Saturday afternoon’s massive Irish derby game in the Guinness PRO12 between Ulster and Munster at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 2.40pm) grew further in importance on Friday night.
The winner will continue to state their case for a home semi-final in the play-offs - for the loser they will know they face an away tie.
The charge for the right to have a home final has been a pressure cooker in recent weeks and the heat was turned up further on Frdiay night as the penultimate weekend of regular league fixtures kicked-off.
Fourth placed starting Ospreys moved top of the table, displacing league leaders Glasgow Warriors on points difference when the pair met in Swansea.
The Welsh region won 21-10 and are now favourites to secure one of the vital home semi-finals in the play-offs later this month.
They travel to Connacht next Saturday.
Glasgow will entertain Ulster next week who start Satruday’s match against Munster in fourth place a point behind their Irish rivals.
The winner of the Irish derby today will move top of the standings going into that last weekend.
The loser still has the consolation of knowing they have an away tie in the play-offs, but home advantage is crucial given the visiting side in the semis has never won.
Apart from the obvious importance of today’s game in terms of getting a home draw, Ulster have the added carrot of knowing the final will be staged at the home of Ulster Rugby - the Kingspan Stadium, after the PRO12 Board opted for a fixed venue Grand Final in advance this season.
However, no one is thinking that far ahead in the Ulster camp, especially head coach Neil Doak.
“We have to win two games to be certain of a home semi-final,” said Doak.
“We cannot worry about the maths or the permutations of the games in the last two rounds.
“If we want a home semi-final, then we have to defeat Munster and then win at Glasgow. It is a fairly simple equation for us,” he said.
“We produced a quality display against Leinster two weeks ago and this weekend we have to be better again.”
Doak confirmed his matchday ‘23’ yesterday, showing just one change from that which defeated Leinster 26-10 two weeks ago.
Earlier this week Doak had said he had not decided on his team selection adding “We want the boys to train a bit harder.”
However, on Tuesday he was still sweating a little on if scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar would be available to start and he did not expect the news later that the PRO12’s top try scorer and Irish winger, Craig Gilroy, would be ruled out with a hamstring.
Pienaar came through Captain’s Run fine yesterday and Peter Nelson was handed the winger’s shirt vacated by Gilroy for the key game.