Tabletoppers Munster value to claim Pro12 crown
Leinster semi-final surge likely to come after the break
Stade Francais v Cardiff
S4C, 5pm Friday
Leinster v Scarlets
Sky Sports 1, TG4, BBC Wales, 7.45pm Friday
Leinster are understandable 10-11 favourites to claim a third Pro12 title in five years at the Aviva Stadium a week on Saturday.
They are so hard to beat in Dublin, whether their games are at the Aviva or the RDS, and they have the pain of being beaten 20-10 by Connacht at Murrayfield in last May’s domestic showpiece to drive them on.
However, provincial rivals Munster look worth a wager to claim a first league crown for six years. They will also heed the lessons of their defeat in the 2015 Pro12 final to Glasgow two years ago, and the desire to end the season with a trophy to honour legendary head coach Anthony Foley, who died in October, will be a clarion call.
Munster topped the regular-season standings, as they did in 2010-11, after 15 wins from their last 16 games. While they have not got a great recent record in Dublin against Leinster, Saturday’s Thomond Park semi-final against Ospreys looks the easier on recent form.
The Scarlets’ heavy defeat to Leinster at the RDS in March is their only reverse in 11 league games. The Ospreys have lost their last three away games, were turned over by Stade Francais in a Liberty Stadium European Challenge Cup quarter-final and were beaten 33-0 at Thomond Park in November.
There will be no complacency in the Munster camp though because they scraped through 21-18 against Ospreys in their 2015 Limerick semi-final.
Since last month’s European Champions Cup semi-final defeat at the Aviva to back-to-back champions Saracens, Munster have won away at Treviso and at home to Connacht convincingly.
By contrast, since losing out to Clermont in their European semi-final, Leinster have edged out an on-the-beach Glasgow at the RDS and lost to Ulster, who knew they could only finish fifth, at Ravenhill.
Leinster’s last two matches are not reflective of how dominant they have usually been in winning all 15 Dublin outings this season and head coach Leo Cullen brings back most of his fit-again and rested Ireland and prospective Lions tourists for Friday’s match.
However, it may not be until the second half that Leinster find the fluency to stretch away from a solid and speedy Scarlets outfit. It was 12-9 at the break before they ran out 45-9 victors in March while Scarlets won in Wales.
Stade Francais have refreshed their starting side from last Friday’s Challenge Cup final success over Gloucester in Edinburgh without weakening it and should be backed to give up four points to Cardiff in the second half of Friday’s Champions Cup playoff semi-final in Paris.
Stade steamrolled the Cherry & Whites in the second half at Murrayfield. They have won their last five games at Stade Jean Bouin including battles with Parisian rivals Racing and Toulon in the Top 14 and with Bath in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.
The Blues are without British & Irish Lions skipper Sam Warburton and while they have put in plenty of admirable efforts both at home and away since the turn of the year, they were hammered 46-26 at Kingsholm in their Challenge Cup quarter-final with Gloucester after leading 23-20 at the break.
The Top 14 playoffs begin with Toulon against Castres (Sky Sports 5 & Mix, 8pm Friday) and the best bet is to follow the form of their Stade Mayol meeting from a few weeks ago.
Toulon beat Castres 23-13 on that occasion and a home win by a margin between one and 12 points is available at 6-4.
Munster to win Pro12 Grand Final
2pts 6-4 general
Leinster -5 on second-half handicap
1pt 10-11 Coral, Hills, Ladbrokes
Stade Francais -4 on second-half handicap
1pt Evs Coral, Ladbrokes
Toulon to win by one to 12 points
1pt 6-4 Betway, Coral, Ladbrokes
This season's meetings in the Pro12: Munster 33 Ospreys 0, Ospreys 23 Munster 25, Scarlets 38 Leinster 29, Leinster 45 Scarlets 9.
This season's meetings in the Top14: Castres 34 Toulon 17, Toulon 23 Castres 14, Racing 21 Montpellier 9, Montpellier 54 Racing 3.