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Suddenly There’s Hope For The PRO14 Following Massive Round Four Results

Guinness PRO14, Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa 22/9/2017 Toyota Cheetahs vs Leinster Cheetahs players clap off the Leinster team after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Gerhard Steenkamp

It has taken four rounds but finally the PRO14 has the making of more than just a canter for the provincial outfits of Wales and Ireland.

Munster, Leinster, Scarlets and Ospreys made it a Welsh-Irish lockout for the final elimination stages of the PRO12 season last term and up until this past weekend, the first PRO14 season had an almost depressingly similar feel to it.

In the expanded format that has introduced two South African franchises to the former Celtic League, the big sides from last season immediately rose to the top in an almost inevitable sense of deja vu.

Three rounds in and Munster were sitting comfortably at the top of Conference A, while Leinster enjoyed a similar vista from Conference B.

Lurking just behind were Glasgow Warriors and Scarlets respectively, and fans would have been forgiven for believing the knockout fixture had been all but decided already.

Through the beauty that is professional rugby, round four brought about a glut of unexpected results and it has thrown the whole league into the brilliant unknown.

On Friday Munster made the trip to Scotstoun Stadium for what was expected to be a hard contest but ultimately an away victory. Instead, the red province were handed a sound, bonus point 37-10 beating by their hosts.

The Warriors had the upperhand in almost every aspect of the contest and now, suddenly, Munster are not the presumed table-toppers they had been only one week earlier.

Now, with the Scottish side showing that they are indeed a side with championship credentials, the landscape of Conference A is no longer as familiar as first thought.

Similarly, last season’s semi-finalists Ospreys have had a brutal start to the new league format, with only two wins from four and already rank outsiders for a title tilt.

New boys, the Toyota Cheetahs, have recovered from their opening day hammering by Munster and have recovered to a 2-2 record that now sees them lurking in third, behind Munster and Glasgow.

Their mauling of the mighty Leinster has given hope to neutrals that South Africa’s offering to the league will be more than just cannon-fodder.

Over in Conference B things are equally up in the air. One week ago it was Leinster, Ulster and Scarlets that were closing their grip on their respective half of the league.

Now, with Leinster showing that the long trip to South Africa is to be more than just a chance of some winter sunshine, plus with Ulster’s resurgent start to the campaign, it is clear that last season’s semi-finalists will not be having things their own way this term.

Add to this the bright start from the rebranded Benetton Rugby (Treviso), who at 2-2 are currently challenging Edinburgh for bragging rights as the top mid-table side.

After a total of five victories last term, to have secured two wins already, against Edinburgh and Ospreys, is nothing short of a hugely positive start for the Italian side and suggests that finally, at least one of the two perennial whipping boys of the PRO12 have come to compete.

In the space of a week, the PRO14 experiment has begun returning unexpected results. The big boys of seasons past remain in the mix. However, it is becoming clear that at least one of the two southern hemisphere sides has also come to play, as has the aforementioned Benetton.

As the Cheetahs find a foothold on unfamiliar ground, the southern Kings have still yet to find their feet and already run the risk of the dreaded wooden spoon.

In it’s inaugural season, the PRO14 has much expected of it. After three rounds, you might have been right in feeling a little less than inspired. However, one week on and suddenly there are genuine green shoots taking hold.

Now, before we get carried away, it must be remembered that Leinster, Munster and Ospreys are all awaiting the return of their British and Irish Lions.

The injection of quality options in all three sides will certainly have a bearing on future results in the league, with fresh legs from the top shelf set to make life more difficult for aspiring mid-table sides looking to join the big boys.

With their return to action imminent, it looks like things are about to really get going.

Whether their return will stifle the sort of unexpected set of results from round four, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, however, suddenly the PRO14 is a lot less predictable as it was only seven days ago.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.