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Season Preview: Guinness PRO12

01st September 2014 12:03

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guinness pro12 launch 2014

New look: Guinness PRO12

With the new Guinness PRO12 season kicking off this weekend on Friday, we take a look at the prospects of each of the 12 clubs.

Find all the PRO12 transfers here.

Leinster

Captain: Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip takes over from the now retired Leo Cullen as captain. Without Cullen and Brian O'Driscoll, Heaslip must lead with purpose as he and other players are now senior figures. A top quality back-row forward who's key for both province and country.

Coach: A dream debut season in the PRO12 for Matt O'Connor as he took over from Joe Schmidt, following on from where the Ireland coach left off. The former Leicester coach was given a rave review by Richard Cockerill and it is easy to see why O'Connor is thought of so highly.

Last year's performance: Top of the regular-season standings with 17 wins, one draw and four defeats from their 22 games saw them host Ulster in the semi-finals, winning 13-9, before they ran out comfortable 34-12 victors over Glasgow in the Dublin final. Victory meant it was a perfect farewell for veteran O'Driscoll from an overall viewpoint - he had limped off early on - as Leinster made it back-to-back titles.

This year's prospects: Solving a problem like BOD is going to be the question media ask of Leinster, as they look to replace their long time favourite. Ben Te'o has been signed while Noel Reid, Fergus McFadden and Luke Fitzgerald are possible outside centres at the RDS this year. They are boosted by the return from injury of Richardt Strauss and Sean O'Brien as well as Kane Douglas' arrival, while Jimmy Gopperth and Ian Madigan are ideal options for O'Connor as they have different strengths. This should lead to another strong campaign and possibly a third successive title.

Prediction: Déjà vu. First spot on the table and the title.


Glasgow

Captain: 33-year-old stalwart lock Ali Kellock moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 2006 and has been a rock at the club since making the switch. Proof of his importance to the Scotstoun Stadium outfit is the fact this will be his ninth season in charge. He's made 141 appearances.

Coach: Since taking over in 2012, Gregor Townsend has been a revelation at the Warriors, leading them to knockout rugby each season he has been in charge. The former Scotland and British and Irish Lions international is just 41 years of age and has recruited well at the club.

Last year's performance: Glasgow made the play-offs for a third straight year last season which is testament to the work being done by Townsend, his coaching staff and players. They won the most games in the league, eighteen, but finished behind Leinster on bonus-points so it was a home semi-final against Munster before falling to Leinster on the road in the final. All in all though, a campaign to be very proud of.

This year's prospects: Minus the likes of Chris Cusiter and Ruaridh Jackson, much will rest on Henry Pyrgos and Duncan Weir's shoulders while Finn Russell and Niko Matawalu will offer Townsend plenty as back-up options - Matawalu may play more on the wing. Euan Murray's arrival is a boost while James Downey is an excellent coup from Munster. They will be at the business end once again, with Stuart Hogg's form critical.

Prediction: Expect another play-off appearance. Second spot.


Munster

Captain: Ireland back-row Peter O'Mahony typifies the spirit of Munster as his hunger, drive and unrelenting style warms him to Thomond Park's faithful. Still just 24, O'Mahony has many seasons ahead of him and if he can recover from this shoulder injury, he'll be inspirational.

Coach: A new head coach is at the helm as Rob Penney is now in Japan, with former captain Anthony Foley taking over the top job. Foley will be assisted by Ian Costello, Mick O'Driscoll and Jerry Flannery as they look to improve on the province's third place and semi-final exit.

Last year's performance: As mentioned, Munster fell in the last four against Glasgow Warriors but they had an outstanding record during first part of the season, losing just one game before 2014. But then five league defeats meant they ended up in third place, which meant going on the road in the semis. Had they not dipped in the season's second half then maybe the play-offs might have seen a different ending for them.

This year's prospects: It's a tough season to call in Munster as injuries are already leaving holes, notably at hooker where Mike Sherry and Damien Varley remain out. Robin Copeland is a shrewd signing and will offer plenty of tries alongside the likes of CJ Stander, O'Mahony and Tommy O'Donnell but they'll miss centres Casey Laulala (Racing) and Downey (Glasgow). Whether they have enough class in the backline is the question.

Prediction: Squeezing fourth position but again no title.


Ulster

Captain: Following the retirement of Johann Muller, it will be Rory Best leading the Ulstermen this season. The 31-year-old hooker, who has been captain of the squad in the recent past, has played 152 times for the province and is delighted to be back in charge after his break.

Coach: An acrimonious exit of Mark Anscombe sees Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss come in as interim director of rugby. Compounding the departure of the New Zealander, Ulster hero David Humphreys has also departed from Ravenhill, with uncertain times looking in from the outside.

Last year's performance: Fifteen wins and seven defeats meant Ulster finished fourth in the standings, thus making the semi-finals where they fell to Leinster. They began the season with two losses, against the Dragons and Glasgow, so were on the back foot early but showed plenty of class throughout the campaign, with Andrew Trimble and Muller making the Dream Team. Ruan Pienaar and Luke Marshall also impressed in white.

This year's prospects: Players and coaches leaving the squad has been the main talking point in the off-season as John Afoa, Tom Court, Muller, Paddy Wallace and Stephen Ferris are the high profile men exiting or retiring. Coming in to replace them will be the likes of Wiehahn Herbst, Franco van der Merwe, Ruaidhrí Murphy, Ian Humphreys and Louis Ludik, who aren't of the same ilk so expect Ulster to miss the top four. Look out for a bit more of Stuart Olding though, who is a star in the making.

Prediction: A disappointing fifth place finish this year.


Ospreys

Captain: They have a quality leader of men at the Ospreys in the shape of Alun-Wyn Jones. The Wales international lock has been at the region since 2005, making 166 appearances in the black jersey to date, and is a steady rock in the engine room. His experience is invaluable.

Coach: Former Ospreys openside Steve Tandy, who played over 100 matches for the region in his career, succeeded Sean Holley in February 2012. At just 34, he is one of several young head coaches in the PRO12 and has finished in fifth position in successive campaigns at the helm.

Last year's performance: Fifth place for the second season in a row meant no play-off rugby for the Ospreys. What's noticeable was that they ended with 571 points on the board along with 52 tries, both the most in the PRO12, but it was their defence that saw them miss the cut.

This year's prospects: The departures of Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Ryan Jones and Matthew Morgan will hurt the Ospreys and they will need the likes of Dan Biggar, Alun-Wyn Jones and Ashley Beck to lead well if they are to equal if not better last season's effort. It will be extremely tough to do so without those internationals in their squad and we therefore see a tough mid-table scrap for the Liberty Stadium side.

Prediction: Tandy has a big job on his hands. Seventh spot.


Scarlets

Captain: Taking over from Rob McCusker and Jonathan Davies will be Ken Owens, with Scott Williams as vice-captain. The Welsh international hooker is an all-action player who always leaves nothing in the tank when leaving the field. His new coach believes he was the ideal skipper.

Coach: Following the departure of Simon Easterby to his new role as Ireland forwards coach, Wayne Pivac has made the step up to become head coach of the Scarlets. The former Auckland boss, who only joined the Llanelli region in June, will hope his players buy into his methods.

Last year's performance: The Scarlets finished 15 points off the play-off places after losing ten of their 22 fixtures in 2013/14. Their stand-out player was scrum-half Gareth Davies, who was the PRO12's top try-scorer with ten efforts, while the back-row of Josh Turnbull, Aaron Shingler and McCusker also impressed. Losing wing George North to Northampton was always going to hurt as they missed his pace and power.

This year's prospects: Exits of influential centre Jonathan Davies and international flank Josh Turnbull have been somewhat cushioned by Regan King's return and Chris Hala'ufia's arrival from London Irish. Pivac is an excellent coach and will have his players challenging at the right end of the table, with the likes of Owens, Jake Ball, Shingler, Rhys Priestland and Scott and Liam Williams, vital to their PRO12 hopes.

Prediction: One just feels they're a little lightweight out wide. Sixth.


Cardiff Blues

Captain: What a comeback it has been for Matthew Rees. Diagnosed with testicular cancer and subsequently being out since October 2013 while undergoing treatment, his return to the playing field was admirable. Now back to full fitness, he'll thrive on leading this Blues team.

Coach: Mark Hammett arrives after impressing with bringing on young talent at the Hurricanes. He is a no nonsense type of boss but the results are there for all to see and he will attract top talent for as long as he's in charge. He's already happy with the players' response.

Last year's performance: Seventh position has to be viewed as an unsuccessful campaign but it's difficult not to look at a long list of injuries they had to endure in the season. The low point has to be losses home and away against Zebre, with inconsistency being a real problem as only a four-game winning streak towards the end of 2013/14 was the highlight. Director of rugby, Phil Davies, ultimately resigned in March.

This year's prospects: While Cardiff have lost the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Bradley Davies and Robin Copeland, the recruitment done at the Blues should have given fans a great deal of hope. In come Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Turnbull, Tavis Knoyle, Manoa Vosawai, Gareth Anscombe and Adam Jones in what are superb signings that should push the region up the standings. And with Hammett in charge, they can make the knockouts.

Prediction: The league's surprise package this season. Third.


Edinburgh

Captain: TBA

Coach: Not afraid to change things at Edinburgh, Alan Solomons has been busy with his recruitment since arriving from the Kings in July 2013. His coaching career has seen stints with Western Province, South Africa, the Stormers, Ulster and Northampton. He is now 64 years of age.

Last year's performance: Eighth place for Edinburgh, who had the third worst defence in the competition with 526 points leaked. Fifteen defeats was the same as eventual basement side Zebre and with no representatives in the PRO12 Dream Team, it was a forgetful season all round.

This year's prospects: The arrival of Phil Burleigh from the Highlanders is a positive as he should offer consistency at inside centre while Anton Bresler and Tom Heathcote are also decent signings. Does this result in them challenging in the top half of the standings though? Unfortunately not for us as it will be another mid-table battle for Solomons' men. Not having back-row David Denton for three months will hurt.

Prediction: Similar to last season for Edinburgh. Ninth spot.


Dragons

Captain: Lee Byrne returns to the PRO12 after three seasons at Clermont and admitted to being delighted to become captain this year. The Wales and Lions international said it was 'a complete shock' but is determined to prove his worth after taking over from forward Andrew Coombs.

Coach: Another former Osprey is in charge of the Dragons off the field as Lyn Jones enters his second season at the helm in Newport. He has done a decent job thus far at Rodney Parade and will be aided by Kingsley Jones to turn them into more of a competitive outfit.

Last year's performance: Nine points from their opening three games was a positive start but they would struggle during the second part of the season, winning just two PRO12 fixtures since the turn of the year. Tom Prydie and Taulupe Faletau were two of their stand-out players.

This year's prospects: With a full pre-season under the tutelage of the two Joneses, the Dragons should be stronger than 2013/14 but we expect them to be in a similar position as last season when May rolls around. Brok Harris, Aled Brew and Rynard Landman's arrivals will help.

Prediction: One spot higher than last season. Eighth position.


Connacht

Captain: John Muldoon is back as captain after three years away from the job and was delighted to have been given the job by head coach Pat Lam. Over 200 appearances for Connacht made him the obvious choice to lead following the retirement of Craig Clarke. He will give his all.

Coach: Now going into his second term in charge at the province, former Blues head coach Pat Lam is no stranger to European rugby after his successful playing stints at Newcastle and Northampton. However, after a tough first season in Galway, the pressure is now on his coaching.

Last year's performance: Six wins and 16 defeats wasn't pretty reading for Lam and his charges as their highlight of 2013/14 came away to Toulouse in the Heineken Cup. The PRO12 meanwhile was a tough campaign as after an opening win over Zebre, they went on to lose eight straight before late December. Improvements were made, particularly in defence, until March but the damage on the table had already been done.

This year's prospects: Much like Cardiff Blues, Connacht have been busy with their recruitment this off-season as in come Mils Muliaina, Tom McCartney, Quinn Roux and Bundee Aki as their main signings, as Clarke and Dan Parks both retire from rugby. Aki and Henshaw together in midfield whets the appetite while Kieran Marmion will hope to push on this season. Can they improve on last term though, it is a huge ask.

Prediction: Quality in patches but short collectively. Tenth.


Treviso

Captain: Antonio Pavanello has been a Treviso stalwart since 2005 and continues to skipper the Italian club from second row. Losing so many senior players during the off-season makes Pavanello's job harder this year so he'll need players like Alessandro Zanni to share the load.

Coach: South African-born Marius Goosen coaches the Italian outfit after taking over from Franco Smith. The former player had spells at the Bulls, Stormers, Newcastle and Treviso (twice), so know the roots of the club which is a positive as he looks to improve on last season.

Last year's performance: A hugely disappointing step backwards for the Italians as they could not build on 2012/13's impressive seventh place finish (ten wins), instead claiming just five victories which left them in eleventh spot. Treviso conceded the most points, 591, in the league as big defeats to the Ospreys and Leinster were poor days. They really fell apart in the second half of the season with the club's future very uncertain at the time. Positives came in the shape of wins over Munster, Edinburgh and the Dragons.

This year's prospects: Don't expect a change in fortunes for Treviso as their team has been ravaged by departures - Leonardo Ghiraldini, Robert Barbieri, Luke McLean, Tobias Botes, Alberto De Marchi and Manoa Vosawai just some of those who have left. We are expecting them to be scrapping with Zebre at the bottom of the table as they simply don't have the personnel. One to watch is Sam Christie who arrives from Waikato.

Prediction: A sombre feel ahead of this season. Twelfth spot.


Zebre

Captain: Forget one t-shirt, Marco Bortolami probably has a whole cupboard full of them after being there, seeing it all and doing it. The old stager at 34, Bortolami has over 100 caps for his country and wears his heart on his sleeve for both the Azzurri and Zebre. Top pro.

Coach: Zebre boss Andrea Cavinato enjoyed a playing career that spanned from 1970 to 1981 and has coached at age group level for Italy. After promising improvements last season he'll hope all his and the team's hard work will act as the foundations for further growth this term.

Last year's performance: From 22 defeats out of 22 in 2012/13, Zebre can be proud of their five victories last season as they defeated Cardiff Blues (twice), Treviso, Edinburgh and the Ospreys. They possessed a decent blend of grunt up front and guile out wide with one of the standout players for both club and country being wing Leonardo Sarto. It was also apparent the confidence one victory brought as four followed.

This year's prospects: Hennie Daniller and Andries Ferreira arrive from the Cheetahs as unlike Treviso, Zebre have strengthened their squad ahead of 2014/15. Daniller is a no frills type of full-back but rarely makes an error, carries well while his booming boot is a useful outlet. They will fancy their chances of building on those five wins last term and even if they don't, they will be competitive in each game.

Prediction: Say goodbye to the basement. Zebre to take eleventh.

  • Leinster Fixtures
Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
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European Rugby Champions Cup
Sunday , October 26
Castres vs LeinsterCastres vs Leinster Preview
Saturday , December 6
Harlequins vs LeinsterTBC
Saturday , December 13
Leinster vs HarlequinsTBC
Saturday , January 17
Leinster vs CastresTBC
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Guinness PRO12
Friday , October 31
Leinster vs Edinburgh19:35
Sunday , November 23
Benetton Treviso vs Leinster14:30
Saturday , November 29
Leinster vs Ospreys17:15
Friday , December 19
Leinster vs Connacht19:35
Friday , December 26
Munster vs Leinster17:00
Saturday , January 3
Leinster vs Ulster14:40
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Leinster 25 - 20 WaspsLeinster vs Wasps Report
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Zebre 3 - 20 LeinsterZebre vs Leinster Report
Saturday , October 4
Leinster 23 - 34 Munster
Friday , September 26
Leinster 37 - 23 Cardiff Blues
Friday , September 19
Connacht 10 - 9 Leinster
Saturday , September 13
Leinster 42 - 12 Scarlets
Saturday , September 6
Glasgow 22 - 20 Leinster
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  • Table
Pool 2
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PosTeamPPts
1Leinster14
2Harlequins14
3Wasps11
4Castres10