Rugby – The Season Ahead
The rugby season is about to kick start of the four provinces in the next two weeks with teams in the middle of pre-season training and heading away to play matches against teams from the Pro 12 and Premiership. Connacht are in France for a short camp and will play Montpellier in a game that will see most of the squad get a run out and then they will come back to Galway to complete their preparations for their defence of The Pro 12 they won back in May.
Connacht have added some quality to their squad brining in guys like Cian Kelleher and Lewis Stevenson alongside Moritz Boshoff from South Africa. Connacht will now have a different challenge this season as they are the team that are going to be chased down by all other sides in the Pro 12.
Looking to what they can do this year, they will want to try and kick on in Europe having conquered the domestic league last season. Pat Lam will know that they way Connacht played last season won’t be as much of a surprise to the opposition this year and they may need to tighten up a little bit and kick the ball more than they did last year.
Connacht will feel they can defend the crown they worked so hard to wrestle away from Glasgow Warriors. In Europe they will fancy their chances of a least getting to a quarter final in the Champions Cup. My predictions for Connacht is a 3rd place finish in the Pro 12 and a Quarter Final in Europe.
For Leinster , it’s a season where they really need to kick start things under Leo Cullen and after a few weeks being tutored by Graham Henry he may just have a few new tricks up his sleeve. New signings like Jamison Gibson Park and Robbie Henshaw should help the Leinster backline start firing again.
Imagine this backline Gibson Park , Sexton , Mc Fadden , Reid , Henshaw , Isa Nacewa and Rob Kearney , That’s a decent backline and with some of the talent in the forwards like Ross Molony , Mick Kearney and Tadgh Furlong I just feel it’s time that Leinster re-established themselves as a top side in the Pro 12 and Europe and this year could be the year they will do just that. My prediction for Leinster is 1ST place in the Pro 12 and a Semi Final in Europe.
Moving up North , Ulster will know they again flattered to deceive last year in the Pro 12 and in Europe , having spent big to bring in Marcel Coetzee and Charles Piutau , many will expect them to perform well and be pushing for major honours come the end of the season. If they don’t win anything this year , many will question the recruitment policy with the hunger that may be missing in some of the stars in the squad. Les Kiss has the players and the Stadium can he lead Ulster to a first trophy in 10 years. My Prediction for Ulster is a 4th place finish in the Pro 12 and a Semi Final in Europe.
Lastly Munster , with Rassie Erasmus now at the helm with Jacques Nienber as his defence coach with Anthony Foley back in the role that suits him best looking after the forwards there is real optimism that with all these changes coupled with some shrewd signings like Darragh O Shea , John Andress and South African Lock Jean Kleyn. In the backs Sam Arnold has been brought in as a centre and he can also play on the wing. He has been signed on a two year deal. Munster will want to climb back to the top table. It may not happen in year 1 of Erasmus’s tenure but the good days may not be too far away for Munster. My prediction for Munster is 3rd in the Pro 12 and a Quarter Final in Europe.
Here is my run down on only the four Provinces.
Cian Mc Gibney