Eight months after the Guinness PRO12 began on a warm autumn evening, we have finally reached the defining point of the season – as the semi-finals swing into view.
This is where it really matters, one mistake and it could be all over. It is now or never for four teams if they are to reach the Dublin showpiece next week.
And what a cracking pair of matches we have on offer, as Ireland battles Wales in both clashes – with Leinster hosting Scarlets and Munster welcoming Ospreys.
Here we take a look at each side’s progress this season.
With 18 wins from 22 games, Leinster arrive at the last-four full of confidence after a stellar campaign which sees them once again among the contenders to lift the trophy.
The Irish side have moved serenely through to the last four, and their European campaign – which saw them reach the semi-finals of the Champions Cup – shows how much they have improved.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) May 18, 2017
The season started impressively for Leinster, but it was October’s 25-14 win against rivals Munster which really provided a wave of momentum.
And they got revenge for December’s defeat to Scarlets with a crushing 45-9 win in March, which they will hope to repeat this weekend.
New scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park has enjoyed an impressive campaign, sniping around the fringes of the breakdown and spotting space quicker than most, while the emergence for club and county of powerful prop Tadhg Furlong provided one of the stories of the season.
But while the future looks bright, Mike McCarthy is now sadly a figure from the past after being forced into retirement through injury.
After narrowly finishing fifth a year ago, Scarlets broke back into the top four with a fine campaign – which saw them win 17 of their 22 games.
The Welsh side may have scored fewer points than any other of their semi-final rivals, and 137 less than opponents Leinster, but they enter Saturday’s contest brimming with confidence.
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) May 18, 2017
Their backline is full of pace and creativity, marshalled by the impressive Wales international and British & Irish Lion Jonathan Davies.
But it is winger Steff Evans who has really caught the eye, finishing the season as the league’s top try scorer in a thrilling breakthrough campaign.
Head coach Wayne Pivac deserves a lot of credit for his role this season. It is easy to forget that they lost their first three games, to Munster, Edinburgh Rugby and Ulster – meaning they have won 17 of their last 19.
One of those was against Leinster, while other notable results include a tense 26-14 triumph at Glasgow Warriors and a 40-17 win against Ospreys heading into this semi-final.
It has been an emotional campaign for Munster, but they showed great mental resilience to finish top of the Guinness PRO12.
The death of head coach Anthony Foley in October was devastating for the team, but they stuck together and compiled an immense campaign.
Now they host Ospreys knowing they are just one win away from a return to the final, and a chance to win the Guinness PRO12 for the first time in six years.
7 Lions in the mix this weekend.. Expect one epic battle!
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) May 18, 2017
And they have plenty of weapons in their side, including Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray, powerful loose forward CJ Stander and dangerous winger Keith Earls.
Munster’s record at home is immense, with only Cardiff Blues travelling across the Irish Sea and leaving with the win.
But Munster have always responded to defeats impressively, with long winning runs following each of their four league defeats this season.
Against Ospreys, they will take confidence from a handsome 33-0 victory in November, while they also edged to a 25-23 win in Wales in February.
Ospreys last lifted the trophy in 2012 and have not been back to the final since, but they will have plenty of belief following a positive campaign.
With the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric offering offensive muscle, the Welsh side have plenty of pedigree – and although their record may not have been as impressive as their fellow semi-finalists, they will not be fazed by a trip to Thomond Park.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) May 17, 2017
A stumble in April came at the wrong time, with defeats to Benetton Treviso, Leinster, Cardiff Blues and Scarlets particularly damaging.
But in the first half of the campaign, they were excellent – topping the table after three bonus-point wins in September, before putting Glasgow Warriors and Scarlets to the sword prior to Christmas.
However, form goes out of the window when we reach semi-final time and Ospreys have fond memories of winning at Munster in 2016.
But it is Ospreys’ youngsters who could hold the key to this tie, with the likes of Sam Underhill and talented Keelan Giles ready to explode on the big occasion.
The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie
Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final