As the New Year dawns and the rugby season enters the latter stages, here are some of my predictions for which teams will be celebrating in 2009.
Guinness Premiership: Champions – Bath, Relegated – Bristol
Playing arguably the best rugby of the season alongside London Irish, I’m backing Bath to end their drought and finally lift another Premiership title at Twickenham. Meanwhile, Newcastle have kept their noses in front in this two-horse race, and when Jonny Wilkinson returns, the gap may well widen.
Magners League: Champions – Munster
Currently sitting pretty atop the table, and they’ll continue to do so, particularly if they can overcome the second-placed Ospreys on 10th January.
Heineken Cup: Champions – Munster
The Irishmen appear to be at their game-strangling best in Europe, doing enough in each game to get at least a losing bonus point. Toulouse are probably their main rivals again, but I fancy the holders to retain the title.
European Challenge Cup: Champions – London Irish
The form side in the Guinness Premiership ought to get their hands on this silverware – the Exiles have been convincing so far, and should see off challenges from Saracens, Worcester and Northampton.
EDF Energy Cup: Champions – The Ospreys
The Welsh champions ought to retain their title, given that most teams seem to be disinterested. Gloucester will be concentrating on the league, so the primary challenge will come from Cardiff and potentially Northampton – it all depends on whether there is anything to play for in the other competitions.
French Top 14: Champions – Stade Francais
With Harlequins making their life so tremendously difficult in Europe, the French will be able to concentrate on the league whilst Toulouse are distracted by the prospect of revenge over Munster.
Super 14: Champions – Crusaders
The Canterbury side remain the team to beat in the Super 14, and with Carter returning from his ‘sabbatical’ for the knockout stages, it’s difficult to look beyond them as champions.
English National One: Champions – Leeds
Once again, the relegated Premiership side ought to bounce straight back – they are unbeaten so far and looking comfortable. No relegation predictions given the raft of changes to the league structure in the offing.
Six Nations: Champions – Wales, Wooden Spoon – Italy
It’s hard to argue with Wales as favourites for the title, but I don’t think they’ll win the Grand Slam this year. I can see them losing early on, but then coming through strongly as other teams lose their way. Also, with the home nations fighting for places on Ian McGeechan’s fun bus, Italy will probably edge Scotland and Ireland to the Wooden Spoon.
British and Irish Lions: Series winners: Lions
Geech as coach, taking some out-of-luck northern hemisphere players into the territory of the World Champions? No, it’s not 1997, it’s 2009 and I’ve got to back the Lions (although I did predict a series win over New Zealand, so don’t quote me on it).
– James Simpson-Daniel to finally win another England cap
– Dan Carter to get injured during his stay in Perpignan
– Rob Andrew to conduct a review after another Six Nations of mixed fortune for England
– Andy Gomersall to feature on Strictly Come Dancing
– Jonny Wilkinson to be selected for the Lions tour
– Argentina to be invited to the Tri-Nations for 2010
– The ELVs to be scrapped
…apologies, I’ve gone from predictions to wishful thinking! Stay with us here on The Rugby Blog and we’ll take on the rugby rollercoaster together.
Happy New Year!