Pro14: Play-off hopes and European worries as season reaches climax

Scarlet prop Samson Lee runs into strong Cardiff Blues defence
Cardiff Blues scored an aggregate 75 points in two big wins over Scarlets in the regular Pro14 season

It's a funny thing, a sports league.

Your team plays 19 games over eight months in far-flung venues from Galway to Treviso, and from Edinburgh to Port Elizabeth, and in the end it comes down to two games.

At least it does for Scarlets, Blues and Ospreys fans as the Pro14 reaches a compelling climax in April.

Two games between success and failure. Two games to redeem an indifferent season. Two games to provide a fitting farewell to a beloved coaching team.

Oh, and there's a side stake of European qualification to add spice to the mix. Suddenly this is a league worth watching but we are in danger of having no Wales side in the Pro14 play-off or Champions Cup next season.

What's at stake

Six teams play off for the title; the top three sides in each of the two Conferences.

The group winners have a bye to the semi-finals, where they are guaranteed home advantage. Before that come two quarter-finals; the second team in Conference A hosts the third in Conference B in QF1; the second team in Conference B hosts the third team in Conference A in QF2.

From there, the winners of QF1 visit the Conference B winners, and the winners of QF2 visit the Conference A winners.

The final is at Celtic Park in Glasgow on 25 May.

John Mulvihill
John Mulvihill is in his first season in charge at Cardiff Blues

European qualification

Sorry to mention the "E" word, but three teams from each Conference qualify automatically for the European Champions Cup, though the two South African teams are not eligible.

The teams finishing fourth in each of the Conferences will play-off for the seventh qualification spot.

There is a remote possibility of an eighth place for a Pro14 team if a team from the league wins the 2018-19 Champions Cup.

Munster and reigning champions Leinster are still in this season's tournament.

No Champions Cup teams?

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac
Scarlets boss Wayne Pivac leaves at the end of the season to take over as Wales national coach

The league tables tell a stark story; Welsh regional rugby is in danger of no sides in the Champions Cup next season.

Contrast the scenario of a Wales Grand Slam winning side with four regions in the second tier Challenge Cup next season. It could happen.

In Conference A, following their defeat against Munster, the Blues are in a dogfight with Connacht for the third spot with their meeting on 13 April a potential decider.

Ospreys are now only three points from a Champions Cup play-off place after a bonus point win against Cheetahs and continue their quest with the second of their mini South Africa tour against Southern Kings on Friday, 12 April.

Ospreys could have a major impact on the Blues' chances when they meet on the final day of the regular season at Judgment Day at the Principality Stadium on 27 April.

In Conference B, Scarlets - Pro12 champions two seasons ago - are fifth after their second-half capitulation against Edinburgh in the 20-12 defeat in Llanelli.

Scarlets are seven points behind third-placed Benetton Rugby and six adrift of Edinburgh, who are fourth.

The Scarlets are in danger of not qualifying for the Champions Cup for the first time. Wayne Pivac's side entertain Zebre on April 13 before facing Dragons on Judgement Day which should yield two maximum bonus point victories.

But the Scarlets have to rely on other results going their way with Benetton facing Munster and Zebre in their final two matches and Edinburgh playing Ulster and Glasgow

Benetton shackle Scarlets
Benetton Rugby have beaten Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff Blues, Scarlets and Dragons in 2018-19

Italian dream

The Pro14 is often depicted as the sleeping underdog to the French and English pitbulls. But there's plenty to keep fans on the edge of their seats in the next 20-odd days.

Welsh trials and tribulations aside, the Irish dominance and the ever-increasing power of the Scottish regions looks like dictating the outcomes in the two conferences, and it's hard to see past the European powerhouses of Leinster and Munster for the title - though home advantage in the play-offs counts for a lot.

And there can't be a rugby fan with a soul out there who doesn't secretly hope Benetton hold on. Especially after they battled to a 27-27 draw with champions Leinster in Dublin last Saturday.

If the aim of including Italian sides was to spread the rugby message, then a team from Treviso in the play-offs would be mission accomplished.

Not sure that's how they'd see it in Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli though.

For the latest Welsh rugby news follow @BBCScrumV on Twitter.

Top Stories