CLUB-BY-CLUB GUIDE — CONFERENCE B
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
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
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
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
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
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
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