The race for the Grand Final has been hotting up over recent weeks and not just on matchdays.
Some seven teams currently remain in contention for the Play-Offs, meaning 14 of our Kick your way to the Grand Final competition winners still had their hearts set on the ultimate prize prior to last week’s fixtures.
Back in December, January and February, we ran an exclusive online competition here at magnersleague.com offering you the chance to kick for glory at the 2011 Grand Final.
Thousands of you answered a simple question correctly and were automatically entered into a draw which saw us give away over 200 fantastic prizes.
As well as handing out signed shirts, Magners League merchandise and match tickets, we offered six winners from each of the 12 clubs a once-in-a-lifetime experience that included a behind the scenes tour and a kicking master class with a Magners League star.
Our lucky winners were treated to an inside view of their favourite team’s training or playing facilities, with Magners League Ambassadors such as British & Irish Lions Test heroes David Wallace and Ross Ford providing a unique insight into what takes place behind closed doors.
They then took part in a goal kicking master class in which star performers like Dan Parks and Ian Humphreys passed on advice and showed them exactly how it’s done.
And to top it all, the session finished with a competitive element as our kickers went head-to-head by kicking for the posts from three different positions along the 22.
Munster's Paul Warwick passed on plenty of tips at Thomond Park
What happens next?
The top two kickers from each club now have the chance to kick on the big stage as they step out at a Magners League match either this weekend or next.
Each pair will feel the pressure of kicking in front of a live crowd at half-time or before kick-off in Round 21 or 22, with Connacht, Edinburgh and the Dragons having hosted their competitions during last week’s action.
But our prize doesn’t end there, either. The winning kickers from the two teams who reach the Grand Final will repeat the process at the League’s showpiece event on Saturday, May 28 when they really will be hunting for Grand Final glory.
The big names: the kicking coaches and star tour guides
Aironi: Julien Laharraghue and Marco Bortolami
Benetton Treviso: Kristopher Burton and Willem de Waal
Blues: Dan Parks and Paul Tito
Connacht: Miah Nikora and Jonny O'Connor
Dragons: Jason Tovey and Luke Charteris
Edinburgh: David Blair and Ross Ford
Glasgow: Ruaridh Jackson and Johnnie Beattie
Leinster: Ian Madigan and Kevin McLaughlin
Munster: Paul Warwick and David Wallace
Ospreys: Dan Biggar and James Hook
Scarlets: Rhys Priestland and Jon Davies
Ulster: Ian Humphreys and Chris Henry
James Hook was the Ospreys' famous tour guide
What they said
Dan Parks – Blues kicker
“It was a great exercise and the standard of the kickers was very high. I think if we can make it to the Grand Final then whoever represents us will do a great job.
“We've got to get there first, but we'll be doing our best and I know that the two 'Kick Your Way' finalists from the two clubs will enjoy a fantastic day out.
“It will be a slightly different experience for them kicking in front of a big crowd. But all they have to do is concentrate on the skill and block out everything else.”
Ruth Murray – Glasgow competitor
“It was an experience that money can’t buy. It was a good fun day out behind the scenes at the Warriors and they were great hosts.
“I absolutely loved it. Ruaridh (Jackson) and Johnnie (Beattie) were fantastic. They answered all the questions we asked and more. The rest of the team and the staff that we met were all happy to speak to us and all in all it was a really good day.
“I’m absolutely terrified about kicking at Firhill on Friday! I don’t like doing things in front of a crowd so the prospect of kicking in front of the Firhill crowd is terrifying, really! But the advice that Ruaridh gave us was great. Because I got through to the next stage, I’ve taken that advice on board and have been going out practicing.”
Stuart Gilroy – Ulster competitor
“I enjoyed it thoroughly. To be kicking with a brilliant kicker like Ian Humphreys and to be kicking at Ravenhill, where I watch the games most week, was great.
“I definitely picked up a lot of techniques. Ian went through things like how to actually strike the ball, step-by-step techniques and following through on your kick. He told us to basically get everything out of our minds and just to make sure you concentrate on your technique. He said it was like a golf swing and the aim was for it to be the same every time. That was his main emphasis.
“I’m looking forward to kicking at the game against Connacht. I’m probably going to have a few shockers but we’ll see how it goes. I’ll have a lot of friends there and they’ll be giving me a lot of stick, but it’ll be a good experience.”
Dan Biggar – Ospreys kicker
“I really enjoyed meeting the winners and they picked up a few tips very quickly. They improved quite a lot over the hour we had getting ready for the competition.
“I’m pretty sure that whoever represents the Ospreys if we make it to the Grand Final again will do a great job for us.”
Iwan Thomas – Blues competitor
“It was a great experience coming down to the Cardiff City Stadium to experience the atmosphere here. I must admit it was a bit nerve wracking and I guess it’s only going to be even more so when we kick against each other at the Treviso game. I just hope the Blues can go all the way to the Grand Final, and if they do and I’m there, I won’t let them down.”
Scotland star Dan Parks was the perfect teacher at the Blues
Our competitors in full
Aironi: Michele di Blasio, John Fenwic, Francesco Marcigliano, Claudio Aldovranti, Giuseppe Gnappi, Matteo Casalgrandi
Benetton Treviso: Enrico Marin, Daniele Baldi, Marco Rimini, Adelina Agnoletto, Giorgio Meneguzzi, Francesco Adorisio
Blues: Iwan Thomas, Gareth Quirk, Matthew Hall, Katie Shepherd, Kevin Poole, Keith Ruggles
Connacht: Joseph Devaney, Philip Gilsenan, Niall Horan, James Gallagher, Bryan Egan, Andrew Fogarty
Dragons: David Hazelden, Rhys Rhodes, Nick Cox, David James, Richard Dombrowski, Alan Clayton, Lee Hallett
Edinburgh: Chris Fulton, Colin Howie, Stuart Morrison, William Evans, Craig Gallier, Alastair Leadbetter
Glasgow: Gwen Jones-Edwards, Ruth Murray, Jamie Urquhart, Chris Nicolson, Gillian Shenstone, Ian Brooks
Leinster: Mark Delany, Robbie Ensor, Eoin Melly, Conor McGoveran, Peter Byrne, Denise Fitzpatrick
Munster: Maurice Healy, Donal Horgan, Paul Power, Chloe Pearse, Peter O’Leary, Daniel Murphy
Ospreys: Matthew Yates, Jonathan Phillips, Jason Downing, Kim Lawrence, Jim Hussell, Tracey Harris
Scarlets: Andrew Jones, Clive Morgan, Penry Thomas, Tom Parry-Jones, Gareth Smith, Merv Appleton
Ulster: Roger Buttery, Glen Graham, Philip McKnight, Ben McLaughlin, Stuart Gilroy, Robert Muir
Aironi: Giuseppe Gnappi, Michele di Blasio
Benetton Treviso: Enrico Marin, Daniele Baldi
Blues: Iwan Thomas, Matthew Hall
Connacht: James Gallagher, Andrew Fogarty
Dragons: David Hazelden, Lee Hallett
Edinburgh: Stuart Morrison, Chris Fulton
Glasgow: Ruth Murray, Jamie Urquhart
Leinster: Mark Delany, Eoin Melly
Munster: Maurice Healy, Donal Horgan
Ospreys: Jason Downing, Kim Lawrence
Scarlets: Andrew Jones, Gareth Smith
Ulster: Philip McKnight, Stuart Gilroy
The matches that really count: here’s when our winners take centre stage
Thursday April 21: Blues vs Treviso
Friday April 22: Glasgow vs Scarlets, Ulster v Connacht
Saturday April 23: Aironi v Leinster, Ospreys v Munster
Friday May 6: Leinster vs Glasgow, Munster vs Connacht, Scarlets vs Blues
And the ones that have already taken place:
Friday April 15: Edinburgh vs Aironi, Dragons vs Ospreys, Connacht vs Blues