Pro14 2017-2018 Season Preview

The Pro12 has grown to the Pro14, is this a maturing or an extra tire? Only time will tell but at first glance they have adopted a much better conference system than Super Rugby. A big thank you to DragonWales9 for his in-depth written preview below. I also chime in with my views via my video.

Here is my PRO14 Season Preview from my Live Stream on Periscope earlier.

Time for me to handover to DragonWales9:

So the Guinness Pro12 is no more and the new Pro14 is upon us. The addition of a new system and 2 new teams promises to up the interest in the competition that served up some excellent rugby last year. So, before we look at each team, what of last year? Here is the finishing positions with my predictions in brackets, which should do nothing else than convince you to avoid me for betting tips:

Team

Pts

1 (9)

 Munster (RU)

86

2 (1)

 Leinster (SF)

85

3 (3)

 Scarlets (CH)

77

4 (5)

 Ospreys (SF)

69

5 (4)

 Ulster

68

6 (2)

 Glasgow Warriors

58

7 (6)

 Cardiff Blues

53

8 (7)

 Connacht

44

9 (8)

 Edinburgh

31

10 (12)

 Benetton Treviso

23

11 (10)

 Newport Gwent Dragons

23

12 (11)

 Zebre

19

Munster were the surprise team last year producing some incredible performances to prove many people wrong. I expected a strong Scarlets side with the wealth of talent in their back line but no one expected the incredible rugby they produced in the second half of the season to be crowned champions and bring the trophy back to Wales.

So what of 2017/18? Well firstly we are now in two conferences and I will preview each team based on the conference A or B they have been placed in and in the order I think they will finish:

Position

Conference A

Conference B

1 Glasgow Warriors Leinster
2 Munster Scarlets
3 Cardiff Blues Ulster
4 Cheetahs Dragons
5 Ospreys Edinburgh
6 Connacht Southern Kings
7 Zebre Benetton Treviso

Pro14 Rugby: 2017-18 Conference A Preview

Arguably the toughest of the two groups with the stronger of the two newcomers the Cheetahs who have four Springbok internationals, in the conference with Munster, Glasgow and Cardiff Blues all vying for the top three spots to make the play offs.

Glasgow

The best signing of the summer for Glasgow has to be the acquisition of head coach Dave Rennie. We have known for a while but his arrival is a masterstroke to continue the work of Gregor Townsend. If his slightly late entrance to pre – season does not hinder them too much and they start well, I expect Glasgow to rediscover the form of two seasons ago. In Ruaridh Jackson they have also signed a player perfectly suited to the Pro14, and despite the loss of a couple of star names, they remain a force all over the park and in Stuart Hogg have the star quality that can unlock any defence. 

Prediction: 1st

Munster

Munster were a real surprise to me last season and clear evidence, if it was ever needed, of the power of culture and high quality coaching in getting the best out of players. In any other year they would have won the whole competition but met a Scarlets back line on absolute fire. Some excellent signings have complimented a confident and clearly talented group led by the form scrum half in world rugby, Connor Murray. His ability to control games even when his pack is struggling is extraordinary and the innate knowledge of when to speed up and slow down a game is second to none. The only question mark remains the identity of the new head coach when Rassie Erasmus returns to South Africa. Avoid this being a distraction and it will be another strong year for the men from Munster.

Prediction: 2nd 

Cardiff Blues

The Blues flattered to deceive at times last year and in many people’s eyes underachieved last year despite an improved showing on previous seasons. A quiet recruitment drive will add stability but I expect centre Jack Roberts to be an astute addition to add to strength in that area. Willis Halaholo has a season in the pro rugby under his belt and will be a real danger. The lack of on pitch activity has been balanced by some good work off it. Shaun Edwards will act in a consultancy role and strengthen their defence that saw the Blues too many close games last year. Under Sam Warburton’s leadership I expect further improvements this season.

Prediction: 3rd 

Cheetahs

The honest appraisal here is to admit I have no idea how the Cheetahs will adapt to Pro14 but there is no doubting their talent and potential. Will they win enough away from home? Who knows but coach Drotske has had success with the Cheetahs and was unlucky to be one of the sides that were cut from Super Rugby.

Flanker Oupa Mohojé caught the eye against the French in the summer Tests and he is the key to the Cheetahs breakdown dominance that is the basis behind their free-flowing style. They have 4 Springbok internationals in their ranks and enjoy playing open and fast paced rugby. Win quick ball and they’ll hurt teams. 

Prediction: 4th 

Ospreys

A side in a little turmoil. A poor pre – season and some real questions for Coach Steve Tandy have portrayed an image of discontent amongst a talented but aging squad. Questions remain in terms of their mental strength in big games; can they keep Giles fit? How do you get the best out of Davies and/or Biggar? Cory Allen is a good signing but also with his injury problems and in a tough conference I think the Ospreys have too many questions to answer and egos to balance to be consistent enough to challenge for the play offs.

Prediction: 5th 

Connacht

New coach Kieran Keane is another man from Down Under that knows what it takes to win and win in style having coached All Blacks golden boy Beauden Barrett. He’ll certainly need to hit the ground running in this conference if Connacht are to overcome a disappointing title defence last year. Their home form is crucial. Strangely sides won a little too easily last year and the home fortress needs to return. Some good signings, particularly from Super Rugby, will ensure Connacht are competitive but do they have the quality to challenge in this conference? Not for me.

Prediction: 6th 

Zebre

Head coach Michael Bradley has the biggest challenge in the competition. Zero finance, off the field turmoil and poor recruitment to an already average squad will need Bradley to use his years of experience just to create a game plan that makes Zebre harder to beat. Whenever I have watched them I have enjoyed their enterprise and commitment but playing too loose has cost them time and time again. The international window(s) remain their best hope of picking up wins. Not a great strategy on which to build for the season ahead! Lacking the quality in all areas in comparison to the other sides I see nothing but a last place finish for Zebre.

Prediction: 7th

Pro14 Rugby: 2017-18 Conference B Predictions

Leinster, Ulster, and Scarlets will all be looking to lead the charge to the play offs in this group although expect a few surprises and a stronger showing from both the Dragons and Edinburgh this season.

Leinster

My tip for the title last year slightly underperformed but the quality of their squad cannot be denied so I expect them to top this conference this season. Sean O’Brien, Robbie Henshaw and the exciting Garry Ringrose, and new signing James Lowe will provide the perfect blend of winning experience and with the fearlessness of youth means another trophy less season would be close to unacceptable in the eyes of some of the critics.

Prediction: 1st 

Scarlets

The Scarlets were in no doubt deserved winners last season. The form of their back line was scintillating and the rugby they played, particularly post – Christmas was exceptional. Leigh Halfpenny will offer a different threat to Liam Williams, who will be missed, but watch out any team giving penalties away within 55m! Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Steff Evans, James Davies and Jake Ball all provide a passionate Welsh core with plenty to prove and the Scarlets will not give up their crown easily. If they can hold their own during the international series they may well top the group but Leinster-s strength in depth tips it for me. No-one will want to face them in the play offs though!

Prediction: 2nd 

Ulster

The northern province flattered to deceive in 2016/17 and was arguably the most disappointing side last year because they are usually so clinical, especially at home. I expect them to improve all over the park and if they do, Ulster will ensure Ravenhill is a fortress once again. Paddy Jackson remains a crucial player. Court case aside, when Jackson plays well, Ulster play well. His goal kicking is impeccable, especially when you think back to his shaky debut for Ireland. His running game is also extremely underrated and has all the tools to kick on and challenge Jonny Sexton for the green #10 jersey. It can only get better for Ulster, with the potential signing of Australia international Christian Lealiifano minimizing the blow of losing Ruan Pienaar. Like the Cheetahs, they should benefit from having fewer internationals in the side.

Prediction: 3rd 

Dragons

My wildcard pick and before I am accused over optimism and complete bias I have a case for the defence. Indeed, the defence is the worry but new defence coach Hendre Marnitz comes highly rated and will be alarmed by the pre – season showing. Once his patterns imbed a fit Dragons backline will punish any turnover ball. The key will be providing ball and my prediction is dependent on injuries being at a minimum this season. If Dee, Hill, Cudd, and the rising welsh star Ollie Griffiths can secure ball the youngsters Amos, Hewitt, Morgan and Dixon will finish chances. Henson could prove to be a smart bit of business and new signing Zane Kirchner has arguably been the stand out player in Dragons pre – season. Jackman is a coach who thrives on challenge and building an environment and culture. Stir the Gwent region and watch the sleeping giant return.

Prediction: 4th 

Edinburgh

Cockerill has a wealth of experience as a winner with Leicester and is the perfect man to build on Bradley’s foundations. His brilliant work with the forwards will also make them a menacing side to play against. The ground move is a superb decision. This will improve Edinburgh immediately as excellence will be demanded and no one will give a yard. I do wonder where the x factor will come from to unlock tight games and the Hamish Watson / John Hardie battle in the back row is an interesting one. Both exceedingly talented but can they play in the same side? Like the Dragons, they will improve but still a work in progress.

Prediction: 5th 

Southern Kings

Little is known about the man chosen to lead the Kings into the virtual unknown. He’s coached many sides, all in South Africa, which means he understands South African rugby at its core. It stands to reason that he’ll play a style that captures the essence of South African rugby. Cornal Hendricks is probably the only familiar face in the Kings squad to us in the North. He has a dozen caps for the Springboks scoring five tries. I expect more of the same here. Defensively suspect but makes up for it in firepower. I really don’t know what to expect from the Kings, because they don’t even have a full squad yet. A season of finding their feet perhaps.

Prediction: 6th 

Benetton Treviso

Much like Zebre, Treviso are approaching a season with little hope. Some improvements have come in but nowhere near enough to consistently compete home and away against their northern hemisphere neighbours who are all in seemingly stronger positions. The whipping boys of the group? Quite possibly.

Prediction: 7th 

Quarter Finals

Conf A 2nd Munster Vs Conf B 3rd Ulster – Munster to go through

Conf B 2nd Scarlets Vs Conf A 3rd Cardiff Blues – Scarlets to go through         

Semi Finals

Leinster Vs Munster – Leinster to go through

Glasgow Vs Scarlets – Scarlets to go through

Final

Leinster Vs Scarlets – Scarlets to retain their title

So there you have it DragonWales9 thinks that Scarlets are going to retain their title! That’s a big call and only time will tell if it’s right.

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