We are already two weeks deep in the Pro14 season and we have already learned a lot about some of the teams involved. Here is where we stand:
Our exotic newcomers have a lot of work to do
This is not what we expected. The Southern Kings were pummeled by the 2016 and 2017 champs Connacht and Scarlets 32-10 and 57-10 respectively. Meanwhile, the Cheetahs were well and truly skinned by Ulster and Munster, 42-19 and 51-18. All four games had a common theme. Every game the South Africans tried to break up the game with some off the cuff, Super Rugby style of play and showed some real spark in attack. Despite the lack of tries, they looked dangerous every time they had the ball in hand.
However, for the most part, all the Northern Hemisphere sides weathered these storms and embraced the speed and vibrancy of the game. This is how all four teams collected bonus points for tries scored. They were structured in defence and the set piece, shutting down the South African sides. This is where South Africans were not good and they will have to be a lot more organised in all areas of the pitch or they will continue to leak scores at an alarming rate. To cut a long story short, there’s a lot of work to be done.
Leinster and Munster still look to reign supreme
As the first couple of rounds of the season took place, the men in blue and red look the most dominant, both in performance but also in terms of depth. They really impressed me even more so than usual. What struck me though were the famous names that were missing from both sides. The Dublin and Limerick outfits had nearly a full XV of internationals outside of their starting lineups. None of Ireland’s starting team against England in the last round of the Six Nations were involved in the opening two weekends of Pro14. Yet Leinster and Munster both destroyed their opening opponents with ease, showing the gap in terms of quality
When all the internationals are playing for their country, the Irish giants will look to build an insurmountable lead at the top of their conferences.
Dark Horses have emerged
Connacht look dead set on putting the controversy of Pat Lam’s exit behind them. A solid showing against title contenders Glasgow was followed by a ruthless display against the Kings. These are good omens for the Galway side, as they look to retake their Champions Cup place at the minimum.
Although they have only had one game so far, Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh looked very impressive against the Dragons and will to look to challenge the bigger sides. They are outsiders, but a combination of top coaching and ability to take heart from their performances even when results don’t go their way means they will compete throughout the season.
Marcell Coetzee looks the set to be the signing of the summer.
Anyone who saw Ulster versus the Cheetahs on the opening day will have all thought the same thing, “That Coetzee fella is a tidy player isn’t he?!!”. Coetzee was everywhere. Of all the South African newcomers on the pitch, it was the big loose forward in Ulster white that caught the eye.
Ulster really missed a commanding, aggressive, barnstorming back rower to get his team on the front foot last year because they didn’t replace Nick Williams or account for the premature retirement of Stephen Ferris. Now they have one. It might be jumping the gun after only 50 odd minutes of rugby, but he really looks the part and could have the same effect for the Ulstermen as Rocky Elsom or Doug Howlett did for Leinster and Munster.
The Challengers are already in place.
I’ve already name checked Leinster and Munster as favourites for the title but their closest challengers have already emerged. Champions Scarlets, look set to pick up where they left off last year. The Llanelli outfit played some thrilling rugby in the opening two weekends, scoring 13 tries and only conceding 2 in their first two games.
Glasgow looked assured under pressure from Connacht and gave a clinical display against the Ospreys who were rocked by the news of Dan Biggar’s impending departure to the Aviva Premiership for next season. Ospreys still harbour some hopes of a playoff spot and there will be better performances to come but they are already playing catch up with the big guns coming out of the blocks quickly this season.
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