Ulster Rugby v Leinster Rugby

What better way to prepare for the Guinness PRO14 Final Series than with a slate full of derby games as we approach the last seven games of the regular season. It’s been an eventful season once again for the Guinness PRO14 and we enter Round 21 with five teams set for the knock- out stages, but only three of them have secured their seedings. In Conference A, two of our former champions Munster and GlasgowWarriors are duelling for the top spot and in Conference B three teams are still capable of claiming the last Final Series berth. There’s also five teams in the running to appear in the Champions Cup Play-Off game so there’s still so much to play for across the Championship. History could also be made today if Benetton Rugby can overcome Zebre in their derby game to become the first-ever Italian side to qualify for our knock-out stages. Success for Benetton would also mean that they become the first Italian team to qualify for the Champions Cup on merit. It’s only a couple of years since full meritocracy was put in place and the impetus it has created is providing positive results already. For the second season in a row, Judgement Day takes place in Round 21 and there is so much on the line at the Principality Stadium. Scarlets are not out of the title race yet and if they can pick up a bonus-point win over Dragons, then they’ll have a chance of leapfrogging Edinburgh and Benetton should those sides fail to win. Wayne Pivac’s men will also want to be in the running for the Champions Cup Play-Off which takes us to our second game in Cardiff. Cardiff Blues and Ospreys are in a straight shoot-out for the Champions Cup Play-Off berth from Conference A and with just a point between them it’s simply a case of winner takes all. In fact, the winner will also earn the right to host the Play-Off game, too. I would also like to acknowledge the much-discussed call from the TMO and Match Official team in Cardiff Blues’ last game away to Connacht. As a tournament organiser we are determined to put in processes and facilities to assist our Match Officials in getting these big decisions right and anything less than that isn’t good enough for our teams and their fans. We have already instigated a review which may well culminate in upgrades and improvements to be made. It should be noted that over the course of the last nine months the Championship has sanctioned investment of an additional £1million per year on our elite match officiating services compared to the previous year. This investment has been made on the basis of a five-year plan developed by our Elite Referee Manager, Greg Garner in August 2018, who joined from the RFU. It has allowed Greg to invest more in our analysis of referee performances as well as a continuous professional development programme aimed at ensuring that our match officials team are attaining a level of excellence in every game. I must say that we have a superb team of match officials both on the elite panel and the encouragingly the development programme who are working diligently with Greg daily to improve all the time. We thank them and the referees managers in each of our Unions for buying into the changes being implemented. We know we must do more and that challenge excites all of us as we strive to be the best rugby championship in the world. In Bloemfontein, our South African sides play their final derby of the campaign. It is fair to say that there are high hopes for both the Toyota Cheetahs and the Isuzu Southern Kings for next season after a tough second year in the Guinness PRO14. However, a showreel of their attacking play would make for a mouth-watering watch and we’ll be looking forward to more of that flair in 2019/20. Congratulations to Leinster for reaching their fifth Champions Cup Final last weekend. Leo Cullen has done a terrific job with the Province, so good in fact he brings his squad to Belfast to face Ulster with a home Semi-Final already locked up, while their hosts will welcome Connacht in a week’s time for their Quarter-Final clash. I’m delighted that the day finishes up with simultaneous kick-offs in Glasgow and Limerick with both GlasgowWarriors and Munster chasing the home Semi-Final place from Conference A. Warriors take on Edinburgh, themselves need to win for their hopes of reaching the Final Series or the European Play-Off, while Munster set themselves upon a dangerous Connacht side eager to retain their momentum ahead of the knock-out stages. Finally, I would like to thank each and every one of you who has attended our games this season and shown your commitment to your clubs. Our attendances have held strong again this year thanks to the quality of rugby on offer and some of you may be lucky enough to see the regular-season try record broken for the third year in a row – just 27 tries are needed today to break last year’s tally of 861. To the teams signing off on their campaigns today, I wish them a very healthy and rewarding break, while it is best of luck to the teams who remain in the hunt. Remember, no matter who you support the season doesn’t end until May 25 when the Guinness PRO14 trophy is lifted into the Glasgow sky at Celtic Park. Guarantee your place by going direct to bit.ly/glasgow2019 to get your tickets. Enjoy the game, Martin Anayi Chief Executive Officer

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