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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Hosts Scarlets and Munster face tough battles to progress

Leinster 8-15 to claim Pro14 Grand fFnal glory

Munster's JJ Hanrahan has nowhere to go against Edinburgh at Murrayfield
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Leinster are just 8-15 to claim a first Pro14 title since 2014 but their focus is all on next weekend's European Champions Cup final as the second and third-placed teams in the two Conferences start their playoff campaign.

As pool winners Leinster, along with Glasgow, have the benefit of a week off and direct route to the semi-finals, but the Irish outfit look short at the prices given how much they have prioritised Europe.

Leinster finished their regular-season campaign with just one win in five games - against Conference A bottom side Zebre - and were thrashed 47-10 at Connacht in the final round, admittedly with a good many frontline players rested.

Glasgow have won only four of their final six matches - against Connacht and Zebre - having made all the running early by winning their first ten games, and both conference winners will need to get back on their feet quickly.

Munster are next in the betting at 15-2 while Scarlets, tipped by Racing Post Sport's Max Oram at the start of the season, are 9-1, and both look set to face tough tests in their home quarter-finals. 

Munster v Edinburgh
Sky Sports Action & BBC Alba, 3.15pm Saturday

Edinburgh have been one of the success stories of the season, reaching the knockout stages for the first time, but their achievement has not been widely heralded largely because of the workmanlike way they have gone about their business.

Richard Cockerill has injected some real steel and a winning mentality into the side. No team bettered their record of 15 victories over the campaign, but they have also scored the fewest tries and points of any of the playoff contenders.

Their style was summed up by their regular-season meeting with their quarter-final opponents Munster, which they won 12-6 at home although with both sides missing their Six Nations contingent.

But this is a one-off clash at Thomond Park against a strong Munster line-up and it's no surprise to see the handicap creeping into double figures.

Munster start JJ Hanrahan at fly-half outside the reliable Conor Murray and with a strong pack and dangerous back three of Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls, the hosts should have just too much.

Edinburgh won't go down without a fight, though, and in-form winger Duhan van der Merwe, with six tries in his last five matches, looks the pick of the tryscorer prices.

March 16: Edinburgh 12 Munster 6.

Munster to win by one to 12 points
1pt 8-5 general
D van der Merwe to score a try
1pt 3-1 Betfair

Scarlets v Cheetahs
S4C, 6.35pm Saturday

The decision to include South African sides in an expanded format this year looked on shaky ground when the Cheetahs and Kings suffered heavy defeats in the first two rounds.

But for the Cheetahs at least it has been vindicated as the debutants qualified for the playoffs ahead of former grand final winners Ospreys and Connacht.

As was to be expected, they did their best work at home with nine of their 12 regular-season victories coming on South African soil, including a 28-21 success over their quarter-final opponents Scarlets.

This is a tough assignment for the Cheetahs, who recorded away wins at Edinburgh, Dragons and Zebre, but they have nothing to lose and can give their all at Parc y Scarlets, where they are offered a generous 15-point start.

They stayed within that mark in defeats at Connacht, Benetton, Cardiff, Ospreys and Glasgow, and their two heavy road losses at Ulster and Munster came in the first two weeks of the season when they were still finding their feet.

Scarlets ended their regular-season campaign with a 33-8 victory over Dragons last weekend but they were deeply frustrated in the first half, causing scrum-half Gareth Davies to complain that Dragons had brought them down "to their level of rugby".

Scarlets were able to turn things around in the second half with a more direct, physical display but they may well find the Cheetahs do just as good a job of closing them down and won't be so easily outmuscled.

Cheetahs +14
2pts Evs Betway

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Edinburgh have been one of the success stories of the season, reaching the knockout stages for the first time
E.W. Terms
Sky bet