Munster and Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan believes the climax to this year’s Magners League season could be the most exciting yet.
The current campaign sees the reintroduction of the Play-Off system, with one of the 10 competing teams set to be crowned Magners League Champions in the Grand Final on Saturday, May 29th.
Quinlan’s Munster ran away with last year’s competition but the new system means there is no danger of anybody emulating that feat this time around.
As things stand ahead of this week’s action, the top six teams are separated by just five points, with only a single point separating Leinster and Edinburgh in first and second from the Ospreys and Glasgow in third and fourth.
Unsurprisingly, Quinlan sees the months that lie ahead as arguably the most enthralling in Magners League history.
“There have been a couple of times over the years when there’s been one or two teams running away with things,” said Quinlan, who has 27 Ireland caps to his name and has played senior rugby with Munster for well over a decade.
“The Play-Offs are great – they give the teams that are behind an opportunity to keep fighting until the end of the season, to sneak into the Play-Offs and then it’s cup rugby and everyone has a chance.
“It’s a great, great competition. It’s like a cup competition and it just makes teams play right until the end of the season.
“There’ll be no mismatches at the end of the year. You could be sixth or seventh come the last game and you could have to go for a bonus-point win to sneak up into the top four and other results could go your way. It means that it’s going to be really competitive right until the end of the season.
“It creates a healthier competition and a more exiting competition and we hope we’re in the mix at the end of the year.”
The chances are they will be. They almost always are. When it comes to wining silverware, very few can match Munster.
Lat year’s Heineken Cup failures were softened by the capture of the Magners League crown and Quinlan insists he and his provincial team-mates have no intention of relinquishing that trophy come May this year.
“We always want to compete in the Magners League. We certainly want to be up there challenging every year,” added Quinlan.
“There’s an ambition within our squad to win every competition we play in and the Magners League is no different.
“We’ve tasted success – we won it outright last year and that was a great achievement. It’s a squad effort and our younger players have improved a lot and they’ve gained great experience playing against great players.”
Quinlan has no doubt that the quality of rugby being played in the Magners League just keeps on getting higher. The veteran back rower has seen the league make huge strides since a Celtic competition became the mainstay of the domestic season.
With the likes of British & Irish Lions captain Paul O’Connell, former IRB World Player of the Year Shane Williams and triple Lions tourists Brian O’Driscoll and Martyn Williams, plus overseas stars of the calibre of Jean de Villiers, Doug Howlett and Jerry Collins in the league’s ranks, it’s easy to see why the Magners League is growing in popularity with players and supporters alike.
“The standard has improved over recent years during my time playing in the league –there are no easy games.
“Everyone wants success and that’s great for the competition, it’s great for supporters and it’s great for TV as well.
“Other teams have maybe looked at the success that we’ve had and Leinster have had over the years and they want to try and achieve that success themselves. All the squads in the Magners League have improved immensely and the standards are way up.
“At this time of the year, it’s important to stay in the mix. It’s certainly not easy to pick up points away from home but it’s important for us to keep plugging away. For us, it’s important that we’re up there at the end.”