The Guinness Pro12 could look fundamentally different in the very near future with rumours of teams from North America or South Africa being muted to join the European based competition. Recent reports from the BBC suggest that Super Rugby franchises The Cheetahs and The Southern Kings could even join the league ready for the start of this season.
As things stand though it looks like we are going to kick off the 2017/18 season as we ended the last, with no bookies offering odds on either of the South African teams at this time. Even without the inclusion of new teams, the Pro12 has thrown up some surprises in the past few seasons with the Scarlets becoming the 6th Grand Final champions in the 7 seasons since the league was expanded to 12 teams. Below we take a look at how we see this season working out.
Despite falling at the final hurdle, Munster will look back at the 2016/17 season with a great deal of pride. After the tragic passing of Anthony Foley in October, the team were galvanised and won 15 of the following 16 games in all competitions marshalled by the outstanding Tyler Bleyendaal. Munster will be looking to go one better this season, and their squad remains largely the same going into the new season. With a core of Lions including Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray they will be in the mix. Betway, Betfred and Bet Stars are all offering 5-2 for Munster to become champions.
Last Season: 1st (Play off final)
Semi-final defeats in the Pro12 and European Champions Cup would be considered a successful season for most teams in Europe, but Leinster will want silverware this year. They have one of the strongest squads in Europe, and have just added two top class professionals in Australian international Scott Fardy and Kiwi James Lowe – one of the outstanding performers in Super Rugby last season. Such is their strength, Leinster humbled a number of top teams last season, scoring over 30 points against the likes of Wasps, Northampton, Scarlets and Montpellier. The bookies have Leinster as favourites to become Grand Final champions this year and it’s hard to disagree. 2-1 with Betfred looks like good value. They’re also offering 8-1 for Leinster to become European Champions.
Last Season: 2nd (Play off semi-final)
2016/17 was a season to remember for the Scarlets. Their attacking brand of rugby lit up the Pro 12 in a season that culminated in a resounding win over strong favourites Munster. Rhys Patchell was a revelation after his move from Cardiff Blues leading the points table, as was Steff Evans who finished the season as the league’s top try scorer. They will hope to be in the playoff mix again this season, but the loss of DTH Van De Merwe and the inspirational Liam Williams will make things difficult. Williams is often the catalyst for The Scarlets attacking play. It’s unlikely they will go the distance again. The bookies odds reflect this, Paddy Power are offering 5-1 for The Scarlets to retain their title. It will be a big ask.
Last Season: 3rd (Champions)
On paper the Ospreys are the strongest Welsh outfit in the Pro12. They boast Lions tourists Rhys Webb, Alun Wyn Jones and the mercurial Justin Tipuric, alongside one of Wales’ emerging talents in Sam Davies. The return of James Hook and the additions of Brian Mujati and Cory Allen will add experience and depth, but a return to Europe’s elite competition will stretch the Ospreys this year as they attempt to compete on two fronts. The Ospreys are likely to be there or there about come the end of the season play offs, but the title is likely to be out of reach. Skybet, Bet Stars and Betfred are all offering 9-1.
Last Season: 4th (Play off semi-final)
Ulster narrowly missed out on a playoff place last season, losing two and drawing one of their last 4 matches in the league. They have a strong squad and perhaps the most exciting back line in the division. Charles Piutau is a dangerous strike runner and topped the table for defenders beaten and offloads, he will frighten defences again this season. The outgoing Ruan Pienaar, Ulster’s experienced general, will be difficult to replace and his departure may mean that Ulster fall short again this season. You can get 10-1 with Paddy Power for Ulster to become champions.
Last Season: 5th
11 wins and 11 losses was a disappointing return in the league for Glasgow last season. They’re a team that expect to be in the play offs and they have a squad that’s full of international experience. They have added Henry Jones to a dangerous backline that already includes Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg. If they can get good clean ball, then they will unlock team’s defences. Expect them to improve on last season’s 6th place finish. 12-1 with Paddy Power for Glasgow to be crowned champions could offer good value, they are capable of beating anyone.
Last Season: 6th
The Welsh capital side’s squad isn’t as strong as it has been in previous seasons and they lack the depth to mount any real challenge. If the rumours are true, we may see Leigh Halfpenny return before the season kicks off, providing a much-needed lift for Cardiff Blues fans. Having said that, the Blues do offer some quality, particularly in the forwards with experienced campaigners like Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins. They won’t roll over for anyone, but there are other teams with more quality – it’s unlikely that they will improve much on last season. Betfred are currently offering the longest odds at 40-1.
Last Season: 7th
Connacht’s unexpected championship success in the 2015/16 season was all the more remarkable when you consider the resource gap between them and the other Irish regions. It was inevitable that they wouldn’t be able to live up to such a season, especially after losing the likes of Robbie Henshaw to Leinster. Even so, it’s disappointing to see the champions slip quite so far down the end of season standings. Connacht remain Ireland’s development region, even if their funding from the IRFU has been increased. Their recruitment policy of mopping up players that haven’t made the grade elsewhere suggest that it will be another tough season in 2017/18. The bookies don’t expect them to make any great strides with many offering odds of 50-1 to spring another surprise and become champions.
Last Season: 8th
Edinburgh are the serial underachievers of the Pro12. A return of just 6 wins in their 22 Pro12 games last season is nothing short of laughable when you look at a squad that boasts the likes of Ross Ford, WP Nel, John Hardie and Hamish Watson. It’s in the backline that Edinburgh lacked cutting edge last season. The addition of the talented Mark Bennett will provide some much-needed pace, but they still look short in the wide areas. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Edinburgh finish above both Cardiff and Connacht to improve on last season. Betway and Bet Stars are both offering 200-1 for Edinburgh to win the championship. They won’t, but they’re more than capable of springing a few surprises.
Last Season: 9th
Another 10th placed finish is the best the Italians can hope for again this season. 5 wins last season equals their best performance in the past 4 seasons. The 2012-13 season is the last time that Benneton Treviso finished higher than 10th place. The experienced Filo Paulo and Luke Mclean will be difficult to replace as they move to London Irish. They will be difficult to beat at home, as they always are. But they just aren’t strong enough to compete consistently. Betway are offering 2500-1 – there’s simply no chance.
Last Season: 10th
Following a takeover from the WRU, fans of the newly named Dragons (formerly the Newport Gwent Dragons), will be hoping to see some more fire from their team this season. Like Connacht, The Dragons are a development squad, even though it’s not openly publicised by the WRU. Despite this, they will be hoping for a better return this season having only managed 4 wins in the last campaign. He divides opinion, but the signing of Gavin Henson will provide the team with a focal point. He’s past his best but showed on a number of occasions for Bristol last year that he still has plenty of ability. It’s going to be another long season, get 1000-1 with Betway.
Last Season: 11th
The fact that there is so much discussion around a newly structured Pro12 competition is largely down to the success (or lack thereof) of the Italian teams in the competition. An Italian club has finished bottom of the Pro 12 in each season since they joined the competition. Zebre have had the dishonour of propping up the table in the past two seasons and were last season’s whipping boys. There’s nothing to suggest that it will be different this season.
Last Season: 12th