We are nearing the start of what has to be a better season for the Pro 12 than last year. The biggest spark last year was the amazing league win by Connacht. So what news is there in the Pro 12?
1.Finn Russell. Finn missed the Scotland Tour to Japan after a knock in the last game of the season. A sickening clash of heads with his own team mate Zander Fargerson. He has returned to light training. Gregor Townsend is not rushing him back and it is understood that he will miss the first two or three games of the competitive season. That said Finn is said to be keen and working well toward recovery.
2.Ulster finished fourth last year and by their own high standards this was not good enough. They again secured the place in the European Cup. This year they have been keen to recruit and recruit they have. Two years ago they reportedly signed Charles Piutau. He had an excellent season at Wasps and is now in Belfast undergoing pre-season training. The All Black Winger will be key to Ulster’s attacking game. Ulster have great wingers already and you’d have to think who would drop to the bench? Gilroy, Bowe or Trimble? Ulster signed Springbok and Sharks Marcell Coetzee bolstering the Forward back three. Now that Nick Williams is a Cardiff Blues man.
3.Ospreys have put pen to paper and signed Keelan Giles on a three year deal. The very talented winger saw a Wales U20 Grand Slam, and a call up as senior cover on the recent New Zealand Tour. It has certainly been a great year for the youngster. It’s now down to the Ospreys coaching team to keep him fit and let him adjust to the rigors of Senior Rugby.
4.Munster’s new coaching team seem to be changing the ‘Munster way’ this year. Munster’s go to which was dominating field position, recycle and speed seems to have changed a little in the preseason build up. The new South African approach seems to have taken over and Conor Murray seems to like it. In an interview with the Guinness Pro 12 Web Site he said "It's a new philosophy, a new voice. There's a lot of emphasis on physicality and dominating your opposition, which is very South African.” To be fair Munster did try this last year with limited success.
5.Robbie Henshaw will miss up around six weeks of the Pro 12 through a knee injury sustained on the Irish Tour of South Africa. Whilst this is not new news it is still a blow Leinster’s title hopes. The charismatic centre coo’ed at by Brian O Driscoll would certainly have been key to the tactic selection for the start of the campaign.
Here are the PRO 12 Opening Fixtures and a best uneducated guess of the opening weeks winners.
Leinster Rugby v Benetton Rugby Treviso – Leinster BP Win
Ospreys v Zebre Rugby – Ospreys BP Win
Ulster Rugby v Newport Gwent Dragons - Ulster BP Win
Scarlets v Munster – Scarlets by 3
Connacht Rugby v Glasgow Warriors- Warriors by 5
Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh Rugby