Welsh great runs the rule over the new-look PRO 14

Alex Bywater dis­cov­ers a Wales leg­end is look­ing across to Dublin for this sea­son’s cham­pi­ons

The Rugby Paper - - News -

Mar­tyn Wil­liams be­lieves the sign­ing of Scott Fardy can help end Le­in­ster’s twoyear wait for the ti­tle when the new Guin­ness PRO14 kicks off.

Wil­liams says tra­di­tional pow­er­houses Le­in­ster are the team the rest will have to beat in a com­pe­ti­tion which has South African sides Chee­tahs and South­ern Kings join­ing for the first time.

Leo Cullen’s team were beaten by even­tual win­ners Scar­lets in last sea­son’s semi-fi­nal and Wil­liams be­lieves the pain of that Dublin de­feat – plus the ad­di­tion of Aus­tralian for­ward Fardy – can help them get back to the top in the cam­paign ahead.

“It’s a hugely ex­cit­ing time for the PRO14 and I think we can ex­pect one of five teams to be in con­tention to win the ti­tle,” former Wales flanker Wil­liams told The Rugby Pa­per.

“The Scar­lets did so well to win the com­pe­ti­tion last year and I think they’ll be up there again, as will the Ospreys, Glas­gow and Mun­ster.

“But I think Le­in­ster have to start the sea­son as favourites. They’ve got such a strong squad and their depth is un­be­liev­able. I think they’ll have been dis­ap­pointed with the way they were beaten by the Scar­lets. They were out­played with 15 men and when the Scar­lets went down to 14, they were out­smarted too. I’m sure that’ll have hurt Leo Cullen and Stu­art Lan­caster.

“They’ll be very mo­ti­vated to make up for that this year and I think Fardy is a bril­liant sign­ing. He’s a typ­i­cal Le­in­ster player and he’ll be avail­able for the full sea­son which is a mas­sive boost for them.

“When guys like Sean O’Brien and Tadhg Fur­long are with Ire­land, he’ll play a big lead­er­ship role and I’m sure with his in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence that will come nat­u­rally to him.”

Le­in­ster haven’t lifted a do­mes­tic ti­tle since mak­ing it back-to-back PRO12 tro­phies in 2014. Wil­liams, who won 100 caps for his coun­try, ex­pects Fardy to help bring the good times back to the RDS Arena. “Fardy can play at lock and in the back-row and that’s price­less,” he said. “I think we’ll see him mainly at lock and he has the mon­grel to ex­cel in the North­ern Hemi­sphere. “He’s never taken a back­ward step for Aus­tralia and when you look at Le­in­ster down the years, they al­ways seem to re­cruit well. Guys like Rocky Elsom and Isa Nacewa have had big im­pacts there and I think Fardy will do some­thing sim­i­lar. He’s a top-class op­er­a­tor.” The ad­di­tion of the South­ern Kings and Chee­tahs has seen the PRO14 di­vided into two con­fer­ences of seven teams. Wil­liams, left, is ex­pect­ing the new for­mat to pro­vide en­ter­tain­ing rugby and in­tense com­pe­ti­tion. “If you look at the stats in terms of ball-in-play time, the PRO12 – or the PRO14 as it is now – is the high­est in the world. It’s not like the Top14 with a very for­ward dom­i­nated game,” he said. “Teams go out to play and we saw that with the Scar­lets last year, they were a real breath of fresh air with their brand of rugby.

“The Kings and Chee­tahs are an in­ter­est­ing ad­di­tion, but I’m sure with the con­di­tions they play in, they’ll want to chuck the ball about, too. The PRO14 can get crit­i­cised, but on the whole I think the prod­uct is very good and I’m look­ing for­ward to the new cam­paign.”

The Scar­lets and Ospreys both made last sea­son’s semi-fi­nals, Wayne Pi­vac’s side go­ing on to claim their first sil­ver­ware since 2004 and play­ing a scin­til­lat­ing brand of

rugby along the way.

Wil­liams ex­pects the men from Llanelli – who have been boosted by the ar­rival of Leigh Half­penny – to lead the Welsh charge once again.

“The Scar­lets came from nowhere last sea­son. Even in February or March you’d have never picked them to win it, but they just clicked,” he added.

“They’ve lost Liam Wil­liams and DTH van der Merwe, but they un­earthed some gems last year in young play­ers like Ryan Elias, Tadhg Beirne and Will Boyde. They’ve got a fan­tas­tic coach­ing set-up and great morale and I think they’ll ri­val Le­in­ster.

“It’s so hard to pick out a win­ner, but that’s what makes this league so ex­cit­ing.”

Top re­cruit: Leigh Half­penny

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