A new season, a new tournament sponsor and all to play for with the 2015 Rugby World Cup around the corner. For the European nations, teams and individual players will be keen to put in good performances in order to qualify for the new European Champions Cup next year and to impress for squad selections for the world cup!
Here I take a look at all the teams and give a small review and predictions on where they will end up in the table!
Last year: 1st in league and champions
Predicted finish: Champions – After the BOD era, Leinster will be bringing in some exciting young prospects into the fold. Expect their past experience to secure another title this season.
Player to watch: Ben Te’o- Another addition to the centre after BOD’s departure. Look out for his rugby league experience which will suit Leinster’s fast attacking game.
Last year: 3rd in league, SF
Predicted finish: 2nd – Unlucky not to reach the final last year, expect them to be a rock at home and a threat to any side.
Player to watch: Peter O’Mahoney- Looking for a good season in order to further cement his position in the Irish setup for the world cup.
Last year: 2nd in league and finalists
Predicted finish: 3rd – can Glasgow repeat their run this year? Maybe even go one further and win? That will depend on the fitness of their key players.
Player to watch: Nikola Matawalu- A constant threat in any position. Expect the warrior’s maestro to make the difference from the bench.
Last year: 5th in league
Predicted finish: 4th – A process of change and renewal after the departure of Adam Jones. Expect a much younger looking team headed by Alun Wyn Jones and other experienced veterans.
Player to watch: Eli Walker- Knocking at the door for the world cup squad, expect some key performances from the dangerous back.
Last year: 4th in league, SF
Predicted finish: 5th – The loss of Tom Court and John Afoa will weaken the renowned Ulster front row significantly. Process of change will be evident and expect Ulster’s youth players to make more of a contribution.
Player to watch: Iain Henderson- Key player to watch after the departure of past captain Muller. Expect him to break into the first team at either flanker or second row.
Last year: 6th in league
Predicted finish: 6th – Will be aiming to qualify for the finals this year. Rhys Priestland will be wanting a good season, much of the Scarlets tactics depend on his distribution and control.
Player to watch: Liam Williams- Will be the man trying to push Leigh Halfpenny for the fullback position for Wales, also suited to the wing. Dangerous runner and safe under high ball.
Last year: 7th in league
Predicted finish: 7th – Big year for the blues. The whole Warburton saga and the departure of Leigh Halfpenny will hopefully not affect a promising start to this season. Expect Alex Cuthbert to be a constant threat on the wing.
Player to watch: Adam Jones- Big signing for the blues, a brief light in the gloom surrounding Wales captain Sam Warburton, unclear of his future at the club.
Last year: 10th in league
Predicted finish: 8th – A good season last year, playing well especially in Europe. Will be hoping that they can cope without the leadership skills of past captain Gavin Duffy and also will have young players putting their names forward.
Player to watch: Mils Muliaina- Surprise move for the ex-All Black legend. Will bring experience to the youth players and will be a big threat in the back line.
Newport Gwent Dragons
Last year: 9th in league
Predicted finish: 9th – Will want to forget about last season and start fresh. An exciting young back line but their consistency needs to be improved if they are to challenge the top sides.
Player to watch: Andrew Coombs- Young player to watch, breaking into the Welsh team setup back during the six nations. An exciting prospect, also has great leadership qualities.
Last year: 11th in league
Predicted finish: 10th – Can aim to do better, always a side who put up a fight at home. Will be wanting to bring their experienced players into the action.
Player to watch: Alessandro Zanni- Experienced Italian back row, hoping to improve his teams fortunes by qualifying for the European Champions Cup.
Last year: 8th in league
Predicted finish: 11th – Drastic improvement needed if they are ever going to recapture their European form a few years ago. Keeping Tim Visser fit will most likely be key in their chase for a slot in Europe.
Player to watch: Tim Visser- Big year for the high scoring winger. Expect him to get a brace of tries as he aims to put injury behind him.
Last year: 12th in league
Predicted finish: 12th – Need to start winning matches if they are to remain in the Pro 12 in the future.
Player to watch: Giovanbattista Venditti- Big threat on the wing, both physically and with pace. Player to watch as Zebre try to prove their worth in the Pro 12.