With just six rounds left in the regular Magners League season, the race for the four Play Off places is intensifying.
Munster are leading the charge for a home draw in the Play Offs, with a nine point lead at the top over defending champions the Ospreys, but there are only six points separating the next five teams in the battle for the next three places.
There are two Heineken Cup quarter-finalists in the chasing pack, Leinster and Ulster, last season's Amlin Challenge Cup winners Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets. There is all to play for and Ospreys skipper Alun Wyn Jones says his side are in no mood to give up their title.
"Right from the start of our season we declared we wanted to become the first team to win the Magners League title back-to-back and the bonus point win over Connacht last weekend really made a difference and moved us nicely into second place," said Jones.
"The Grand Final win over Leinster in Dublin last year defined our season and after our exit from the Heineken Cup all our efforts will be going into retaining the title in May. Our strength in depth was questioned last season, but the team has held up well during the RBS 6 Nations period.
"We've already played Munster three times this season, but still have a game to come at home against them. We also play the Blues at home and have to travel to face the Dragons.
"It would be great to have a home tie in the Play Offs, but getting into the top four is the first priority and we believe we can go anywhere and win. The Grand Final concept certainly added to the appeal of the Magners League last season and everyone is now gearing up for a big push between now and 28 May."
Magners League chairman Andy Irvine highlighted the growth of the tournament in a recent presentation to the 12 clubs in Edinburgh and his comments are contained in the attached document.
Among the headline figures revealed to the clubs by Irvine were:
- despite the difficult economic climate, attendance figures have remained constant on a game for game basis and show a 30% increase with the addition of the two Italian teams.
- Almost 700,000 fans through the gates in 16 rounds
- a league record gate of 50,645 for the Leinster v Munster game
- on target to top more than one million fans by the Grand Final on 28 May
- 120 out of 134 matches being show live.
- matches shown on Terrestrial TV in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
- a 10% growth in viewing figures in Wales with weekly averages of 254,750
- on-line audiences of more than 900,000 unique users per month across the Magners League and club websites
- Leinster and Ulster reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and Munster the quarter-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup
"The figures produced after the first half of our expanded season are hugely encouraging and a tribute to all the hard work that has been put in both on and off the field by the clubs, coaches, players, administrators and marketeers," said Irvine.
"We know we have an excellent, expanding product and it is great to see more and more people engaging with it. Some of the world's biggest names are playing in the Magners League and the level of competition on the pitch continues to rise.
"The on-field battles are set to reach fever pitch over the next few months as the fight for places in the Play-Offs on the road to the second Magners League Grand Final hots up."