New season has a familiar look

 

Leinster and Ospreys seem to have the strongest set-ups as the Pro12 gears up for action, writes GERRY THORNLEY

THE RABODIRECT Pro12 may be in its relative infancy compared to other competitions, and nor can it claim to be the most pro-active, but an elite within the Celtic mix was long established before the co-opting of the Italians. And as the League kicks off a new competitive rugby season this weekend, this doesn’t look like changing any time soon.

The strongest and most settled squads/set-ups appear to remain with Leinster and the Ospreys, the two outfits which finished first and second in the table and went on to contest the Grand Final last season – and indeed three seasons ago as well.

If either has had their wings clipped by comparison to last season it is assuredly an Ospreys team now without Shane Williams and Tommy Bowe, although it is the departure of Paul James, amidst the continuing Welsh player drain to France and England, which highlights how the regions now see little value in paying the wages of Welsh international players given the demands placed on them. The net effect has been to create a quasi fifth Welsh region – in France.

As the Welsh and Irish each struggle in their differing ways to strike the right balance between their national and regional/provincial set-ups, the others – including Munster, Ulster and the Scarlets – look comparatively ill-equipped to compete for honours on two fronts if push comes to shove. But while the Scarlets look upwardly mobile, the Blues are where the Ospreys were two years ago and look set for a fall even if the return to the Arms Park will sit better with their fans. Treviso and Connacht may eye further advances while the two Scottish regions have changed up their squads and coaching structures again.

Off the pitch, too, the Rabo Pro12 remains a little behind its counterparts. The IRB Chief Medical Officer, Dr Martin Raftery, was in Dublin yesterday to outline the new IRB concussion protocols which are being trialled this year, whereby players suspected of incurring concussion will be temporarily replaced for up to five minutes so as the team doctor and the independent match doctor can assess whether the player has sustained concussion. If so, the player concerned will then be removed from play permanently.

The protocol for diagnosing concussion away from the field of play is in accordance with the 2008 Zurich Conference Statement on Concussion.

The ‘brain bin’ has been trialled in both of the IRB’s Junior (Under-20) championships during the summer and in the current Rugby Championship, Currie Cup and ITM Cup, with the Aviva Premiership, the Top 14 and the ProD2.

The one, embarrassing exception is the RaboDirect Pro12. Once the International Rugby Board announces its findings it is up to individual unions or tournaments to volunteer or request that it be trialled in their jurisdiction. A spokesperson for the Rabo Pro12 explained that: “As a competition, we were not asked to conduct the concussion trial. The Executive Committee of the IRB don’t communicate directly with the RaboDirect Pro12 or RBS Six Nations officiate, they liaise with the individual unions. We haven’t had a Six Nations Council Meeting since late April. We have a meeting in October and the discussion trial will be discussed then.”

Similarly, unlike the Premiership in England or South Africa’s Currie Cup, the Rabo Pro12 will not be trialling the IRB’s proposal to expand the powers of the TMO, who will be consulted on incidents outside the in-goal area before tries are scored. Hence, indiscretions such as knock-ons, forward passes and obstruction, foul play etc can be penalised retrospectively under the new trial.

On this occasion, it seems, the Pro12 organisers, did explore the possibility of trialling this IRB proposal. “With regard to the TMO it was something that we heard about and put to our broadcasters and there were both costing and technical issues. Not every game has a televised TMO, only the televised games have TMOs.”

The Six Nations Council, the Celtic Rugby Board and the Lions board all operate out of the same office in Dublin. At the very least, this makes the Rabo Pro12 again appear overtly beaurocratic and a good deal less professional that it would like to think it is.

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