The Pro12: Its a Wrap

We rarely have good things to say about the Pro12 – don’t get us wrong, we love the games, and think its underrated as a development tool (ask Mike Cheika if Leinster would have won the HEC in 2009 without winning the then-Magners the previous year), but it is a bit dowdy. Trips to an empty Murrayfield, the presence of the zebra-bunnies, the Irish interpros with 2.5th teams and the lamentable organisation of the Welsh regions do not exactly compare well to the skill levels and intensity of the Top14 or the glitzy try-fest that is Ooooooooooooooh the Premiership. Plus its boring most of the time to be frank – its generally highly predictable.

It might seem a bit rich to be taking a pop at the Pro12 for not being competitive enough when the other two European pro leagues have had the same 10 teams in the playoffs for the past two seasons, but its true – the Pro12 has been pretty dull for much of its history. Leinster, Munster and the Ospreys have dominated, and the odd challenge by someone else is noticeable by its rarity.

Its easy for McCafferty and the like to point fingers at the lack of relegation, but its hard to see how that has benefitted, say, the Dragons or Connacht. Relegation, and the creative destruction it sometimes wreaks, can sometimes be a positive force – just ask the juvenated Saints.

But the cartel may be changing – its been a positive season on the depth front. For a start, Ulster might win it this year. Before the play-offs started, we would have picked Leinster, but after struggling past Glasgow, and post-Amlin, they look a little beaten up – Ulster’s stroll in the park past a lamentable Scarlets effort has set them up well, and the drive that  comes from honouring the tragic Nevin Spence could well be too much for Leinster. To be truthful, we’re split down the middle (naturally), but since Egg holds the pen right now, he’s going to pick Ulster by a nose.

Getting back to the Scarlets, we get that the regions are not in a good place right now, and that the structures of Welsh professional rugby are somewhat teetering, but none of that excuses the lack of effort from the Scarlets’ two Lions (one more than Ulster, don’t forget) in their semi-final – Johnny Davies looked panicked and passed poorly all day, and George North’s statuesque defending would have embarrassed Lesley Vainikolo.

That aside, the Scarlets were there for their season-long consistency, and most of them will be back next year (though not North unfortunately). Ulster won’t just be back, they’ll expect to win it. What then of Glasgae, the third cartel-buster in the playoffs?

Unlike this season, when Glasgow had a summer of flux, having to manage the loss of key players such as Richie Grey and Kelly Brown ,and a long-serving coach in Sean Lineen, they will be able to build on top of this season’s excellent effort. Last years recruits (Matawalu, Maitland and Strauss – an excellent summer of work) will have had this season under their belts, and they’ll be even better for it.

The most interesting challenge next season may well come from Treviso – the Italians have always had that ‘plucky underdog’ look about them, where they can win at home, albeit narrowly, but struggle away. This season, they started winning away, and handing out some hurt to teams as well (notably Munster and the Scarlets) – their wretched winter ruined their chances of finishing even further up the league than seventh,

So next season, as well as the old firm of Leinster, Munster and the Ospreys sniffing around the playoffs (Ospreys and, particularly, Munster will want to improve on this seasons showing – Munster, like Ulster last year, gave up after the HEC quarter-final), you’ll have Ulster, Glasgow, the Scarlets, Treviso, and possibly even Cardiff if they get their ass together. As well as seven competitive teams, you have teams from all four constituent countries will harbour playoff ambitions for the first time – and that’s a good thing, particularly as Sky begin the process of glamming it up.

As for Saturday, lets enjoy it – thankfully the Ulster-Leinster rivalry is still a friendly one, and its going to be a sunny, beery, relaxing day out! Plus we’re certain the home team will win.

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12 Comments

  1. @Completebore

     /  May 22, 2013

    Really looking forward to Saturday, as an Ulster season ticket holder for the last few years (although from Tipperary originally) hoping they can get a win in a big game to keep the development going in the right direction (failures to show up in the HEC final, the home pool game against Northampton and the QF against Sarries are starting to resemble a trend). Worried that Leinster’s bench will do it in the end though.

    In relation to the Pro12, I wonder how the proposed changes to the HEC qualification will impact from next year on. From what’s looking like the most likely structure Munster would have missed out on qualification based on this years table and it might stop teams shrugging in the league if they get advancement in Europe.

    • Amiga500

       /  May 22, 2013

      Hopefully the teams will grow to see the Pro12 as a real prize in its own right and not very much an afterthought to European success. Improved quality across the league should see the beginnings of that (I hope!).

    • @Completebore

      If a Munster-supporting Leinster(wo)man of your was referred to as a “Lunster”, does that make you a “Mulster”?! 😉

      • @Completebore

         /  May 22, 2013

        I’ll take that, I’ve been called worse. The visit of Munster is the only uncomfortable moment of the season as it usually comes with friends/family accompanying me and studying me closely for any signs of supporting Ulster.

  2. zdm

     /  May 22, 2013

    I don’t buy the notion that the Pro12 is a weaker contest at all. Particularly, the notion that it isn’t as strong because there is no relegation seems wide of the mark – London Welsh were still shite regardless of the fact that the Premiership has relegation and wouldn’t trouble the Tigers much regardless of their future next season.

    Is Gloucester vs. Worcester more of a spectacle than the Ospreys vs. NG Dragons (5th vs. 11th in both leagues)? Would Ulster need a better team to beat the 9th placed London Irish than the 9th placed Cardiff Blues?

    As for the inter-pro’s, I see that as more of a problem of “player management” origin than a bunny league.

  3. As a completely myopic Leinster fan I can’t see anything other than a Leinster win. Whilst I had reservations at the time, the decision to rest quite a number (in particular in the forwards) for the Amlin is a boon.

    Healy, Cullen, McLaughlin all fresh significantly improves our pack (even presuming O’Brien doesn’t make it) & I think that gives the edge to Leinster.

    BOD to fit back in beside Madigan in midfield will be a great contest for Olding and Cave – again I think Leinster will shade that battle too.

    And finally, we have a really well balanced 9 & 10 combination who attack the gain line and direct play (Boss in the form of his life at the moment) vs. an unbalanced 9 & 10 for Ulster. Jackson just isn’t there yet in my opinion and I’m beginning to think he’s being a bit hamstrung by the sheer awesomeness of Pienaar. Pienaar dominates so much of what’s good at Ulster, has he made Jackson just a tackle bag?

    Separately, I have to say I’m very impressed at how little talk there’s been of Nevin Spence to press et al. I’m sure it’s an incredible motivator in the dressing room but I’m so glad it’s staying in the dressing room. A credit to the genuine, considerate men that Ulster have in their squad and staff. It would have been so easy (and indeed understandable to a degree) to bring that tragedy up a lot during interviews throughout this season and in preparation for this match and I’m very impressed they’ve kept references to it to a minimum in respect of Nevin and his family.

    One thing is guaranteed, it’s going to be an absolute cracker of a game and far closer than last year’s Heineken Cup! I’ll be there cheering on Leinster and desperate for a win, but I won’t be too disappointed if Ulster triumph either!

    • Aye, I fancy your lot as well (sadly). Would have favoured you anyway but, as you say, the rest week for some key players really helps.

      I was pretty surprised at that rotation for a European final – including benching the skipper – but then I saw Stade play and all was revealed.

      Still, really looking forward to it, without much hope and any expectation.

    • @Completebore

       /  May 22, 2013

      Not thinking too much about results until the teams come in as I don’t know how much cloak and dagger is going on with injuries in each camp.

      I think Ulster’s hopes rest a lot on Afoa’s fitness, he not only solidifies the scrum, but beefs up the fringe defense as well. With the half-backs, I think the gap between Ruan and Jackson is kind of mirrored with Boss and Sexton – while maybe not as pronounced, there is a definite ‘junior’ partner in each pair and the focus is very much on one to run the show and the other to keep things ticking over.

      Mainly hope the weather holds and both teams play the rugby they can – a bare minimum of aimless kicks please.

  4. I watch the odd AP game, whenever one’s on, and it’s not amazing. Don’t even bother with the Top 14 any more. Not that they don’t have some good and some great games.

    Not to say that the Pro12 is ahead, but it’s not a poor relation (in terms of quality) either. Leinster-Glasgow in the play-offs was pulsating stuff, while Munster’s visit to Ravenhill near the start of the season was a classic (and, having looked for highlights, I see some keen fella – from Georgia, no less! – has uploaded the whole shindig to YouTube; a bridge too far for me, I was there and watched it on iPlayer the next day, but it is worth a look).

    Perhaps this is how I feel because I mostly watch our provinces, which are in rude health compared with the other sides. IMO, the main issue is with the Welsh teams: Treviso have yet to plateau, they keep improving (pass on Zebre, but give them some time!), Glasgow are now a top side while Edinburgh must have potential, but also have some deep-rooted problems. If the situation in Wales gets sorted out and the regions become as strong and consistent as they should be (all big ifs) then things are looking pretty peachy.

  5. ORiordan

     /  May 22, 2013

    I took a quick look at what teams have won the Pro12 and AP over the last 10 years and the distribution of titles is exactly the same. Ospreys and Wasps have won 4, Leicester and Munster have won 3, Sale, Saracens, Quins, Ulster, Scarlets and Leinster have all won 1.

    Like the AP and Pro12, 5 teams have won the T14 over the same period.

    The difference in perception may be because Ospreys, Leinster and Munster have all been pretty consistent over this period, while once leading teams like Wasps and Stade have faded in recent times.

  6. Glasgow definitely the story of the year in the Pro12 and a shame they are not in the final. There were only really 3 teams ever in contention after the 6 Nations and 3 in to 2 won’t go.

    Very worried for Saturday. To paraphrase Goebbels: Ulster have rediscovered their mojo. They have it all to play for and plenty of motivational wells to draw on. As pointed out above Leinster has a stronger bench and rested some key players last weekend, so if we lose it will be because Ulster wanted it more. Hopefully motivation won’t be lacking for Leinster either: Schmidt’s last game and the ignominy of last year are also decent wells. Should be a cracker and sad to miss it.

    Loving #ourDS too. Clever little ditty. Hoping it comes back to bite Ulster but not confident.

  7. Ronaldo

     /  May 24, 2013

    Dont agree the PRO 12 is a poor relation of the English or French. Watch quite a bit of the three leagues and the PRO 12 is ever bit as competitive. Same teams in each league vieing for the playoff with the odd bolter. It is good to see the rise of Glasgow this season. For me they were the most impressive team in the league, certainly deserved more from their visits to the RDS. Agree about Treviso and hopefully the trend is upwards again next season. The Welsh regions though are disappointing again. With the Ospreys slipping out of contention I really dont see any of the others being strong enough next season. Cant understand the notion about Cardiff making the grade, they were appalling this season and seem to be getting worse. Hope Leinster do it tomorrow as it would be a fitting farwell for Joe, Isa, Johnny, Jamie, Andrew, Fionn, Heinke (jeez its a big loss when you look at the list) and would be good after the last three failed attempts. But hey if we dont win we can all stand up for one particular Ulster man.

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