Guinness PRO14 sides confirm their places in Playoffs
22nd March 2019, Galway Sports Ground, Galway, Ireland; Guinness Pro14 rugby, Connacht versus Benetton; Eoin McKeon holds on to the ball for Connacht (photo by Ashley Cahill/Action Plus via Getty Images)

After a long, 21-round regular season, the leading Guinness PRO14 sides confirm their places in the Playoffs for the 2018/19 Celtic League title.

Consisting of two Conference groups, the top four out of each have shown their credentials across the season. Home and Away games, including inter-conference fixtures, have all led to six teams inking their names in the playoff books.

It is now up to these qualifying sides, to see who can ultimately walk away with the Guinness PRO14 trophy.

Guinness PRO14 sides confirm their places in Playoffs

As the two Conference winners, current title holders Leinster and Glasgow Warriors, enjoy a weekend of recovery. Equally deserving, they will watch with interest, as four sides challenge for the right to play-off for a place in the Cup final.

While that date is set for theΒ May 25 Grand Final, atΒ Celtic Park in Glasgow, nothing is set in concrete. Each of the four quarterfinalists has to now work even harder, if they are to then meet top-seeded sides; Leinster and Glasgow, in the semifinals.

That means this Saturday, the Munster v Benetton fixture is super important on many fronts. Not only does the team from the Kingdom of Munster want to continue their high standing of Irish Rugby, they wouldn’t want to be the first team to lose to an Italian qualifier.

Benetton Treviso maiden Italian Guinness PRO14 Qualifier

While the main focus of professional rugby in the Celtic League, is on leading the way for European Profesional Rugby Clubs, the story behind the qualification of Benetton Treviso, is your ‘Cinderella Story’.

The pride which this team will now feel has naturally got to be a massive motivation. Representing the long-held hopes of all Italian Rugby, Benetton will have to manage those expectations. Still a sensational accomplishment, yet not the entire objective.

Italian passion is all too often a weight ‘too heavy to bare’ for some latin-blooded sides. Emboldened by the occasion yet, limited by that attachment to reaching the goal…not fulfilling it.

So if this maiden opportunity at Guinness PRO14 semifinal rugby is going to be maximized, then Benetton must approach this fixture primarily as ‘just another match’. Not one that is ignored but, not one that will overwhelm players.

Still enjoying the fixture, but not exactly letting themselves get wound-up in the moment.

Ulster Rugby v Connacht – an Irish standoff

The second playoff game on Saturday is the ‘all Irish’ match-up. An encounter to bring entertainment from the outset, these two sides have no love lost – making for a result that will also boost the overall confidence of Ireland Rugby.

Let down in the Six Nations, head coach Joe Schmidt will be pleased that any national form-slump has not affected his regions. The boys in Ulster invite their rivals to secure a more pride to the region.

And even though there can be only one, it will be thrilling to watch.

Guinness PRO14 qualifying Playoffs this weekend

Trophies aside, the teams who qualify to meet the Conference winner must show resilience. Having fought hard over 21 rounds of competition – not including European Rugby commitments – all four teams involved must reach another level.

The two winners will then meet 2018 champs Leinster and Glasgow respectively. Where yet another challenge awaits.

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Pro14 Game #1:Β  Munster v Benetton – 15:00 GMT

Game #2:Β  Ulster v Connacht – 17:35

 

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