Can Ulster make the Guinness PRO14 Final Series? Here’s what they need to do

Paul Eddison
10 April 2019

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The Guinness PRO14 Final Series gains momentum as the 2018-19 season reaches its climax.

Six teams will advance from the Guinness PRO14’s two conferences to fight for a chance of glory at Celtic Park in May with Ulster still right in the mix with two rounds to go.

As the end of the season is on the horizon, we take a look at Ulster’s potential to qualify to the Guinness PRO14 Final series.

What does their remaining schedule look like?

With only two matches left and the battle for the end of the season raising the tension, Ulster could secure a spot in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series as soon as this weekend.

With Edinburgh only three points behind Ulster, a win would clinch a place in the top three in Conference B. However, a loss against Edinburgh does not rule them out of contention.

After the clash with Edinburgh, Ulster host defending champions Leinster, already assured of top spot in Conference B, in a potentially crucial clash.

A home qualifier could be dependent on winning both of those remaining games, something that would give Ulster real momentum considering the calibre of the opposition.

Ulster’s run-in:

R20: Edinburgh Rugby (H), Friday April 12, 19:35

R21: Leinster Rugby (A), Saturday April 27, 17:15

Who are going to be the difference-makers if Ulster can reach the Guinness PRO14 Final Series?

Despite Ulster’s defeat to Glasgow on Friday night, other results meant that they have been able to stay in second spot in Conference B. Elsewhere Benetton drew away to Leinster to keep the pressure on.

Although Ulster were beaten, Luke Marshall made a welcome return with his first start of the campaign. After making an impact off the bench in the narrow European defeat to Leinster, Marshall now offers an intriguing attacking threat over the final weeks.

Another player who could be crucial to their chances is Rob Herring. The experienced hooker has the challenge of filling in for injured captain Rory Best but after notching his seventh try of the campaign, it is clear that he also brings plenty to the table.

Dan McFarland also has the nerveless John Cooney to count on at scrum-half, although he will be without Will Addison for the rest of the campaign after his debut season in Belfast was cut short due to back surgery.

Can Ulster go all the way if they reach the Guinness PRO14 Final series?

The two remaining games will be decisive for Ulster’s potential progression to the Guinness PRO14 Final in Glasgow.

If they can win each of their last two games, Ulster will finish second in Conference B and play the qualifier at the Kingspan Stadium. Having lost just once at home all season, they will fancy their chances although that defeat did come against Connacht, who they could potentially end up facing.

Were Benetton or Edinburgh to overtake them, they could face a trip to either Munster or Glasgow Warriors. They have already lost away to both this season, the Warriors last Friday, so that would be a big ask.

A possible clash with the Warriors or Munster could await in the semi-final if Ulster finish second, while third place in Conference B would likely see them face Leinster.

It would take a big performance to win any of those games, but if they can do so, it would give McFarland the chance to return to Glasgow for the final at Celtic Park, having previously spent two years with the Warriors.

The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

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