Will it be a Disney style ending for Munster in the last ever Heineken Cup or will it be more Tarantino?
THE ENDING of that solemn religious observance that is lent spells two things for the Front Row View.
Firstly, I can finally eat wheat again (although my waist band says I shouldn’t) and secondly, the real business end of the rugby season is upon us.
With only two games left in the Pro 12 it’s all about securing a top four play off spot and (more importantly) a much coveted home draw.
Leinster all but guaranteed themselves one of those home semi’s with a Good Friday mauling of Treviso in a sun drenched RDS.
It was just what the home side needed to get their season back on track following the Heineken Cup exit and subsequent loss to the Ospreys in the previous weeks.
They did it in some style too with a bonus point in the bag after only 26 minutes against an Italian outfit that looked like they’d much rather be at home doing the stations of the cross.
Treviso’s rather laissez faire approach to tackling, particularly in the final quarter, meant that Leinster could cut loose with some outstanding free flowing rugby to entertain the jubilant crowd (already giddy at the prospect of pints on a Good Friday).
Just one point from their remaining two games will be enough for them to finish in (at least) second place.
With Ulster up next in Ravenhill, the Blues will be under no illusions as to the difference in quality they will face.
The Northerners will be baying for blood following a disappointing performance against a Glasgow team that have been wrecking havoc on the Irish Provinces of late.
Five wins on the trot have seen the Glaswegians usurp the Ospreys and put themselves in control of their own destiny with a game in hand and a relatively easy run in of matches (Edinburgh, Treviso and Zebre).
For Ulster’s part it looks like the attritional nature of their Heineken Cup quarterfinal has come home to roost.
The fallout from that match includes the loss of Rory Best, Ruan Pienaar and John Afoa to injury, topped off with a Jared Payne suspension.
It was a heavy price to pay and a win away in the fortress of Scotstoun without that kind of personnel was always going to be a tall order.
Payne will return for the next match but both Best and Pienarr won’t see action until at least the play offs should Ulster make it that far without them.
Unfortunately it’s an unceremonious end to Afoa’s time at Ravenhill as he more than likely won’t make it back onto the pitch before he ships off to Gloucester.
With the current top two of Leinster and Munster up next it’s as difficult a run in to the play offs as you can get for Ulster.
It looks like any chance they had of a home semi final is out the window and they’ll have to watch their backs as the Ospreys lurk only five points behind in fifth place, ready to pounce on any slip up.
Munster have hopefully put just enough daylight between themselves and that dreaded fifth spot following a bonus point win away to Connacht.
While the performance was far from perfect it still ticked quite a few boxes for Rob Penney ahead of the monumental task in Marseille this coming weekend.
There are no apparent injuries, Conor Murray managed a bit of game time at out half (to cover for the injured JJ Hanarahan should the need arise) and they secured second place in the league.
Not to take away from what was a spirited performance from Connacht, but next weekend will be a different kettle of fish entirely.
Last Saturday, Toulon managed their own bonus point win away to a Perpignan team that, while struggling in the Top 14, rarely (if ever) get beaten in the Stade Aime Giral.
The scary thing is that they did it while resting the likes of Carl Haymans, Drew Mitchell and Mathieu Bastareaud such is the level of their depth.
To be fair Munster only had around six starters in the Sportsgrounds from the likely line up to take the field for the semi final next Sunday but there’s a big difference between Perpignan and Connacht and the endeavour will have to be streets ahead of where it was on Saturday.
They’ve made a bit of a habit of contrasting performances this season as we saw before the Heineken Cup quarter final though, so this won’t overly concern them.
Two loses and a laboured win at home to Treviso was the build up to the game vs Toulouse and we all know how that went.
The fact that the match is in the Stade Velodrome in Marseille is certainly a plus in the Munster column as it shouldn’t be as stifling an atmosphere as in the Stade Felix Mayol (as Leinster can attest to).
However, Toulon’s owner Mourad Boudjellal has started the press shenanigans already by suggesting referee Wayne Barnes (who takes charge for the semifinal) was biased against his team when they played Leinster.
He has a bit of a history of this though so I’m sure an experienced ref such as Barnes will let it all sail over his head.
Penney has suggested that his team will have to play ‘better than their best’ to get a result on Sunday and I’m inclined to agree with him.
It may unfortunately be a bridge too far for this Munster team but you can never rule out yet another miracle match for them in this competition.
Could there be a Disney style ending for an Irish province in this the last ever Heineken Cup….or will it be more Quentin Tarantino?