A warm HoR2 welcome back to Liam Sinclair who once again will be keeping tabs on the Non-Irish teams in the Pro12…
It’s that time of the year again. The past is pigeon holed and optimistic eyes gaze eagerly into the future. Harpin’ On Rugby have extended my contract another year and I look forward to throwing my glib musings into the ring of public opinion.
My particular focus will, as usual, be the coming and goings of the non-Irish teams that make up our beautifully eclectic domestic competition. Improvement is needed across the board so we’ll use the first matches to set some goals.
Scarlets v Leinster; The weekend kicks off with the one team from my column’s remit where standing still would be a successful season. That is, however, a big ask. A superstar has left who’s just plain irreplaceable, performances will drop. I feel they’ll be in the scrap but will fall short over the course of the season. Europe is a write off as well. In a group with heavyweights Clermont, Quins and Racing Metro the best they can hope for is to be the team that ruins it for someone. A tough season ahead.
Starts off with a toughie against the reigning champions. I expect this to be a close one with an exciting Leinster team coming out victorious.
Dragons v Ulster; Second last and miles behind. Realistically the only way is up……..? Every team needs to win their matches at home and they will have to go aggressively after the other teams at the bottom of the middle Connacht, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Treviso. These are teams that will also be looking up and a tough season lies ahead for the men of Gwent.
First up in the supposed fortress are last year’s table toppers. Ulster seem to have kept the positive feeling generated over the past couple of years simmering and will come out here with all guns blazing. Too much for the Dragons.
Glasgow; A pleasure to watch last year as they made their way comfortably into the Semis. There’s no reason for this team to, not only equal, but improve on last year. A final appearance is the least of my expectations. Europe is going to be difficult. Champions Toulon, hard, effective Exeter and equals Cardiff. Not holding out a huge amount hope there.
Cardiff; The biggest under achievers last year, improvement needed urgently. There’s definitely the players. Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton? Names that I’m sure ring a bell with most of you. I’m going to trot out the cliché again; home victories a must for a solid run at the top spots. Thinking they’ll fall a bit short, 6-8th. Same European group as this weekend’s rivals and 3rd is the highest they can hope for.
Last year’s table suggests a big gap between these two teams. I don’t think this is the case and this match will be close. Glasgow are that bit more stylish in attack and should do the job at home.
Connacht v Zebre; Not hard to set a basic goal for Zebre given that just one victory would be an improvement. A lot was said about how close they came on occasion but for me having zero in the games won column is unacceptable no matter the circumstances. I’m setting the goal of 3 wins for them but don’t see them getting any higher up the table. With Toulouse and Saracens to contend with in Europe and Connacht as the third what’s the bets there’s two quarter finalists coming out of this group?
Munster v Edinburgh; Very similar to Cardiff, Edinburgh are a team who feel they should be higher up the table. New coach has been brought in and they will be looking right upwards to those playoff spots. We’re a year or two too early for that but improvement is likely. In Europe they face a group that will be tough but not impossible. Perpignan probably the favourites but with concentration and a chunk of luck anything’s possible.
A trip to Musgrave starts off. No easy task but I think if they come out quick and fierce there’s a win here for them.
Treviso; Finished top of the bottom half last year and managed, at times, to play prettily on their way there. More of the same will be ok but no reason to not look up. They were only four points off 6th and this is where I see them finishing. In Europe they face an impossible task against heavy hitters Montpellier, Tigers and Ulster. Once again the best hope is to ruin it for somebody else.
Ospreys; Four points off the playoff spots last year. That’s one or two results. The four time champs have to be aiming to be top dogs again. Definitely doable, need to hit the ground running. In Europe they are in an exciting group where anyone can beat anyone. Once again it’s a matter of definitely winning your home games and trying your hardest away. If they do qualify they’ll be primed, tough and ready for the challenges ahead. Another big year beckons for Justin Tipuric.
This fixture last year ended in victory for the underdogs. Not again. Osprey’s should navigate this banana skin.
In summary; (Leinster)Glasgow-Ospreys(Munster,Ulster)-Cardiff-Scarlets-Treviso-Edinburgh(Connacht)-Dragons-Zebre. Or something along those lines.
Happy New Season everybody.
Liam Sinclair (@liam_bs) – Guesses, generalisations and clichés.