So here we are, the start of another season of Celto-Italian rugby. We’ve got a new sponsor, new colour scheme and a few new faces joining the ranks. Opening weekends are notoriously difficult to call. Pre-season friendlies can only tell you so much about form, and there are still a lot of cobwebs to shake off for many teams. Home advantage should be enough to get most squads over the line, but there can be plenty of upsets – Ulster’s shock defeat in last season’s opener to the Dragons comes to mind…
Munster vs Edinburgh
Edinburgh have an unenviable opening to their campaign with a trip to Thomond Park. This will be the 30th PRO12 fixture between these sides and with only six wins so far, history does not look good for the visitors. Added to that is the depressing fact that they’ve only won one opening fixture in the past five seasons, back in ’09. Many of you will, by now, have heard of the email gaffe which happened in the Munster camp during the week. Long story short; some fairly scathing analysis of several players was accidentally emailed to the entire squad instead of just the coaching staff. Things like that can do a lot to kill morale. But they can also serve as a wake up call too. Players hurt by the comments will now have a chance to reply to their critics with actions instead of words. Don’t be surprised to see a fired up Munster squad ready to silence their critics.
Prediction: Munster by 12
Ospreys vs Benetton Treviso
Like Edinburgh before them Treviso have an unenviable task. In the eight times they’ve played against each other, Treviso have only won once, albeit in the opening weekend of the 2012/13 season, so there is some slim hope of an upset. That win was in Italy though; Ospreys at home (with only one loss in 2014) will be a much tougher prospect and as we all know Italian teams tend not to do very well on the road. Unless Ospreys are caught asleep at the wheel, I’m expecting a rout.
Prediction: Ospreys by 22
Llanelli Scarlets vs Ulster
This is the first truly tough game to call for this round. Scarlets were humbled in their opener this time last year against Leinster and will have no doubt prepared better this time. They will also be looking to extend their undefeated run at home in the PRO12 in 2014. Despite doing so well in the last few seasons, Ulster have not done so well in Wales in recent times. Last year their only win on Welsh soil was against Ospreys, although they do have a good record against Scarlets having won five of their last six encounters. Ulster have lost a lot of good players from their squad, due to retirements, transfers and what not (not to mention the sudden departure of their head coach and DOR this summer), so they might not be the potent force they have been these last few years. Given those factors, the rustiness teams have in the opening rounds, and the fact that they are playing away from home, the Scarlets might take it.
Prediction: Scarlets by 3
Connacht vs Newport Gwent Dragons
This match is tough to get too excited about. Both sides tend to be the ones propping up the table at the end of the season shoulder to shoulder with the Italian teams and both sides rarely do well on the road. Advantage Connacht. Connacht have also won three of their last four opening games. The Dragons had a great opener last season when they beat Ulster but that was at home – the Sportsground hasn’t ever been a pleasant trip for them, having only won once there. Will they catch the Westies unawares? It’s certainly possible, but unlikely.
Prediction: Connacht by 9
Glasgow Warriors vs Leinster
What a way to start off the season with a re-match between both finalists and the two best teams of last year. Glasgow will be wanting revenge for their loss in the final, which also brought their best run of form in the competition (nine wins in a row) to a screeching halt. Truth be told, Leinster were just too good for them in the final. Glasgow hung on in there for quite a while but Leinster’s class, experience and pedigree proved too much and they romped away in the end. Leinster will want to set to right the loss they experienced here early last season, which is Glasgow’s only victory against Leinster in the last 10 matches between the sides. We’ll also get to see what a post-O’Driscoll and post-Cullen Leinster outfit will be like, which should be fascinating. This one is tough to call so early in the season. Revenge and home advantage should see the Warriors through (just).
Prediction: Glasgow by 3
Zebre vs Cardiff Blues
Speaking of revenge, this must be the game the Cardiff Blues are most anxious to get out of the way. Suffering back to back shock losses to perennial whipping boys Zebre must’ve been last season’s low point for the Blues fans. Ordinarily I might stump for the home side so early in the season, but somehow even without Jenkins, I don’t think Cardiff will let Zebre get three wins in a row over them.
Prediction: Blues by 7
Check out my predictions alongside other TRB writers below and make sure you sign up for our Pro12 Superbru pool. Each week we’ll feature the Yellow Cap winner’s picks alongside us in the table.
|MUNvEDI||MUN by 12||MUN by 9||MUN by 8|
|OSPvTRE||OSP by 22||OSP by 12||OSP by 6|
|SCAvULS||SCA by 3||SCA by 2||ULS by 5|
|CONvDRA||CON by 9||CON by 6||CON by 3|
|GLAvLEI||GLA by 3||LEI by 5||GLA by 5|
|ZEBvCAR||CAR by 7||CAR by 15||CAR by 13|
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images