2014 is set to be a huge year in rugby, although sadly not necessarily for all the right reasons. While things behind the scenes (in the European game at least) seem as murky as ever, here are some predictions for matters on the pitch this year – what do you make of them?
Six Nations 2014
Wooden Spoon: Italy
The Six Nations is always difficult to predict (just look at last year’s finishing table), and this year is no different. England and Wales will go in as favourites, and it could well be the game between them that decides it again, and with that falling at Twickenham this year, I’m backing England to avenge last year’s savaging in Cardiff and take the title. Of course there’s always the chance the French will decide to show up and spoil the party, but the way they’re going under PSA, that seems unlikely.
While the French sides have looked good this year, I think Leinster will reclaim Europe’s ultimate prize, possibly for the last time. They may have lost at home to Northampton, but the performance the week before at Franklin’s Gardens was so awesomely impressive that, if they can reproduce it in the knockout stages, no-one will be able to live with them.
Winner: Northampton Saints
Relegated: Worcester Warriors
The top two are creating a stranglehold at the summit of the Premiership, and while the Tigers will produce their usual end of season surge, injuries to key players could see them miss out on the final for the first time in ten years. The Saints, when they turn it on, have been the best team in the league this year.
Munster are sweeping all before them in the PRO12, with just one game lost this season. Ulster sit just outside the play-off spots at the moment, but I fancy them to make the top two and eventually make the final.
Winner: Clermont Auvergne
Clermont have looked imperious in the French national competition this season, and with their home run of wins not looking like coming to an end any time soon, it’s hard to look past them for the title, despite their voodoo in knockout rugby. Toulouse have looked good in fits and spurts this season, but a strong second half of the season could see them make it to the final this year.
The Crusaders are always at the right end of the table come the end of the season, and having not gone on to win it since 2008, this could be the year they reclaim the top prize in Southern Hemisphere club rugby. The Sharks, under the new direction of John Smit and Jake White, should provide stern competition.
The Rugby Championship
Winner: New Zealand
Runner-up: South Africa
A New Zealand-South Africa two way battle for the 2014 Rugby Championship seems like a bit of a no-brainer at the moment, but a year is a long time in rugby and who knows where Australia will be come the end of the summer? For now, though, it seems likely to be between those two, and it is impossible to look past the All Blacks the way they are playing at the moment.
What do you think? Share your predictions in the comments below!
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images