Belfast Telegraph

Provinces need Irish to pick up where they left off in PRO12

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

The glow of last Saturday will last for a little while longer, but for the four provinces behind the national team it's back to hard facts this week and the race for the Guinness PRO12 finish line.

All of the Irish participants currently occupy European qualification spots with five regular season games remaining, with the two outside the play-off spots, Leinster and Connacht, still in with a chance of continental glory.

For second-placed Ulster and third-placed Munster, the league offers a shot at redemption after their disappointing Champions Cup campaigns and a much-needed source of revenue to boot.

All four return to action this weekend without the core members of Joe Schmidt's Six Nations winning team, with Leinster in particular set to be in a race to re-integrate their players back into the different systems Matt O'Connor employs.

He'll take the squad to Wicklow next week for a mini-camp to try and accelerate that process but they can't look past this weekend's meeting with the league leaders Glasgow Warriors at the RDS tomorrow night.

Munster, meanwhile, let their momentum slip in Swansea three weeks ago, but Anthony Foley will be eyeing up a manageable run-in and a potential home semi-final to save a season that crashed against Saracens in January.

Level on points, but ahead on points difference, Ulster will have an eye on the scheduled final at Kingspan as a route to finally securing silverware. Leinster have been their bogey team for the last number of years, but home advantage would be important if Neil Doak's men can last the course.

With the toughest run-in with three derbies and Glasgow, they have work to do but look well-placed to come through.

Connacht, however, have a difficult job to do if they are to reach their goal of a top-six finish.

Pat Lam is dealing with injuries and won't have Robbie Henshaw for this weekend's trip to Thomond Park, while the Challenge Cup quarter-final in Gloucester will sap their attention and legs.

Belfast Telegraph

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