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
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