Season Preview: Guinness PRO12

03rd Sep 2014, 12:04

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New look: Guinness PRO12

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.


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