LEINSTER and Munster remain on target for the RaboDirect Pro12 semi-finals after contrasting victories.
Despite fielding a much under-strength team, leaders Leinster annihilated Heineken Cup semi-finalists Edinburgh 54-13 on Friday night at the RDS. They scored eight tries to make certain of a home semi-final draw.
Munster got the better of Glasgow 35-29 at Musgrave Park to keep alive their hopes of a home semi-final. They are now in third place, two points adrift of the Ospreys.
Glasgow are in fourth spot with Ulster dropping to fifth following a 26-21 defeat at the hands of Connacht at the Sportsground. Ulster fielded an under-strength side and Connacht took full advantage.
Leinster, however, were unquestionably the star turn. They again produced some marvelous running rugby with their tries coming from Shane Jennings, Fergus McFadden, Sean Cronin, Fionn Carr, Isa Nacewa, Leo A'Auva, Brendan Macken and Devin Toner.
It didn't seem to matter that so many big names were missing, Leinster played some superb running rugby. Ian Madigan, deputizing for Jonathan Sexton at out-half, enhanced his reputation with another fine display.
Munster were also below full strength for the visit of Glasgow. Unlike Leinster they weren't quite at their best but skipper Mick O'Driscoll was just pleased to return to winning form after two defeats.
"I think we bounced back well tonight." stressed O'Driscoll. "We weren't at our best in the second half but it was a good victory and the league is still there to be won."
Luke O'Dea, Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray scored Munster's tries, while the remainder of the points came from the boot of out-half Ian Keatley.
Connacht, meanwhile, dented Ulster's prospects of a top four finish by beating them at the Sportsground. It was an excellent victory for a Connacht side which is enjoying a good end to the season.
They had tries from Miah Nikora, Gavin Duffy and Tiernan O'Halloran. While they are still third last, they are now within shooting distance of Treviso and Newport Gwent Dragons who are only two points ahead of them.
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin had no complaints, stating: "We were without a lot of our top players but we still came down to Galway with a lot of hope. Fair play to Connacht, they performed very well."
Blow for Ulster
ULSTER chances of reaching the Heineken Cup decider have been dealt a major blow with the confirmation that their All Black prop John Afoa has been suspended for four weeks.
Afoa received the ban
for a dangerous tackle on
Felix Jones in the Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Munster at Thomond Park. He now misses out on Ulster's semi-final against Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium, along with some important RaboDirect Pro12 games.
Coach Brian McLaughlin described his loss as "a big blow." He added: "John has been a great talisman since his arrival and is a huge loss. We are disappointed with the suspension, especially when you consider his exemplary disciplinary record."