Pro12 2013-14 Season Preview
The League formerly Known as Celtic, but still actually Celtic, is about to get underway. The players have been through pre-season, probably thrown up a bit, swallowed plenty of sports supplements and now they are all waiting to hear what this blog has to say about their chances, I’m sure. So here goes.
IN IT TO WIN IT OR TOP FOUR
Leinster - like Leicester, but without the C and the intense sense of hatred they summon up in rival fans – will no doubt lead the way once again this year. The loss of Sexton will be felt, but choosing between Ian Madigan and Jimmy Gopperth is not exactly a nightmare position to be in. They look pretty strong everywhere and it’s hard to see past them.
Ulster - It’s been a long road back to the top for the team from the North, but they now appear to be fully entrenched in the upper echelons of Celtic rugby. If only they could get out of the habit of losing to Leinster in finals then the recovery would be complete.
Glasgow – For a long time a bit of a laughing stock, and when you consider they play in Scotland, that means they were a laughing stock within a laughing stock, so that’s some bloody concentrated laughing stock right there. However, things have turned about in recent times and they have managed to largely keep the squad that finished third last year, so they will still be up there.
Scarlets – In case you haven’t heard, George North is not there anymore, neither is Matthew Rees, who’s buggered off to the Blues. However, they still have a solid if unspectacular squad that will probably do better than their more star-studded rivals.
HEINEKEN CUP, OR MOST OF THE SEASON WITH NOWT BUT PRIDE OR EUROPEAN LOSERS PLATE TO PLAY FOR
Munster – I won’t have to look at, listen to or read about Ronan O’Fucking Gara anymore. I’m so happy about this that beyond that I don’t give a toss what they do. ( I expect them to be roughly fourth or fifth, in case you’re wondering.)
Ospreys – As usual, they will suffer precisely because they have such a decent pool of talent, in that that pool will be siphoned off to Wales for large chunks of the season. Hence they’ll finish below Scarlet. Very much looking forward to seeing Tipuric build on his breakthrough season.
Cardiff Blues – They’ll improve on last year in terms of league position and in terms of personnel, but it’ll still be mediocre outing. Having said that they have Halfpenny, who may alter the space-time continuum and shoot fireballs out of his arse to render their opponents asunder.
Connacht – This blog loves Connacht. By rights they should be utterly crap, trying to carve out a rugby team in a province that ranks rugby just above glass eating in the list of things the locals would like to be involved in. But, they continue to slowly improve and consolidate, as they will this year also.
Treviso – Should’ve done better last year, as they lost some tight ones that a bit of sense would’ve won for them. Will remain a difficult away trip but will continue splutter and finish in lower-mid table. Loss of Kris Burton will be felt keenly.
Edinburgh – The Heineken Cup semi was a one-off, obviously. They have looked lethargic and without a clue defensively a lot of the time, which is a shame, given the quality they have in some parts of the squad. They could get organised and spring a surprise, but it’s more likely to be baby steps than a giant leap.
Dragons – Jason Tovey going back is good news, providing he can stay fit, this blog still holds out great hope for him as he is a real talent. But the loss of Dan Lydiate from a defence that was suspect anyway will be huge. Another frustrating/disappointing season for the fans beckons.
Zebre – Rubbish. NEXT!
Nigel Owens' beautiful bollocking now available on clothing!
Nigel Owens's already legendary scolding of Treviso's Saffer scrum-half, Tobias Botes, (above) was not featured on B&M at the time, but it was pedalled excitedly on the blog's Twitter and Facebook accounts.
And I thought he would never better his "Get everyone in 'ere" 30-man telling of 2010.
The bloodandmud.com awards 2011
What Just Happened? Award - Leinster, for enacting the greatest turnaround since Nick Clegg signed the coalition agreement
Enron Award for Management Excellence - The RFU
Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Failure (sponsored by the British Bankers' Association) - Wasps. It's been a season to forget, then to remember, then cry, then forget again.
Pinch Me Award - Saracens, for finally winning something after such a very long time.
Body Snatcher Award - Tom Palmer, who is almost definitely an alien rogue being in the shape of the player we once called Tom Palmer
Highlander Immortality Award - Brian O'Driscoll: There can be only one.
Ambivalent Conclusion Award - Martin Johnson. It is getting better for England; the Wales & Italy games were quite good, then it went downhill a bit, but then the Ireland game was rubbish. So is he doing a good job? Buggered if we know.
Salvador Dali Award - Marc Lievremont, for taking what should be a straightforward job of selecting a team and transforming it into a surrealist art masterpiece.
False Dawn Award - Scotland. Again. When will we learn?
Dr Spock Award For Most Confusing Use of Baffling Logic - Every disciplinary panel in Europe. They must have a considered and clever reason for their decisions, but it's mostly lost on us fans.
Sir Alex Ferguson Mindgames Award - Warren Gatland. Difference being that Sir Alex actually wins things.
Yoink! Award - Harlequins, for an excellent bit of pick-pocketing on Stade in the Amlin final.
Any more for any more?
Crap start to the new year department: Dafydd Jones retires
The New Year has got off to a sad start with news today that Wales and Scarlets back row, Dafydd Jones, has been forced to retire at only 31 due to shoulder injury.
Jones was always an underrated player. He had his share of achievements with great Heineken Cup tie wins (like the spectacular victory over Toulouse, above), two Celtic Leagues and playing in one of the great World Cup games for his country.
He certainly deserved more caps before his injury, given Ryan Jones's awful form and Andy Powell being, well, Andy Powell.
Rugby Video: One reason, among many, why rugby is brilliant
This is ace. After a flare-up in the 17-17 draw between Scarlets and Leinster on Friday, Nigel Owens wants to sort it out. Unfortunately, neither of the linesmen saw what went on so Big Nige decides to solve the problem in his own way by calling in all 30 players for a lilting-voiced bollocking.
James Hook is leaving the Ospreys to go to... nowhere as yet
James Hook has ended the speculation over his future by announcing that he is to leave Ospreys at the end of the season, then immediately started it up all over again by not telling anyone where he is going. We'll have to wait until February for that little nugget of info.
So why does the long-chinned wonder want to go?
The most popular reasons being put forward are thus:
- He wants to play fly-half, and moody ref-chopser Dan Biggar is in his way at the O's,
- Money, er,
- He wants to play fly-half, and, er,
With Warren Gatland's stance about Wales players being based in the country, the interest in where he is to go next is perhaps not really as interesting as we may think. An obvious destination would be Dragons, where he would fancy himself in a scrap for the shirt with young Jason Tovey, but could find himself in the same situation he is in now; plus he will want Heineken Cup rugby.
Blues would see him up against Dan Parks. Blues it is then...
Wasps discipline - The not quite in London club managed to win by only a single point against a team that had no functioning set-piece of any kind for most of the game, and creates little. Why? Because they gave away penalties for a litany of offences. The most stupid of all was replacement hooker Webber being binned for back-chat, of all things. Not every team will be Sale, and Dave Walder won't give you a last gasp drop-goal every week.
Munster (vs Leinster) - That's five in a row the Great Behemoth Of Fanlore Bullshit have lost to their posher rivals from the other coast. Couldn't have happened to a more self-satisfied bunch.
Newport-Gwent Dragons - Lost to Treviso, which is no disgrace this season, but there is something hopeless about things in Rodney Parade at the minute is there not?
Leslie Vainikolo - If you are going to turn around your poor away form then Gloucester showed how to do it in style this weekend, by winning away at your bitter rivals for only the second time in the history of Premiership Rugby. Prime among the reasons why this occured was the much maligned Tonglish Torpedo. Defended well, scored a try, made another with some lovely link-up play and moreover looked something other than a giant, comically-haired lummox for the first time since he entered the code.
Exeter - Yes, I know they lost. But the tenacity and mental fortitude shown in getting themselves a losing bonus point at Franklin's Gardens will be the difference between staying up and going down, particularly given how many other teams are looking poor so far this season.
Billy Twelvetrees: Leicester lost to Saffacens, but this young man had a very good game in the unfamiliar role of stand-off, kicking well and orchestrating a near comeback at Vicarage Road. The Tigers are getting used to an equally unfamiliar role this season, that of losers.
NB: The SHIT/GOOD™ Ratings are not meant to be a definitive analysis of the weekend, as frankly I am not a pro journalist and only have time to watch so much rugby each week and if I've missed someone I invite you to add them yourselves in the comments. Debate is what it's all about my friends.
Gavin Henson: "C'mon Premiership, you know you want this!"
Or perhaps they don't.
Curious Orange has used an interview with the BBC's Scrum V programme to make kissy faces at English clubs. Unfortunately for him, even before this exclusive interview aired Bath, Wasps, Quins and Saracens responded using the words 'a', 'chance', 'not' and 'fucking' (not necessarily in that order). Not the best of starts is it?
I hope he finds a club soon though, otherwise people will forget that he once was a genuinely great player and remember him only as a child's drawing of a Big Brother winner, and he surely deserves better.
Ospreys fans would of course make the point that he already has a club and that he should stop his yap and prancing and get to training. Maybe they could swap him for Exeter's Gavin Steenson?
Ben Cohen - Was made to look like the lumbering idiot he is for the vast majority of the Sarries game, expecially by Dave Strettle, a much nippier version of idiot.
Gloucester - Three tries up at home and then relying on a penalty to win in the dying seconds. They really are terribly poor at the minute, and more worryingly you have to ask whether Redpath is the man to take them out of the septic tank of fetid misery they are sure to sink deeper into. Having said that they did win, but not every team visiting the Shed will be Leeds.
Frank Murphy and Ronan Loughney - Had these two not tried to windpipe someone and stupidly kick a ball out of a ruck respectively, then it is highly likely that the perenially woeful Connacht would be sitting with two wins after two rounds. As it was, even playing a quarter of the game with 14 men, they still only managed to lose by two away from home to the ever-infuriating Scarlets.
Ben Foden - Much is made of his attacking verve and the fact he gets to sing/sleep with a Saturday, but his increasing abilities as a fullback were shown by his magnicent tackle and stubborn refusal to let go that held up Quins behemoth Joe Marler over the line to deny them a late try and guaranteed victory for the visiting Saints.
The new breakdown laws - Jamie Roberts spoke for all of us on this subject on Scrum V last week, "nobody really knows what's going on there to be honest". However as a fan, it has brought more watchable games in the first fortnight of the English competition than perhaps the whole of the first half of last season. Maybe this is due to the other thing Jamie mentioned in relation to the new laws, "We have been working on conditioning and skills to keep the ball alive more and cover more of the pitch for longer periods". Quite why, as professional rugby players, they weren't doing that anyway is a question for another time.
Phil Dollman - Exeter seem to be determined to show everyone that they are not simply here to serve as a freakshow for people to point and laugh at. Last week's hero Gareth Steenson looked good again - surely on this form when Exeter succumb bravely to relegation he will find himself staying up with another club - but it was outside centre Dollman who grabbed two tries and looked about 57 times more dynamic that opposite number Dan "Ram Man" Hipkiss. They still lost mind you.
Don't forget that if you want to check out any of the Premiership occurences I refer to, there are highlights of all the games in our video player in the sidebar. For Magners highlights you'll have to use that quaint little broadcaster called the BBC.
SHIT (coaches special)
Nigel Davies - It is oft-written about Nigel's rudimentary coaching skills, whereby he seems to just tell his teams to give it a lash and play the Welsh way before buggering off to the pub. However this weekend even he excelled himself by arrogantly playing a virtual B team against Treviso, and was deservedly embarrassed for it. Scarlets fans surely won't have to put up with him for much longer?
Brendan Venter - Brendan could have a standing place in this section every week simply for being Brendan Venter. But this week it is for his cowardly bleating about the ref's performance in the defeat at Irish. He would have had a point had he stated that the ref was rubbish, but no, being Brendan he had to make the point that he was more rubbish to Saracens. As they always are in his world.
Pieter de Villiers - Not only is he utterly shite at his job, having turned a very good South Africa side into some kind of comedy circus act for the amusement of their rivals, but this week he has decided to speak out in favour of Bees Roux. "We feel for all South Africans, especially rugby players, because a situation like this can happen to anyone." Yes, murdering a policeman can happen to anyone; just the other day I nearly murdered four as I was buying some stamps.
Gareth Steenson - We said in the preview that he might win a few games for the new boys, and he heeded our call early to drive his team to an opening day win against Gloucester. However, let's not get too excited as beating a visiting Gloucester recently is about as difficult a task as king punching a drunken chimp.
Ryan Lamb - Every year we think this could be the year he finally drops the final word from "he's talented, but..". His performance in Irish's second-half demolition of Saracens gives us cause to believe this again. Cue him disintegrating next week.
George North - Two-try debut for the North Walian giant on the wing for Scarlets. Amazing win for Treviso rather overshadowed this mind you.
Soane Tonga'uiha - Two tries for the rollicking prop as Saints beat Leicester. Not to be outdone, Brian Mujati then went over in the corner, looking like a winger seen through a magic mirror.
Who were your bright stars and black holes from the weekend?