It is now 99 days and counting to the historic first Magners League Grand Final and two of the league’s leading coaches admit they are looking forward to a hugely exciting run in.
The countdown dropped into double figures today, with the tournament resuming with three key matches when Ulster Rugby host Newport Gwent Dragons, Glasgow Warriors take on Cardiff Blues and defending champions Munster face Edinburgh.
This season’s introduction of Play-Off matches between the top four finishers and then the Grand Final on Saturday, 29 May, has massively raised the profile of the tournament and added enormous interest for players and fans alike.
Glasgow Warriors are the current leaders and head coach Sean Lineen is glowing in his praise for the new format.
“Having the Play-Offs and then Grand Final is absolutely fantastic – and long overdue,” said Lineen, who has led the Warriors to seven wins and a draw from their first 10 league fixtures.
“All the teams are talking about it and there is still so much riding on it for so many teams.
“We are only just over halfway through the tournament so we have no illusions as to how tough it is going to be to stay where we are. It is such a strong competition and Cardiff Blues on Friday night is a massive test for us.
“It has been a real challenge for us to get where we are – and it is going to be a real challenge to stay there.
“The tournament is so tight that you can go from first or second to fifth or sixth in no time at all and you simply cannot relax at all and, while we may have been regarded as the poor cousins of the Celtic nations, I believe we have improved year by year and now we are playing with more belief.”
The Ospreys are currently leading the chasing bunch, with the 2007 Champions sitting just three points behind table-topping Glasgow.
And their head coach Sean Holley agrees with his Warriors counterpart when it comes to assessing the impact the Play Off system is having on the intensity of each and every game.
“It certainly focuses the mind that the countdown to the Grand Final is at the 99 days mark and, with eight matches to go, we are well placed in second spot,” said Holley, whose side take on Connacht at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday.
“The introduction of the play-offs means the interest will be kept going right to the end of the season and ensures that the most consistent sides will be there at the end.
“But this is a crucial time for us with two important games coming up during the Six Nations when we will obviously be without our international players.
“It is difficult enough playing Connacht at any time of the year – and we always seem to get them when we are without our leading players – and then we have to go to Edinburgh, so this block of two matches will be critical.”