With the PRO14 returning on the 22nd of August, Darry Worthington surveys the lay of the PRO14 land headed into the resumption of the season.
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The PRO14 returns in just a few days time and a lot of changes have been made in order to get the season over and done with before the start of the 2020/21 season. We take a look at these changes as well as go over the potential title challengers, below.
With the COVID-19 breaking having stolen a large swathe of time from the season and the pandemic still prevalent in a lot of the countries that franchises are based in, the organizers have decided to cut the season short with just two sets of round-robin fixtures set to be played before the play-offs.
The aforementioned round-robin fixtures will be exclusively derbies with teams taking on local opponents so as to minimize the risk posed by COVID-19. The South African franchises won’t even play these games as the South African government has only authorized rugby teams to return to play in early-to-mid September.
Following the final two rounds of regular season play, the top three sides from each conference will advance to the play-offs with the sides who top their respective play-offs automatically qualifying for the semi-finals while the second and third-placed sides will square off in play-off fixtures to see who advances to the semis.
Lay of the Land
Conference B is a lot tighter with ten points separating first-placed Edinburgh and the third-placed Scarlets, and just two points separating the Scarlets and fourth-placed Connacht.
The reigning ‘champs are heavy favourites heading into this one. The Irish Province are yet to lose a PRO14 game this term having won all 16 of their fixtures. They have already qualified for the semi-finals and will enjoy a bye week when the first set of play-off games take place.
Leinster have a really deep squad, which will be necessary as they are also involved in the quarter-finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup, where they’ll take on Saracens on the 19th of September.
Another Irish Province that should be in the mix come the semi-finals is Munster. They need three more points to secure a play-off berth, while should they win their last two games and Edinburgh falter then they could well end up topping the Conference.
Munster have made some fantastic off-season signings bring in Springbok World Cup-winning duo Damien de Allende and RG Snyman. These two experienced players will make an immediate impact for the Irish side.
There’s some good money to be had on a Connacht outright winners bet. The 2016 champions have been extremely hit and miss this term only winning seven of their 13 games. They face a real battle to get into the play-offs as well as they need to make up two points on the Scarlets and they have to do this by beating local rivals Ulster while hoping the Scarlets fail against the Dragons.
The Irish Province are primed to make it three titles on the trot. While they offer little value, they’re an absolute banker.