GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – Welcome to Jockland… The hard to pronounce RaboDirect 12 – the league formerly known as the Magner’s League – has kicked off. The league consists of 12 teams from 4 countries but as I have Scottish roots, we are here in the UK’s second largest city – which is a little-known fact. Anyway, let’s get to our RaboDirect Pro12 Preview, and predict where the teams will end up at the end. As usual, teams are listed in order of their projected finish.
EYES ON THE PRIZE:
Leinster: The best side in Europe for two years straight but they have come short in two consecutive finals. They are the most feared side when they play their first-choice team. In League play, however, they often send out second-choice… to mixed results. I got to believe this is the year they do it win the title as for the Heineken Cup, I will save that for another day.
Ospreys: The defending champs have lost significant players do to retirement and the lucrative money offers in France. Despite that and their rough start, they still have loads of talent, stability at coach and 5 Joneses, including Adam Jones, on their squad. It will be tough for the rest of the league to keep up with the [five] Joneses and they will make the final again.
Ulster: They have a new coach, Mark Anscombe, and a Heineken Cup final from last year to build on. They have lost some talent but have retained key personnel and have some key players returning from injury. I see Anscombe’s charges really hitting their stride from the midway point on, rallying for Nevin Spence.
Scarlets: They finished last season in 5th place and just out the playoff picture. They have some really talented young players and I can see them turning a few of the close loses from last year into victories. They are off to a great start and their continued success relies heavily on George North and Rhys Priestland.
Cardiff Blues: Cardiff may have had the busiest off-season of any team in the league. They lost a whole host of people, including their coach and brought in a new cast as replacements. That kind of turnover can lead to a season of struggle (see Glasgow below) but the imported talent is quality and may gel better than expected. They will be in the playoff hunt but finish just short.
Edinburgh: Another side looking to build on their Heineken Cup form. They made some key additions, like Ben Atiga, while keeping Tim Visser. Look for them to finish much better. Playoffs though, will likely be a touch too far.
MIDDLE OF THE PACK:
Glasgow: Making the playoffs last season was a massive achievement for the Warriors. With a new coach, loads of new players and a new stadium, things might be a little too new for everyone, though. This will also be Gregor Townsend’s first head coaching assignment. Because of all the change, a middle-of-the-pack finish will be a success.
Munster: New coach Rob Penney has a mighty great challenge. The glory days are over at Munster. They have brought in some players but are essentially giving Penney a relatively young side. The side is young because so many great players of the past have retired due to injury. A mid-table finish is likely, but a spot or two higher will be their max.
Treviso: The whipping boys since becoming part of the league, last season was a watershed moment. They managed 7 wins and a draw. With some of the wins coming on the road, they look ready to progress and be competitive in more matches.
Connacht: The signing of Dan Parks seems like a much better fit than most regard. Connacht lost about 6 games due to poor goal-kicking and conversions. If they win those 6, they would have finished much further up. Parks is as solid a kicker as there is.
Zebre – The Zebre are replacing Aironi and are based in Parma. They are a wholly owned and operated Federazione Italiana Rugby. They will have more Italian players and are essentially following a souped-up model of what the league’s other teams use. Despite the high caliber players they have brought in, it will be a tough first year. Their stripes will keep them out in the open.
Dragons – Newport Gwent have lost a ton of talent and barely retained Dan Lydiate and Tom Prydie. The cupboard is bare and their finish will show that. Leinster certainly exposed some of their deficiencies.
My two final predictions is that the leading point scorer of this season will be Johnny Sexton of Leinster. The Player of the year will be Jarred Payne of Ulster.
That is it for me for now. Please feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @RugbyWrapUp, @JunoirBlaber, @Declan Yeats and @Mathew Drew Turner, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.