Celtic Rugby have finalised the dates and kick-off times for the final four rounds of the regular Magners League season and, for the first time, all matches in Round 22 will kick-off at the same time on Friday, 6 May.
With the race for a top four finish to claim a coveted Play-Off semi-final place equally as tense as it was last season, the scheduling means no side will have any advantage in the final round as the challengers seek to stay on course for a place in the Grand Final 2011.
Last year there were four teams in with a chance of claiming a home semi-final, and three more hunting the final Play-Off place, as the Magners League moved into its final round. This season Munster are nine points clear at the top, but there are only another six between the next five teams.
Magners League Current Standings – 4 March, 2011
“We had an incredible tense finish to the regular league campaign last season and the signs are that this year will be even more exciting. Munster may have a handy lead at the moment, but they still have to face four of their major challengers in their final six games,” explained Celtic Rugby chairman Andy Irvine.
“They have to travel to Wales to meet the Ospreys and the Scarlets and also face two Irish derbies at Thomond Park against Leinster and Connacht. They are in the driving seat at the moment in the race for a home tie in the Play-Offs, but anything could happen in the final few rounds.”
Reigning Magners League champions the Ospreys moved into second place with a bonus point win over Connacht at the Liberty Stadium last weekend and have two Welsh derbies to come on top of their fourth clash with Munster this season. They host the Blues on Saturday, 2 April and then travel to face the Dragons two weeks later.
Both those games will be shown live on S4C and BBC Wales respectively and 14 of the 18 games from Rounds 19-21 will be available live for fans to see in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The broadcast details for Round 22 will be finalised after the penultimate round of fixtures has been completed.
“We have nine games to savour between teams currently occupying the top six places between now and the end of the league season and the results of those matches will have a huge effect on the final four Play-Off teams,” added Irvine.
“With attendances and viewing figures rising, we will be hoping to boost our figures even more over the final six rounds as we head towards breaking through the 1 million fans barrier for the first time this season.
“The introduction of the Magners League Play-Off system and Grand Final concept last season transformed the tournament and the addition of the two Italian franchises, Benetton Treviso and Aironi Rugby, this season has also added another new dimension.
“They may not currently be in contention for a top four finish but they will certainly have a part to play in determining which four teams finally make it to the knock-out phase.
“Benetton Treviso have already beaten three of the top six sides at Stadio Monigo and have two more home games to play. Aironi are still searching for their first victory, but have proved a real handful at home and will have a chance to steal some headlines on the last day of the regular season when they host the Ospreys.
“There is also the question of Heineken Cup qualification for the Welsh and Irish teams to consider in the final throes of the season, while the final four rounds could well be the last chances that many players get to convince their international coaches they are worthy of inclusion in World Cup squads.
“But the biggest prize for all the teams will be a place in the Magners League Grand Final 2011. That has been the dream and the quest all season and we look like having two of Europe’s top sides involved in our showpiece event once again on Saturday, 28 May.
“Just which two will be decided over the next eight weeks.”
THE QUEST FOR THE Magners League GRAND FINAL
Friday 1 April
Ulster v Scarlets Ravenhill 19:05 BBC NI/Wales
Connacht v Edinburgh Sportsground 19:45 TG4
Saturday 2 April
Aironi v Glasgow Stadio Zaffanella 15:30 (local time)
Ospreys v Blues Liberty Stadium 18:30 S4C
Munster v Leinster Thomond Park 19:30 RTE
Sunday 3 April
Dragons v Benetton Treviso Rodney Parade 14:45 S4C
Friday 15 April
Dragons v Ospreys Rodney Parade 19:05 BBC Wales
Connacht v Blues Sportsground 19:45 TG4
Edinburgh v Aironi Murrayfield 19:50 BBC ALBA
Saturday 16 April
Scarlets v Munster Parc y Scarlets 18:15 S4C/TG4
Leinster v Ulster RDS 20:00 RTE
BenettonTreviso v Glasgow Stadio Monigo
Thursday 21 April
Blues v Benetton Treviso Cardiff City Stadium 19:05 BBC Wales
Friday 22 April
Ulster v Connacht Ravenhill 19:05 BBC NI/TG4
Edinburgh v Dragons Murrayfield 19:30
Warriors v Scarlets Firhill Stadium 20:05 BBC ALBA/BBC W
Saturday 23 April
Ospreys v Munster Liberty Stadium 18:30 S4C/RTE
Aironi v Leinster Stadio Zaffanella 14:30 (local time)
Friday 29 April
Dragons v Blues Rodney Parade 16:05 BBC Wales
Round 22 (TV tbc)
Friday 6 May
Aironi v Ospreys Stadio Zaffanella 20:05 (local time)
Benetton Treviso v Edinburgh Stadio Monigo 20:05 (local time)
Leinster v Warriors RDS 19:05
Munster v Connacht Thomond Park 19:05
Dragons v Ulster Rodney Parade 19:05
Scarlets v Blues Parc y Scarlets 19:05