We have our PRO14 playoff semifinalists, and three out of four of them are Irish. The remaining team, Glasgow, is one of two Scottish clubs to have made it to the final stages of the competition.
Does this say something about the strength of Irish rugby right now, or should we be asking why one of the four Welsh regions has failed to make the playoffs?
The top rugby betting sites would have offered some decent odds for The Scarlets, in particular, to get this far, but it was not to be.
Maybe. Granted, there are many questions to be asked of the state of the PRO14 format and the future of rugby for many of the competition’s participants, but the Irish will certainly not be worried one iota.
As pointed out above, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster make up 75% of the semifinalists and will be looking to bring an eleventh title back to the Emerald Isle. Of course, provincial rather than national pride will be the driving force behind all three teams’ run to a potential final appearance.
Given the strength of the teams in this year’s PRO14 Playoffs, we are in for a few incredible games of rugby.
The PRO14 Semifinals – When and Where?
This year’s semifinals will be played on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 May.
Glasgow, Scotland’s sole previous winner, takes on Ireland’s Ulster, who also have one title to their name.
In the second semifinal, Leinster, the European Champions Cup finalists, entertain bitter rivals Munster in Dublin. Leinster is a five-time winner of this competition while Munster is a former three-time champion.
- Glasgow vs. Ulster
- Venue: Scotstoun Stadium
- Time: May 17, 2019
- Leinster vs. Munster
- Venue: RDS Arena
- Time: May 18, 2019
Ranking the Favorites for the Title
At this stage in the competition, anyone can win it.
This is knockout rugby, where the smallest margins can count. In a game of 80 minutes, the team who wants it most can often come away with the result.
Granted, the four teams that are left standing heading into the semifinals are all capable of being crowned champions. In fact, all of these teams have done it before.
That said, the bookmakers clearly have their own ideas regarding who is more likely to lift the PRO14 title in 2019. As usual, the oddsmakers tend to be close to the mark when all is said and done.
Ergo, when assessing each teams’ chances for the title, I used 888sport’s odds. If you fancy the chances of any of the four teams below, I will add their prices. Just keep in mind that these are subject to change.
Now, as promised, here are the potential winners of the PRO14 title, ranked from outsider to favorite.
- Odds to Win the Title – 9/1 (+900)
Ulster and Ireland captain Rory Best must have felt as though a potential fairy tale farewell was slipping through his fingers.
Ulster’s 21-13 PRO14 quarter-final victory over Connacht meant that the 36-year-old still had a chance of bowing out of club rugby with a trophy. But one point, the game was so close that there was just one point in it.
Best waved goodbye in his final appearance as a player in Belfast, knowing that his dreams of seeing Ulster crowned champions in his final season are still intact. The northern province heads to Glasgow in the semifinals as clear underdogs, but that won’t faze “The Ulstermen.”
However, for Ulster to come anywhere close to an appearance in the final, they will need to seriously up their game against a strong Glasgow outfit.
While Dan McFarland’s men looked strong and dominated possession and territory, they lacked that killer instinct in the final quarter. Until Marcell Coetzee scored a late try, the game was as tight as they come.
Another area Glasgow will be confident of targeting is Ulster’s setpieces. To stand any chance of winning the tie, Best and company will need to be as tight and convincing as possible in the scrum and lineout.
Let’s take a look at three key players for Ulster.
Stockdale is one of the deadliest finishers in world rugby and is a massively important piece in the Ulster jigsaw.
Despite being just 21 years old, Stockdale broke the record for the most tries scored by one player in a single Six Nations campaign (7). The County Tyrone native won the 2018 Six Nations Player of the Year award off the back of his lethal finishing and overall performances.
While Stockdale was less potent this year for Ireland, he has scored eight tries for Munster in 2019. His speed and precision make him a dangerous man for any team to deal with.
There is no doubt that Henderson is one of the most important players in a white shirt.
The Irish international and British and Irish Lion is a strong and powerful lock that can also play in the back row. His carrying and tackling strengths are important to Ulster, as well as his general presence around the pitch.
When Henderson plays well, Ulster usually plays well, too. A highly influential player, Henderson is a candidate to take over the captaincy when Rory Best hangs up his boots at the end of the season.
Ireland and Ulster’s captain will be hoping to dispatch Glasgow and earn one more game in an Ulster shirt.
Best is a legendary presence at Ravenhill and certainly deserves the chance to get his hands on the title. Of course, for Ulster to make it to the final, Best and his teammates need to be at the top of their game.
If anyone can inspire those around him, Best can.
- Odds to Win the Title – 4/1 (+400)
Munster can count themselves very fortunate to be in the semifinals of the PRO14.
Against Benetton in the quarterfinals, the game came right down to the wire and a few questionable refereeing decisions. The Thomond Park faithful were certainly far from impressed with what they saw from their team, but a win is a win.
While it would have been a fantastic sight to see an Italian team make the semis, it was not to be. Now, Munster will be expected to justify why they are there at Benetton’s expense.
CJ Stander, Munster’s colossal number 8, won the decisive penalty that took the province to a showdown with Leinster in Dublin.
Of course, the penalty itself was scored by JJ Hanrahan, who demonstrated exceptional composure and technique to slot over from 50 meters out.
Munster will need to bring a lot more to the RDS when they face Leinster, the reigning PRO14 and European champions, in what is without a doubt the tie of the round. Leinster has been in exceptional form heading into the end of the season and is by far the strongest team left in the competition.
A place in the final awaits the winners of Ireland’s most mouth-watering inter-provincial derby.
Munster will be the underdogs, certainly, and will need their key players to be firing on all cylinders for any chance of making it to the final.
Here are the three players I think will be key for Munster.
Munster’s captain is also in line to take the armband for Ireland when Best retires following the Rugby World Cup in September.
For now, O’Mahony’s focus will be firmly placed on carrying his team into the final of the PRO14 with a win over Leinster. This task will not be an easy one, but if O’Mahony signifies one particular quality in rugby, it is never quitting, no matter what the odds may be.
A hugely influential figure, O’Mahony is also arguably the best number 6 in the world. His jackalling and disruptive nature will be massively important to Munster’s chances of stopping the Leinster juggernaut.
It has not been the greatest season in memory for Murray, but on his day, he is the best scrumhalf on the planet.
If Murray can find his form against Leinster, he will provide Munster with an attacking platform to challenge their Dublin-based rivals. Murray’s half-back partner for Ireland, Johnny Sexton, will be lining up for Leinster, and both men know each other’s games well.
Murray will need to be as cerebral as possible in this game for Munster to find any momentum. Quickball, good box-kicking, and a smart gameplan will all need to be executed by Munster’s star man if they are to make the final.
Berine, a product of the Leinster academy, found his voice in Wales with The Scarlets before moving back to Ireland to secure international rugby.
Since his return, Beirne has made himself into an indispensable member of a Munster team that now relies on his strength and skills. Whether it is in the second row or back row, Beirne’s presence is effective in getting the most out of Munster’s game.
His ability to carry and turnover will be crucial to Munster’s charge in Dublin. He is a big game player, and if at his best, he will be a huge boost to the southern province’s chances.
2. Glasgow Warriors
- Odds to Win the Title – 21/20 (+105)
Glasgow Warriors are currently joint-favorites to win the PRO14 title with the reigning champions Leinster.
This says a lot for the strength of the Scottish team and their chances of lifting the cup. Having topped their conference, Glasgow and their supporters must be confident of winning their first title since their 31-13 win over Munster in 2015’s Grand Final.
This year’s final will be played in the iconic Celtic Park in Glasgow, which will certainly add a little more spice for the Scotsmen.
Before Glasgow can think about the final, they must first host Ulster on May 17.
While Ulster is regarded as the outsider this year, they will be no walk in the park. With players like Jacob Stockdale, Iain Henderson, and Rory Best, Glasgow will need to be at their very best to ensure they are present at Celtic Park for the final.
Glasgow’s stars will be licking their lips at the chance to face either Leinster or Munster in the Grand Final, and the following three players will be key to that possibility becoming reality.
Standing at a huge 6’6”, Gray is, in every sense of the word, a giant of this Glasgow team.
A formidable tackler and runner, the 25-year-old is already a veteran of the Scotland team with over a half-century of caps to his name. Gray’s versatility and ability to offer more than just a lineout presence make him a key player for his team.
Glasgow will be looking to Gray to step up and help guide them to their first PRO14 Grand Final appearance — and the second of the old competition format — since 2015.
Fraser Brown is a big name in this Glasgow Warriors team and a very influential presence in the front row.
The hooker is an important part of the Scottish national team, too, and is revered by others in the league as being one of the best in his position.
What Brown brings to the Glasgow Warriors team is a sense of stability and a cool head that can really count when it comes down to the wire. Against Ulster, Brown will need to be at his influential best to ensure that his team makes it to the final.
Being the son of perhaps the greatest Scottish player of all time in Gavin Hastings brings with it its own special type of pressure.
Regardless, Adam Hastings has shown that he is his own man.
The flyhalf has an excellent kicking game but is also an explosive runner, too. Much of this comes down to his ability to play in the center and at fullback. This type of versatility has also earned him honors at the international level with Scotland.
Hastings could really make the difference for Glasgow this year.
Odds to Win the Title – 21/20 (+105)
It is hardly surprising to find that Leinster is my favorite for the PRO14 title this year.
The Dublin-based province is just an incredible team to watch and can boast the type of strength in depth that other teams can only dream about. Their famed academy continues to act as a conveyor belt of talent, producing the future stars of Irish rugby in incredible fashion.
This year, Leinster is aiming for back-to-back PRO14 titles, which would be the sixth time the province has claimed the championship.
The Conference B winners will need to be prepared for a fired-up Munster in their semifinal at the RDS. Their bitter rivals have nothing else to play for this season, unlike Leinster, who will play Saracens in the European Challenge Cup Final on May 11.
Here are Leinster’s three key players.
The current World Rugby Player of the Year is crucial to Leinster’s success.
Sexton has been hugely influential to his province and his country’s abundance of titles and championships over the past decade and can singlehandedly change a game with his vast array of skills.
Arguably the greatest 10 in world rugby, Sexton’s passing, running, and kicking games will cause massive problems for any team. As such, he will be targeted as the key player for the Dublin-based outfit by Munster and any other team he comes up against.
Lowe continues to wow Leinster fans with his incredible eye for the try line and exceptional, silky skillset.
Lowe exemplifies the beautiful side of Leinster’s game, with his background of playing at the highest level in New Zealand translating well for the Eastern province.
A potential future Irish international, James Lowe is a player that the opposition must keep their eyes firmly fixed on. If given an inch, the explosive winger will always take a mile.
While there was never going to be a player that could step into the shoes of Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll, Garry Ringrose is coming close.
Wearing the iconic former Leinster and Ireland captain’s number 13 shirt, Ringrose’s dazzling footwork and eye for a gap are scarily reminiscent of the man known as “BOD.”
Ringrose is another player that can change the course of the game in the blink of an eye and will be a very important player to Leinster in this year’s playoffs.
So, there we have it. Leinster is my favorite to lift the PRO14 trophy in 2019.
That’s not exactly surprising, given that Leo Cullen’s men form the most successful team in the history of the competition and are the current holders of the title.
The one surprise here is the odds of 21/20 that you can get on Leinster making it two in a row. For a team of their quality, those odds are excellent.
Will we see a surprise winner of this year’s PRO14 championship? Let me know in the comments section below.