Eight predictions for 2016

Date published: December 31 2015

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As the new year begins you would think that with no Lions tour or Rugby World Cup on the horizon that we might be in for a dull 12 months.

That though is not the case, for 2016 is set to be a year of subplots and thrills at both club and international level in both hemispheres.

With that in mind, here are eight calls from the crystal ball that we expect to take place over the next year.

Israel Folau to return to his best form

The code-hopper was hampered by an ankle injury during the Rugby World Cup which meant he made little impact at the global showpiece and failed to score a try in five tournament appearances. But there's an old adage which says "form is tempoarary and class is permanent" and that certainly applies to Folau who is one of the game's best attackers when on song.

Since joining Rugby Union in 2013, Folau has impressed for the Waratahs in Super Rugby and Australia at Test level making an immediate impact with his impressive speed and agility. The 26-year-old was an integral member of the Waratahs' title winning team in 2014's Super Rugby and claimed Australian Rugby’s ultimate honour after winning the John Eales Medal that same year. Although he didn't reach the same heights in 2015, he will be back to his best in 2016.

Stormers' new game-plan won't have the desired results

After employing a conservative game-plan for several years under the guidance of Allister Coetzee, the men from the Cape are set to play more expansively in 2016.

While their desire to play 15-man rugby is admirable, their inability to hold on to Eddie Jones as head coach, as well as their decision not to appoint John Mitchell as the new England boss' replacement, will come back to haunt them. Interim head coach Robbie Fleck has a daunting task with a fairly young squad and don't expect them to be challenging for the title in 2016.

Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly to shine for England in the Six Nations

These two players were among the unlucky ones who missed out on selection for England's Rugby World Cup squad earlier this year. The host nation's campaign ended disastrously and with a new coach taking over the reins, changes are set to be made.

Itoje and Daly are yet to make their Test debuts but both have been in fine form for Saracens and Wasps respectively in the Premiership and Champions Cup. Itoje has been the form lock in England so far this season and is viewed as a future captain of his national side while Daly's attacking skills have been impressive for Wasps. Both are expected to be in Jones' Six Nations squad and don't be surprised if they cement their places in the side.

The Kings won't win a Super Rugby match

The ongoing financial saga at the Port Elizabeth-based franchise does not bode well ahead of their return to Super Rugby. The South African Rugby Union have intervened and brought some stability, although the appointment of new coach Deon Davids – earlier this month – could be too little too late.

Davids is on a hiding to nothing and in a race against time to get his troops adequately prepared for a gruelling season, with their opener at home against the Sharks just over 60 days away. It will be a surprise if they register a win as they face several teams with seasoned internationals in their ranks while their squad consists mostly of players who did duty at Currie Cup level in 2015.

All Blacks will battle to replace McCaw

Because of his aura on the field, New Zealand has a big hole to fill now that double World Cup-winning skipper McCaw has retired. Sam Cane has been at the front of the queue for a few years while Matt Todd and Ardie Savea will be pushing hard to wrestle the number seven jersey off him. But it's not just at openside McCaw's absence will be felt as plenty now rests on the shoulders of likely new captain Kieran Read.

Losing Dan Carter and to a lesser extent Colin Slade will prove to be less of an impact as we expect the experienced Aaron Cruden to become a leader in the side at fly-half once he returns to full fitness while Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga are more than capable of building a long-term argument for their selection. It really is an embarrassment of riches New Zealand boast in this position so they should be fine.

The Jaguares will make a big impact in Super Rugby

Most definitely a dark horse for the Super Rugby title as despite being the new kids on the block, the Jaguares squad reads like the Pumas Test team. Boasting the likes of Agustín Creevy, Tomás Lavanini, Pablo Matera, Martín Landajo, Juan Martín Hernández, Nicolás Sánchez and Matías Moroni, coach Raúl Pérez is able to call upon the spirit of World Cup 2015 as Argentina look to take this competition by surprise.

Fiji to dominate the Sevens scene

While one or two teams have dipped into their XVs pot for star players which may or may not pay dividends in the World Rugby Sevens Series run-in and of course the Rio Olympics, Fiji are quietly building a squad of real quality that should see them pull away from their rivals.

At the moment they are locked on 35 points with South Africa at the summit after the opening two legs but with Pio Tuwai and Osea Kolinisau two of the best in the business, Ben Ryan's men will have too much for their challengers. Expect the islanders to improve with each tournament.

Scottish rugby to surprise many

Both at club and international level, expect Scotland to upset plenty of rivals this year. On the back of an impressive Rugby World Cup in England, which came following Glasgow's PRO12 title win in 2015, Vern Cotter's men are building nicely ahead of the Six Nations and should not be fifth favourites with the bookies.

England are the first visitors to Murrayfield and they may well be party poopers for Eddie Jones' bow, with real belief in this side due in part to how Edinburgh and the Warriors have improved. Those two teams currently sit in fifth and seventh in the PRO12 standings respectively but with a game in hand expect Glasgow in particular to push hard to keep hold of the trophy.

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