Sport PRO14

Friday 19 July 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Leinster's low seeding highlights need to iron out kinks in PRO14 format'

 

Seán O'Brien of Leinster celebrates with his team-mates and the trophy after the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Seán O'Brien of Leinster celebrates with his team-mates and the trophy after the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Leinster and Glasgow's reward for reaching the PRO14 final is to be drawn in the same conference for the next two seasons.

The structure of the competition has come under scrutiny as the champions for the last two years have been ranked as the second best team in Ireland.

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That comes as a result of the PRO14 basing the draw on last season's points tally which, of course, does not take the play-offs into account.

Given that Leinster secured their home semi-final as early as March 1, Leo Cullen heavily rotated his squad for the remainder of the regular season as they built towards the play-offs as well as placing a large emphasis on their run in Europe.

The champions ran away with their conference and finished a whopping 13 points clear of second-placed Ulster.

Supporters of clubs around the PRO14 have been left puzzled by Munster being ranked higher than Leinster which, as a result, will see the two best teams in last season's competition fighting it out for the one home semi-final berth next year. The make-up of Conference A now looks extremely competitive with the best team from Ireland, Scotland, Wales (Ospreys) and South Africa (Cheetahs) doing battle.

Although aware of the rules, Leinster are likely to be disappointed with how the seedings work. They will back themselves to secure that home semi-final but, on paper, they have the tougher draw.

Ulster are also alongside Leinster in Conference A and, after making massive improvements last season, Dan McFarland's side will fancy their chances of upsetting the odds and finishing high up the table.

Having ended up one point ahead of Leinster in the overall points table, Munster will be extremely satisfied having been drawn in Conference B, where they have avoided the likes of Glasgow.

Munster finished below the beaten finalists, which ultimately cost them a home semi-final and, instead, they faced another difficult trip to the RDS where they lost to the Blues.

Johann van Graan will be delighted to see the back of Glasgow because for the last two seasons, following the introduction of the conferences, the Scottish side have pipped Munster to top spot, condemning them to away semi-finals.

"We hoped Leinster could have beaten Glasgow at home here a few weeks ago and then we probably would have had a home semi-final," Van Graan said after Munster were beaten by Leinster in the semi-final for the second year running.

"I said it last season, it's crucial to get home semi-finals. In the last 10 years, I think Leinster have lost a home semi-final once, against the Scarlets."

Despite the coaching shake-up in the province over the summer, Munster can have no excuses next season as they set their sights on that top spot and with it, a last-four clash in Thomond Park.

To do so won't be a walk in the park, however, because even though they have avoided Leinster and Glasgow - Connacht, Edinburgh, Cardiff Blues and Benetton are all improving.

There have been some calls for the PRO14 to return to its original format before the introduction of the South African teams two years ago.

That would see all 14 teams compete in a straight league format and a considerable increase in the amount of games played per season.

As a whole, the PRO14 is still trying to find its way as it continues to play second fiddle to the Champions Cup, and while strides have been made, the draw for the next two seasons highlights the need to iron out some obvious kinks.

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