Pro12 Betting: The Irish Angle

Paul O' Connell: Munster's talismanic leader returns

After a disappointing Six Nations campaign for Ireland, attention returns to domestic rugby as the RaboDirect Pro 12 league enters its final quarter. Cormac O' Keeffe previews the action involving the four Irish provinces...

"Leinster are the only side with a perfect home record in the competition and they have won their last six games in the league. Leinster by under 12.5 points."

Back Leinster by under 12.5 points

Leinster v Glasgow

Last season's league leaders Leinster host in-form Glasgow at the RDS in the standout tie of the weekend. The Irish side are the only side with a perfect home record in the competition and they have won their last six games in the league and their final two pool games in the Heineken Cup in impressive fashion.

However, they have found it tough against Glasgow in recent seasons, with only two wins in five league games, although they also did the double over the Scots in last season's Heineken Cup. Last year's European champions have won 16 of their last 17 Pro 12 pool games in Dublin and they should record their seventh straight win in the competition this weekend.

Glasgow have displaced Ulster at the summit of the table on points difference after winning their last seven league matches, setting a league record in the process by taking a try bonus point in each of the last five wins.

Leinster have suffered more than any province from Ireland's horrendous run of injuries in recent months. Luke Fitzgerald's injury woes continue as he ruptured his ACL against Italy, while Gordon D'Arcy is a major doubt. Furthermore, Brian O' Driscoll has been suspended for three weeks following his stamp against Italy. They are boosted by the fitness of Quinn Roux, Kevin McLaughlin, Isa Nacewa and Heinke van der Merwe. Glasgow have selected a relatively inexperienced side and I think their good run will come to an end with Leinster winning by under 12.5 points.

Munster v Connacht

Munster host Connacht at Musgrave Park on Saturday, hoping to end a terrible run of league form. They have only won one of their last five league game but have an outstanding record over Connacht; their 16-12 win at the Sportsground in December means that they have only lost once to their Western rivals in the last 20 meetings between the sides. They also won their final two crucial games in the Heineken Cup to qualify for the quarter finals.

Connacht have registered four wins in their last five league games, beating their win tally from the previous 12 games. However, it is unlikely that they will record a fourth straight win for only the second time in the competition's history. They have only won one interprovincial derby on the road and their record against fellow Irish provinces in general is appalling. Munster have won more than half of their games against fellow Irish provinces over the last decade, while Connacht have only won eight of 58 league derbies over the same period.

Paul O' Connell is set to continue his comeback from a back injury and will make his first pro12 appearance of the season. The Munster second row have performed admirably in his absence but it is unquestionable that his return represents a huge boost. Keith Earls misses out with a shoulder injury and with Simon Zebo still injured Munster look relatively light out wide.

Connacht should be boosted by the availability of Irish international Mike McCarthy but will have to plan without Johnny O'Connor and Kyle Tonetti. Munster probably need to win at least four of their remaining five matches if they are to make the playoffs and they should overcome the first hurdle this weekend with relative ease.

Edinburgh v Ulster

Ulster travel to Murrayfield on Friday to take on a struggling Edinburgh side. After winning their first 11 games, the league leaders have failed to record back-to-back victories since December. Ulster have won seven of the last nine league games against Scottish sides and have won the last four league meetings against Edinburgh. They won the reverse fixture 45-20 at Ravenhill in November but will not find it as easy this weekend. Although Edinburgh have struggled in the league once again this season, they have been competitive in most of their matches, as evidenced by the seven losing bonus points that they have secured to date.

Ulster have made seven changes for the game and are boosted by the return of Paul Marshall, Johann Muller and Jared Payne to the starting XV, while Nick Williams returns to the squad. Iain Henderson and Luke Marshall miss out after picking up injuries on Irish duty. The last time many of these players were at Murrayfield, Ireland conspired to lose a match but Ulster's starting XV looks very strong and they should record a fifth win in a row against Edinburgh and consign the Scottish side to an eighth consecutive league defeat and a twelfth reversal in a row in all competitions.

Recommended Bets:

Back Munster by over 12.5 points
Back Ulster by under 12.5 points
Back Leinster by under 12.5 points

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