By Brenden Nel
Johann van Graan’s Munster side have the unique chance of claiming an Irish treble if they can beat Connacht in their Rainbow Cup match in Limerick on Friday night.
After their morale-boosting win over Leinster in the opening round, Munster have grown in stature and their big win over Ulster last week has seen them become the standout team in the Rainbow Cup thus far.
Now if they can add Connacht to their list of scalps it will give them some consolation after their PRO14 final loss to Leinster and their quarter-final exit against eventual European Cup finalists Toulouse.
Add to this the fact that Connacht last beat Munster in Limerick back in November 2015 and the odds look good for the Red Army to pick up another victory. Munster have lost just once in their last five matches on home soil – against Heineken Champions Cup opponents Toulouse – and can reflect on 32 victories from 38 PRO14 starts at Connacht’s expense.
This week he praised his side’s defence as a key aspect in their victories.
“It’s nice to get a complete performance. We converted our opportunities. I thought our breakdown work was excellent on both sides of the ball. That’s a big part of our DNA and something that we will keep going back to. I thought some of our phase attacks and options were very, very good,” he said.
“The one thing that we shouldn’t miss [singling out] if you look at our last two games is our defence. We conceded three points against Leinster and 10 versus Ulster; against two sides that won 14 out of 16 matches in the league phase the same as ourselves, so we conceded 13 points in the last 160 minutes. There is a lot to be positive about.”
While Munster are looking at their unique treble, PRO14 champions Leinster will want to continue from last week’s 50-point demolition of Connacht to make up for their European exit as well.
Ulster have a three game losing run to stop against the PRO14 champions.
Not only were Ulster’s hopes of reaching the PRO14 final thwarted by Leinster in Conference A, they now tackle Leinster striving to avoid suffering four successive defeats in all tournaments for the first time since January 2017.
Saturday’s action sees surprising form team Benetton on level points with Munster after their opening two victories, and will pit them against Zebre, their fellow Italians who they narrowly beat last weekend.
Victory over Zebre at Stadio Monigo on Saturday would mean Treviso winning three successive matches for the first time since early 2019 although the last six meetings between the two sides are split at three-apiece.
Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has looked to motivate his players with talk of places in the Scotland squad for their June tour with tests against Romania and Georgia on the horizon.
Glasgow won the first of the two derbies 29-19 in Glasgow last week, but Cockerill is hoping his charges can turn the tables at home.
“We have guys who are coming back from injury and there is a Scotland tour coming up and guys will want to put their hands up for that and notwithstanding there are three guys that need game time to keep themselves sharp for the British and Irish Lions,” said Cockerill.
“Those little motivations will keep guys with whatever agenda they have to keep playing and at this point we are still in the competition.”
Cockerill’s team have won one of their last five games and it is more than a year since they claimed successive victories on home soil.
The two Welsh derbies promise to be hard-fought affairs with Welsh rivals the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues each have one win out of two from their opening Rainbow Cup fixtures.
Both teams arrive in their latest encounter on the back of victories, with Scarlets defeating the Ospreys 22-6 and Blues edging out the Dragons 17-16 last weekend.
While the Blues have won just one of their last four away fixtures, recent PRO14 form should put them in good heart for the trip to Llanelli.
Dai Young’s team were victorious in both matches they played against the Scarlets in this season’s PRO14, including a tense 13-10 success on their travels in January.
The Dragons have hit form recently, winning four games since the start of March, while they currently sit just three points behind Rainbow Cup northern pace-setters Munster and Benetton.
It promises to be a tight and tense encounter at Rodney Parade this weekend, though, especially as the Ospreys will be fired up to bounce back from a 22-6 loss at Scarlets last time out.
The last seven meetings between Dragons and Ospreys have produced three wins each and one draw, which underlines how tough it is to call their encounters. But Ospreys will head to Newport on the back of already winning there this season, courtesy of a 28-20 verdict in the PRO14.
Munster vs Connacht (19.00)
Leinster vs Ulster (21.15)
Scarlets vs Cardiff Blues (16.00)
Benetton vs Zebre (18.15)
Edinburgh vs Glasgow Warriors (20.35)
Dragons vs Ospreys (14.00)
All games live on Supersport Rugby