Saturday’s top of the conferences clash between Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park takes centre stage in the post Christmas week in PRO14 Rugby, but Toyota Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie will probably be focusing his attention on an earlier game.
Leinster, who will go into the new year unbeaten in both PRO14 and the Champions Cup if they beat Munster, are too far ahead of the chasing pack in the PRO14 Conference A for any of the other competing teams to really hold out much hope of catching them. With eight wins in eight starts and six try scoring bonus points on top of that, Leinster are 12 points ahead of second placed Ulster.
Even though the Cheetahs do have a game in hand on Leinster, they are 17 points adrift, five behind Ulster in third place. What is significant though for the Cheetahs is that they are currently in the placings for the play-offs, with the top three teams in each conference qualifying.
That will change though if Glasgow Warriors win their away derby against Edinburgh in an earlier game in what lines up as an interesting double header (triple header if you factor in the earlier match between the two Italian teams) of Saturday derbies.
Glasgow are currently two points behind the Cheetahs in fourth place in the conference. However, the Cheetahs have the advantage of now having one game in hand, and after Saturday it will be two games in hand. Should Edinburgh, who are third in Conference B and have everything to play for against their arch-rivals, knock over Glasgow it will leave the Cheetahs in a strong position.
Fourie and his men will also be hoping that Connacht can do the business against Ulster on Friday night, thus giving them a chance to play for second spot on the log when they return to action after their mid-season recess by travelling to Italy to play the Zebre on 4 January.
The Cheetahs have a succession of home fixtures to look forward to after that, including derbies against the Isuzu Southern Kings, and if they are still not much more than a win behind Ulster with two games in hand they will fancy their chances of moving up the table.
The Warriors were hard pressed to win their home derby at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow last weekend, scraping home just 20-16, so the game in Edinburgh should be keenly fought and the result will have an impact that will be felt by more than just the two Scottish teams.
In terms of the overall competition, there is currently an air of inevitability over what has become Leinster’s seemingly inexorable march to another trophy, and Johan van Graan’s Munster will be desperately keen to change that by winning the undoubted feature match of an interesting three day sequence of PRO14 clashes that starts on Boxing Day with two Welsh derbies.
Week’s PRO14 Rugby fixtures
Cardiff Blues v Dragons (Thursday, 17.00)
Scarlets v Ospreys (Thursday, 19.15)
Ulster v Connacht (Friday, 21.35)
Benetton v Zebre (Saturday, 15.00)
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors (Saturday, 17.00)
Munster v Leinster (Saturday, 20.00)