The Provinces Season Ahead
So the 2018/2019 season is just around the corner with all four provinces currently in pre season action with Leinster the current Pro 14 and Champions Cup holders completing their 2 game schedule last Friday where they faced Newcastle Falcons and were beaten 42-17. They travelled to Montauban the previous week and held on for a narrow 18-17 win.
Senior Coach Stuart Lancaster has already admitted that both games have shown up the Leinster defence and he was not pleased having conceded a large number of tries late last season and in this pre season period.
With no game until they open there campaign away to Cardiff Blues on August 31st they can work on their defence and other aspects of their game plan that they may feel needs to be sharpened before that opening fixture.
How can Leinster achieve more than they did last year having won in Europe and in the Pro 14. The drive for 5 in Europe is well and truly alive now and Leo Cullen along with Stuart Lancaster will want to drive the standards further and further and achieve more and more. Bettering oneself must be high on the priority list.
Of course the chance of new young players stepping up to the mark is a real distinct possibility with guys like Harry Byrne and Will Connors and Caelan Doris hoping to get an early chance to show what they can do in the early weeks of the new campaign.
From a Leinster perspective, if they retain one of their trophies that will be seen as another success but you can be sure they will be hell bent on keeping a hold of both Pro 14 and the Champions Cup. Roll on the new campaign. My prediction for Leinster will be another Pro 14 win but they may lose the Champions Cup as I feel they will only get to a Semi Final.
Munster have invested in there playing group adding Tadgh Beirne , Neil Cronin , Mike Haley and Arno Botha. Those four players have been added to an already improving squad where Johan Van Graan has had a full pre season to get his ideas across to the group of players he will work with this year. Munster played in two Semi Finals last season and will really need to find the key for success to get past a Semi Final and get back to competing in Finals. My prediction for Munster will be that they will get to a Pro 14 Final and a bold prediction that they will get to a Champions Cup Final…
Ulster have Dan Mc Farland on board after the IRFU paid compensation to the SRU to have him released from his contract to take up his new role. The signing of Billy Burns could be hugely exciting for all in the Ulster set up along with all in the Irish set up as he is Irish qualified.
Will Addison is another Ulster addition who has already spent time in the Irish set up down in Australia and will hope now that some good early performances for Ulster will bring him into contention for an Irish squad place for the November Internationals.
My prediction for Ulster will be a Pro 14 Play off place and maybe with a strong start a knock out spot in the Champions Cup.
Connacht of course have a new coach in Andrew Friday and he will hope that he can bring back the good times to all involved with Connacht rugby after the Pro 12 win two season ago. Kieran Keane came in last year and tried to implement a new game plan that the Chiefs had brought in and that helped them win a Super Rugby title in 2013. It didn’t work out too well for Kieran Keane and he was sacked at the end of last season after only winning 7 games in the Pro 14 last year. Although the Challenge Cup challenge was ended by Gloucester, Connacht will feel that a successful Challenge Cup campaign could help them with domestic matters. My Prediction for Connacht will be a Challenge Cup Semi Final and maybe a Pro 14 play off place as well.
With a World Cup in late 2019, many players will think that they can put up some good performances to force Joe Schmidt into some squad changes as the November Internationals come along followed by the 2019 Six Nations. This is the year to put your hand up and be counted to maybe just maybe gain a spot in the plane to Japan…..
Cian Mc Gibney