Magners League Club by Club Guide 2010/11

Aironi RugbyTeam: Aironi Rugby
Coach: Franco Bernini
Home Ground: Stadio Luigi Zaffanella, Viadana

Strengths:
A new fan base will help the team during the difficult season which lies ahead, and this will be a year for being patient and getting used to the Magners League. Aironi will be the biggest unknown quantity until after the first few games, so if they can take advantage early on, they are more likely to finish higher than Treviso which should be their main target for the season.

Weaknesses:
The squad is mostly filled with the Italian players of the clubs that formed Aironi, so unlike Benetton Treviso, most of the squad won’t have played together before. The players won’t have much European rugby experience which is likely to prove costly in their first season as a club.

One to watch:
Having previously played for Munster, Nick Williams’ experience in the Irish game should help Aironi; he needs to be a leader and lift those around him, otherwise this season could be a struggle.

Last season: New side for this year.

Prediction:
Treviso’s experience as a team should give them the edge over Aironi so unfortunately it looks like it will be a 12th place finish.

——————————–

Benetton TrevisoTeam: Benetton Treviso
Coach: Franco Smith
Home ground: Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso

Strengths:
Treviso have signed 2008/09 Guinness Premiership top try scorer Joe Maddock from Bath and have former Bath, Bristol and Leicester centre Fraser Waters in their squad, whose experience in the Premiership should help them to be competitive.

Weaknesses:
That said, experience is a key weakness for Treviso; despite playing in the Heineken Cup, they struggle to compete and usually finish bottom of their pool. Finishing first in the Italian league counts for little and losing 41-10 to Magners League side Munster in the Heineken Cup signals that this could be a long, hard season for Treviso.

One to watch:
Australian full-back and sevens player Brendan Williams was prolific in the Super 10 and scored one try in the Heineken Cup last season.

Last season: 1st in Italian Super 10

Prediction:
In a few seasons this side will finish in a decent position, but until then they need to get used to a higher level of rugby on a weekly basis. I think even Connacht will have the edge over them this season, but they ought to be better than Aironi so I think they’ll finish 11th.

——————————–

Cardiff BluesTeam: Cardiff Blues
Coach: Dai Young
Home ground: Cardiff City Stadium

Strengths:
After last season’s success in the Amlin Challenge Cup, Cardiff will be full of confidence and looking forward to a title challenge this year. They have recruited Dan Parks from Glasgow who could prove to be the best signing of the summer, and what’s more, they have taken a key player away from one of their main rivals for a playoff spot.

Weaknesses:
If Cardiff are to be a title contender they need to start better than in previous seasons. A good or bad start could be the difference come May, and the Blues can’t afford to start slowly again. When you’re up against teams like Leinster and the Ospreys in a title race, any dropped points will have an effect on the table at the end of the season.

One to watch:
After leaving Glasgow for the Blues this summer, Dan Parks will definitely make this team a Magners League title contender: he was the leading points scorer last season and was arguably Glasgow’s best player.

Last Season: 5th

Prediction:
With a stronger squad than last season they will be a hard team to beat, and they should finish safely in the top four, and probably closer to first than fifth – 2nd.

——————————–

Connacht RugbyTeam: Connacht
Coach: Eric Elwood
Home ground: Galway Sportsgrounds

Strengths:
Their main strength is that the two new Italian sides will be inexperienced, and if they can take advantage of them this could be Connacht’s first season since 2003/04 that they finish above bottom spot.

Weaknesses:
Every other team except the new sides is generally stronger than Connacht and receives more money from their respective national rugby boards. Also not helping them is their poor attendances and relative lack of home support compared to other teams.

One to watch:
Fionn Carr was impressive last season in the back three and if Connacht are to achieve a decent finish in the table, he will have a big part to play in it.

Last season: 10th

Prediction: I think they’ve got enough quality to finish higher than the Italians. It may be the same number as last season, but 10th looks likely and I don’t think many Connacht fans would complain if that was where they finished.

——————————–

Edinburgh RugbyTeam: Edinburgh
Coach: Rob Moffat
Home ground: Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Strengths:
Only three foreigners play for Edinburgh, and having a squad full of Scottish players means a lot of their team will play together all year round, for Scotland and for the Gunners. That mutual understanding and togetherness can give them an edge over some of the more cosmopolitan teams.

Weaknesses:
Their strength turns into a weakness during international periods when most of their players go to play for Scotland, significantly weakening the starting line-up. Few teams would have the strength in depth to cope. They’ve also not had the ideal pre-season preparation with a 49-21 defeat to Bath, but hopefully it was a learning experience.

One to watch:
Last season Dutch wing Tim Visser was the top try scorer in league, and if he can re-create his excellent form, Edinburgh will have an outside chance of reaching the playoffs.

Last season: 6th

Prediction:
International periods will have an affect on the table, and Visser can’t win games by himself – even though they can do better, 6th seems most likely.

——————————–

Glasgow WarriorsTeam: Glasgow Warriors
Coach: Sean Lineen
Home ground: Firhill Stadium, Glasgow

Strengths:
Glasgow’s academy players have impressed in pre-season and Sean Lineen has said that a few of them will be given their chance in the league this season. Boasting a keen crop of talented youngsters ought to help when some of the top players leave for international duty.

Weaknesses:
Losing experienced fly-half Dan Parks could prove costly this season, especially as Parks’ points were vital in taking Glasgow into the play-offs. If they don’t find a suitable replacement they will suffer and may even lose more key players.

One to watch:
Trying to replace Parks will fall on the shoulders of Ruaridh Jackson, and it will be interesting to see how he meets the challenge.

Last Season: 3rd

Prediction: Parks’ points will be missed, and whilst the team is strong enough to challenge for the playoffs, I suspect they will fall just short and finish in a respectable 5th place.

——————————–

LeinsterTeam: Leinster
Coach: Josef Schmidt
Home ground: RDS Arena, Dublin

Strengths:
Ex-Clermont-Auvergne coach Josef Schmidt has become head coach of the Dublin side, bringing with him huge experience after helping Clermont win the Top 14 last season as assistant to Vern Cotter. If Schmidt settles in quickly, then Leinster will definitely be in the race for the title at the end of the season. Schmidt ought to know how to prepare his players for knockout rugby better than most of his rival coaches, and with two runners-up medals with Clermont, he’ll know how it feels to lose a final.

Weaknesses:
Leinster have lost favourite prop Stan Wright for the season after he ruptured his Achilles tendon. To add to that they will be without Cian Healy for a significant chunk of the season because of Ireland games, leaving them short of options in the front row with only three players available all season: Heinke van der Merwe, Mike Ross and Ronan McCormack. If Schmidt doesn’t sign a prop Leinster could be in trouble.

One to watch:
Coach Josef Schmidt has changed a lot of things since becoming boss, and it will be interesting to see how it affects the performance of the players. If the changes he has made work, then this season could be one to remember for Leinster.

Last Season: 1st in league, lost final to Ospreys

Prediction:
Schmidt’s experience will be vital this year, and despite his new changes I think Leinster will make the final and win it this time, 1st overall and a playoff win should keep the fans happy.

——————————–

MunsterTeam: Munster
Coach: Tony McGahan
Home ground: Thomond Park, Limerick

Strengths:
Even when Munster are struggling, their passionate fans still go to every game. The Red Army are the best-supported team in rugby, with fan clubs all over the World from America to Australia. Their fans make Thomond Park a real fortress which always keeps them in the running in both the Magners League and Heineken Cup.

Weaknesses:
At times last season Munster’s defence was too full of holes, allowing teams to score easy points. If this isn’t sorted for the 2010/11 season the Red Army may not even make the semi-finals, something they haven’t done since 2007 when they finished sixth.

One to watch:
Wing Ian Dowling has had a strong pre-season and if he can continue his form into the Magners League then this could be one if his best seasons as a player.

Last Season: 4th

Prediction: Munster never fail to impress, and despite Cardiff Blues’ improvement I still think that Munster’s strength in depth will be enough to see them safely into the playoffs – 4th.

——————————–

Newport Gwent DragonsTeam: Newport Gwent Dragons
Coach: Paul Turner
Home ground: Rodney Parade, Newport

Strengths:
The Dragons’ experienced forwards are one of the reasons they are not fighting to stay off the bottom of the table, and they have brought in Cardiff Blues flanker Robin Sowden-Taylor to add more bulk to the team. The backs aren’t bad either though, consistently finishing high in the end of season player scoring charts.

Weaknesses:
The Dragons’ away form tends to stop them moving further up the table, and their lack of consistency must improve if they are to break into the upper echelon of Magners sides.

One to watch:
Wing Aled Brew has impressed since joining in 2009, and after scoring nine tries last season Brew needs to be a key player if the Dragons are going to finally going to push for a top-half finish after four seasons near the foot of the table.

Last season: 7th

Prediction:
I can’t see much to suggest that their consistency will improve dramatically – 8th.

——————————–

Ospreys RugbyTeam: Ospreys
Coach: Scott Johnson / Sean Holley
Home ground: Liberty Stadium, Swansea

Strengths:
They have kept most of their title-winning players from last season, something that had to be done if they were going to stand a chance of repeating their success this season. Their confidence should be high, and if they can navigate their way through the long season to the top four once again, they’ll have what it takes to claim back to back titles.

Weaknesses:
The Ospreys will start the season on -4 points after failing to fulfill their fixture against Ulster in March due to them not having enough front-row forwards. They’ve appealed the decision but if it’s not rescinded then it could have a huge impact on the table at the end of the season.

One to watch:
Tommy Bowe won nearly every player award going last season, and if he can carry on his form the Ospreys may have a chance to recoup those four points very quickly.

Last season: Finished 2nd, then won playoff final.

Prediction:
Their four point deduction, added with Cardiff Blues’ recent success mean that 3rd place would be considered a good finish this season for the Ospreys.

——————————–

Scarlets RugbyTeam: Scarlets
Coach: Nigel Davies
Home ground: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli

Strengths:
A Scarlets team full of youth players beat a near full-strength Gloucester side in pre-season so they know that they have good backup players when the internationals go to play for their countries. This strength in depth ought to give them a big advantage over teams without sufficient replacements.

Weaknesses:
Their away form was poor last season, only winning once away from Llanelli; this has to be changed if they are going to pull away from the bottom part of the table.

One to watch:
Since joining the Scarlets, centre Regan King has become one of the best players in the Magners League, and is the heartbeat of this team. Can he lift the team into the top half?

Last season: 9th

Prediction:
They have a bright future, and whilst they are not yet strong enough at the moment to achieve a high finish, they should be able keep clear of the teams below them and finish safely in 9th.

——————————–

Ulster RugbyTeam: Ulster
Coach: Brian McLaughlin
Home ground: Ravenhill, Belfast

Strengths:
The squad has the talent to succeed, and the signing of high-profile scrum-half Ruan Pienaar has made the team even stronger. Two other experienced South African players followed Pienaar to Ulster in the shape of Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg, who have both been capped by the Springboks.

Weaknesses:
Their main weakness is that despite having a proven scorer in Simon Danielli, they still struggle to kill games off. They could absolutely dominate a team but only come away with a 13-10 win, and their lack of bonus points can hinder their progress up the table.

One to watch:
Despite new signing Ruan Pienaar not being available for the first few games of the season due to international games, he will certainly be a key player when he returns, and his skill and experience could be what Ulster need if they are to finally finish in the top half of the table.

Last season: 8th

Prediction:
Whilst they have a handful of top players, the team as a whole is not strong enough to compete near the top – 7th.

——————————–

Predicted finishing table:

1. Leinster
2. Cardiff Blues
3. Ospreys
4. Munster
5. Glasgow
6. Edinburgh
7. Ulster
8. Dragons
9. Scarlets
10. Connacht Rugby
11. Benetton Treviso
12. Aironi Rugby

By Matt Kellett