of confidence.

Their only domestic loss this year was to the Scarlets, but they remain exemplary otherwise and the way they battered outgoing champions Connacht on the final day sent the message loud and clear.

Munster are without silverware since they lifted the Pro12 back in 2011 and they want that drought to end.

Munster Fired-up to End Title Drought

Rassie Erasmus has masterminded the most astronomical turnaround from 12 months ago and this Munster side have the population of Limerick believing that the glory days are returning. Influential fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal returned to training this week whilst the talismatic Conor Murray returned from injury a fortnight ago.

Ospreys head to the Thomond Park fortress in poor form losing four of their last five including losses to Treviso and Cardiff Blues. They squandered a 14-point lead against Munster at the Liberty Stadium back in February and haven’t rediscovered that form since.

Inevitably the likes of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar give any side an opportunity but it will be an almighty shock if the Ospreys can prolong their season by another week with a win in the west of Ireland.

The Verdict – Pro12 Semi-finals

To say it is worth putting your mortgage on an all Irish Pro12 final is, above anything else risky, but brave given the quality of individuals in both the Scarlets and Ospreys XV. But Welsh club teams do not show the same vigor of fight of the national team which is why they have been so elusive in this competition.

Wales battled to victory over Ireland in the Six Nations back in March, but Ireland will earn the slightest of revenge this weekend barring a minor miracle.

Munster and Leinster have set the standard across the Celtic League this year and seeing their names alongside Saracens and Clermont in Europe’s final four signifies the Irish returning to the top table and the gulf the Welsh must address.

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