CLUB-BY-CLUB GUIDE — CON­FER­ENCE B

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY -

BENETTON

A 50 per cent win rate last sea­son was as wel­come as it was un­ex­pected. Their coach Kieran Crow­ley isn’t mak­ing prom­ises of pick­ing up where they left off as de­vel­op­ment work at Sta­dio Monigo sees them on the road for four of the first five rounds. But pre-sea­son has been good and they have beefed up on staff and play­ers. If they can get through the open­ing rounds with some­thing in the bank, they’ll cope OK. Watch out for Fi­jian tank from Waikato, Iliesa Ratuva Tavu­yara, who’ll make as many tries as he scores if they can give him enough ball.

5-Year Form: 5th Conf B, 10th, 12th; 11th, 11th

Best Buy: Iliesa Ratuva Tavu­yara Big­gest Loss: Francesco Minto Prediction: 6th Conf B

DRAGONS

They were sup­posed to have Shaun Ed­wards as de­fence coach but in­stead he’ll be con­sult­ing for the Ospreys, which il­lus­trates the peck­ing or­der in Wales. Nev­er­the­less, this is their strong­est squad in re­cent sea­sons and a year af­ter head­ing up the op­er­a­tion coach Bernard Jack­man has a good han­dle on what’s re­quired. Mostly, that’s cash. And they don’t have enough. They’ll be bet­ter than 2017/’18 but their am­bi­tion of achiev­ing Cham­pi­ons Cup sta­tus for next sea­son looks a bit steep.

5-Year Form: 6th Conf B; 11th; 10th; 9th; 9th Best Buy: Ross Moriarty/Richard Hib­bard/ Roger Wil­liams Big­gest Loss: Sarel Pre­to­rius Prediction: 5th Conf B

ED­IN­BURGH

Richard Cock­er­ill did a fine job last sea­son with a club whose de­fault has been a place in the lower reaches of Celtic rugby. So what hap­pens now? He prays that Blair Kinghorn, one of the most ex­cit­ing play­ers in the com­pe­ti­tion, stays fit, and that a mod­est enough look­ing mid­field can de­liver some­thing sexy. Con­fer­ence B is a hand­ier path to nav­i­gate and Ed­in­burgh are good enough to get to the knock­outs but they need a lot to go right for them.

5-Year Form: 3rd Conf B; 9th; 9th; 8th; 8th Best Buy: John Bar­clay/Henry Pyr­gos Big­gest Loss: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne Prediction: 3rd Conf B

LE­IN­STER

If you com­bine Dublin GAA and Le­in­ster rugby, the last five years have de­liv­ered 11 pieces of sil­ver­ware. Le­in­ster’s suc­cess gen­uinely is a prov­ince-wide ex­pe­ri­ence but its hub is the greater Dublin area and the ex­pec­ta­tion there now for both codes is for on­go­ing suc­cess. So last sea­son’s Le­in­ster dou­ble de­mands at least an­other close run at both. Not hav­ing Isa Nacewa around is a huge gap to fill, es­pe­cially on the days when the Ire­land stars are not avail­able. Their in­ac­tiv­ity on the trans­fer mar­ket re­flects where they are at.

5-Year Form: 1st Conf B*; 2nd; 1st*; 5th; 1st*

Best Buy: Joe To­mane Big­gest Loss: Isa Nacewa/Joey Car­bery Prediction: 1st Conf B

SCAR­LETS

They have been a rev­e­la­tion for two sea­sons, but with Wayne Pi­vac hav­ing one foot al­ready out the door, this will be a chal­lenge for all con­cerned. The traf­fic through the foyer in Parc y Scar­lets this sum­mer has been steady, and while Aled Davies may not be on the radar of a lot of PRO14 sup­port­ers his loss to Ospreys will hurt them. As for Tadhg Beirne and John Bar­clay, the Scar­lets pack — not the strong­est bunch in the com­pe­ti­tion — will strug­gle with­out them. Uzair Cassiem from the Chee­tahs will give them some carry as will Kiwi Blade Thomp­son — if his shoul­der holds up.

5-Year Form: 2nd Conf B; 3rd*; 5th; 6th; 6th

Best Buy: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne Big­gest Loss: Tadhg Beirne/John Bar­clay/ Scott Wil­liams Prediction: 2nd Conf B

SOUTH­ERN KINGS

This is a fraught sea­son for all in­volved. As of last week the Kings had only 27 fully con­tracted play­ers and, with a lot go­ing on in the back­ground, their bud­get had not been fi­nalised. They are on the road straight away, against Ze­bre and then the Dragons, and what­ever about the Ital­ians it’s a cer­tainty that the New­port mob will be look­ing to un­load on them. Add in home games against Ul­ster and Glas­gow, and if they have no re­turn from that se­quence, it will only get worse.

5-Year Form: 7th Conf B; N/A Best Buy: Sarel Pre­to­rius Big­gest Loss: N/A Prediction: 7th Conf B

UL­STER

The at­mos­phere of late in Ul­ster is very up­beat, which might have more to do with the fact that last sea­son is in the rear-view mir­ror, and the ar­rival of new coach Dan McFar­land has been sorted. If Marty Moore and Jordi Mur­phy can make an im­me­di­ate im­pact it will help, but mostly they are pray­ing that Mar­cell Coet­zee can keep his knee to­gether long enough to play some rugby. Along with Jean Dey­sel he made a great im­pres­sion to kick off with last sea­son, against the Chee­tahs, but soon enough they were ban­jaxed. The de­layed re­turn of the ham­strung Rory Best is a worry.

5-Year Form: 4th Conf B; 5th; 4th; 4th; 4th Best Buy: Jordi Mur­phy (pic­tured) Big­gest Loss: Paddy Jack­son/ Charles Pi­u­tau Prediction: 4th Conf B

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