Hard to quibble with anything Joe Schmidt has done to date with Ireland

Perhaps it is true that Leinster players are more familiar with Schmidt’s methods and better equipped to execute them

Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 12:00

Saturday’s squabble is one of five Irish derbies scattered each week over the last five full rounds of the Rabo Pro12, with potentially two more to follow in the knock-out stages (not to mention Europe) and each is liable to have a significant bearing on the final make-up of the table. The result of Saturday’s summit meeting could well ultimately decide which team finishes first and thus not only ensures home advantage in the semi-final but final as well.

Well equipped
Lurking within five and three points of these two are Ulster, who are thus well equipped to move right back into the shake-up for a first or top-two finish by winning in Cardiff on Saturday night. Ulster also host Leinster in their penultimate league game when officially unveiling the re-developed Ravenhill in all its glory before visiting Thomond Park on the final Saturday.

Nor are Connacht entirely on the outside looking in. Presuming the new qualifying format for next season’s re-designed European Cup is confirmed this week, whereby the Pro12 provides seven qualifiers, this would entail one guaranteed entry from each of the four participating countries in the league. As things stand, this would be the top six (Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Ospreys, Glasgow and Scarlets) plus one of the Italian teams currently in the bottom two.

Four successive wins, the last three all with bonus points, have elevated Connacht to seventh in the table and within four points of sixth-placed Scarlets, whom they visit on Sunday in a game being televised by RTÉ. Win that and they could be right in the equation for qualification for next season’s top tier European competition. Edinburgh also lurk three points behind Connacht with two games in hand.

Realistically, therefore, this is probably a must-win, and no less than the two protagonists in the Aviva, their game at Parc y Scarlets cold be viewed as their biggest league game of the season to date.

gthornley@irishtimes.com

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