NEW YORK, NY – Currently, we are reviewing the performances of our 2015 USA, Canada and European Rugby classes and naming their 2016 counterparts. After covering the Eagles and Maple Leafs, as well as the 2016 European Rugby Players To Watch, we now turn our attention to the 2016 European Clubs, Coaches & Management To Watch.
France – Racing 92 (Top 14): We ran out of space in the coaches section for Racing’s double head coach combo of Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers. However, we already nominated the duo in 2014 when they took the Racing job and said it would take them a few years for it to all come together and this looks like the year. Formerly Racing Metro 92, after the merger of the Racing club and US Metro, they added 92 for the Paris district they represented. There were questions as to whether this start-studded club, who added the great Dan Carter after the Rugby World Cup, could achieve the teamwork and camaraderie needed to bring home the title and match their southern big money rivals, Toulon. This appears to be the year have it all working properly and will likely bring home either the French title, the European crown or both.
Ireland: Munster (Pro12): For a long time, Munster has been a force in Irish rugby. It has been where the vast majority of Ireland’s great forwards have come from and the province has delivered on both the the Pro12 and European stage. However, this year they are out of Europe after the pool stages and are faltering in the Pro12, including a 5 game losing streak. It seems that local hero, Axel Foley has not been what was needed as head coach and they have struggled to produce and nurture domestic talent over the last 5 years. This down turn has left to fans leaving in droves and they are 10 million euro in debt with 4 million due to the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) in 15 months. The road back will be hard but Ulster were in the same state, 7 or so years ago and they got through it with a complete restructuring (and the signing of a few top class players). Munster have to do likewise and it is still a very long road. They can start by making a decision on homebase. Thormond Park is in Limerick but the largest city in the province is Cork, rather than have facilities at both they should pick one and take it from there.
France: ASM Clermont Auvergne (Top 14): This is one of the most impressive clubs in Europe. They have had immense success for almost two decades, they have beaten everyone everywhere, even away in the toughest European venues. The only thing they have lacked is the killer instinct, since they have only gotten ONE silverware in 20 years (2010 Brennus) which is a scandal given the level of play and the number of finals reached. However, it was clear from the start of the season that ASM was going into an unprecedented downwards spiral, they now routinely lose at home which at one point was unthinkable as they once had a 57 home game unbeaten streak. It is a time of transition at the club, with a few older players who need to go, a few leaders who need to change or new ones to found, a few trouble makers who should not play and potentially a management issue since the departure of Vern Cotter seems to have shaken this team. It’s time to get some spine, go back to work, fix the issues and rebuild patiently. All great clubs go through down periods at some point and this is Clermont’s.
France – Guy Noves (French MNT): It was long wondered aloud why Noves hadn’t taken the head coach of France position sooner. He has won everything there is to win at the club level with Stade Toulousain including several Brennus (Top 14 title) and European Championships. The push he needed occurred due to internal turmoil at Toulouse. It appears there was a power play on at Toulouse to limit Noves’ influence in all facets of the club. For a man that is treated like royalty by Toulouse fans this was a huge insult to Noves. He was not happy with the situation and with the under-performing and chaotic situation occurring at the National team level, Noves glad tossed his hat in the race and gleefully accepted the position. So now the man that openly criticized several Les Bleues coaches get a chance to feel the burn himself. We will see what he brings to the table but the immediate offering seems to be clarity of vision and plan for what he wants to do, which his predecessor lacked.
England – Eddie Jones (English MNT): Following the RWC, Eddie Jones was the most talked about and sought after coach in rugby. Considering his team went out in the pool stages that was a bit of a surprise. However after leading Japan to a win against South Africa and coming close to get them into the knockout round, his services were in demand. The only problem was that Eddie had signed a contract with the Stormers of Super Rugby to coach them after the RWC. Now with his services in demand, there were national teams trying to buyout his contract. The national team that came calling with enough cash to buyout his contract and hire him was England. It was fitting too because England were the most talked about nation after their flameout in the RWC pool stages. England needed to rebuild and generate some optimism in fans so they hired the top coach available. Now Eddie has to take the reigns of this proud nation and improve its rugby fortunes. He will spend 2016 getting to know the side and country and by 2017, you will see a team that matches his style.
England – Connor O’Shea (Harlequins): When Ireland was looking for a new national team coach a few years back, O’Shea’s name was mentioned but he chose to withdraw. He had recently won the Premiership with Harlequins and was happy where he was. Now in 2016 he announces that after this season of the Aviva Premiership, he is stepping down as Director of Rugby for Harlequins. The trouble for onlookers is that there is no clear cut destination for O’Shea. It is possible that he will take a break from the game to spend more time with family and probably just do some booth work. However, the heavy speculation is that he is leaving England for Italy to become the new head coach, taking over for Jacques Breunel. There is also talk that he is heading back home to Ireland to take over at Munster or maybe even Leinster. We believe he will land in Italy but no one is quite sure, obviously O’Shea knows how to keep a secret and we will just wait to see where he lands.
Federation de Italian Rugby: There has been much discussion inside Italian rugby about the future of Italy’s PRO12 teams. Last month, FIR president Alfredo Gavazzi suggested a third PRO12 team as part of the solution. This week his opposition and head of Venetian rugby Marzio Innocenti said that what Italy need is just one PRO12 team, without foreigners, and to save money to fix Eccellenza (Italian domestic comp) and junior rugby. This is an interesting debate and fight for power in Italy. What adds to this is that both Italian Pro12 haven’t performed well the past few seasons so a way forth has to be made. This is on top of a national team struggling to be relevant in the 6 Nations, had a poor RWC and a new coach will have to be decided upon soon.
Premier Rugby Limited: It is strange to have this group back on our admin list so soon but of the the 3 major competitions in Europe, they have the most interesting year ahead. The issue of the salary cap and the way a few clubs consistently break it, is making the league a joke. What is worse is that in the msot recent episode of a club breaking the salary cap, they were disciplined privately and internally by PRL. This meant that the punishment was never made public and in the that one act, PRL lost the confidence of the public. Obviously something is a miss and they rather not acknowledge it. Combine this with a push for greater consideration of not counting academy graduates contracts against the cap, currently a percentage does, but now the demand is for 0%. It will be interesting to see how PRL deals with the salary cap this year.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.
We will do a Southern Hemisphere Class of 2015 soon, so please look out for it. And, as always… Stay low and keep pumping those legs.