Pro12: Gerry Thornley’s team by team guide
The ins and outs, forecasted end of season position and betting odds for each team
The 12 team captains at the launch of the 2015/16 Guinness Pro12 season. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
Given they’d never been top six prior to last season, achieving John Muldoon’s “realistic” target would be a decent achievement in backing up their stunning success of last season.
Robbie Henshaw is a significant loss, but the departure of main ball-winner cum alternate playmaker Aly Muldowney could be even more keenly felt – he played twice as many league games and minutes as Henshaw last season. Marnitz Boshoff will be key, Cian Kelleher will be interesting and the clutch of Academy players have cut their teeth already. Indeed, bar Glasgow, no squad is more assured in what they’re doing.
Ins: Sam Beard (Edinburgh), Marnitz Boshoff (Golden Lions), Conor Carey (Nottingham), Eoin Griffin (London Irish), Cian Kelleher (Leinster), Dominic Roberston-McCoy (Northland), James Connolly, Shane Delahunt, Rory Moloney, Seán O’Brien, Rory Parata, Peter Robb (all Academy), Josh Rowland (Ireland 7s).
Outs: Rodney Ah You (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), AJ MacGinty (Sale), Aly Muldowney (Grenoble), Api Pewhairangi (London Broncos), Fionn Carr, Conor Finn, Jason Harris-Wright, George Naoupu, Ian Porter.
Last five seasons: 8th, 8th, 10th, 7th, 2nd (Champions).
Another core of leaders have retired, of whom Eoin Reddan had still been very active, and the departing Kurt McQuilkin had masterminded the League’s best defence. Robbie Henshaw and Jamison Gibson-Park are good signings, and Cian Healy, Mike McCarthy and Seán O’Brien will, hopefully, feel like new signings.
They’ve topped the regular season table every second year since 2008, and even if they finish second this season will know that guarantees an RDS semi-final with the decider at the Aviva.
Ins: Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Jamison Gibson-Park (Hurricanes), Ian Nagle (Lon Irish), Niall Morris (Leicester), Adam Byrne, Tom Daly, Billy Dardis, Ross Molony, Garry Ringrose (all Academy).
Out: Ben Te’o (Worcester), Ian Madigan (Bordeaux), Marty Moore (Wasps), Cian Kelleher (Connacht), Tom Farrell (Bedford), Tom Denton (Gloucester), Isaac Boss (Waikato), Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets), Jamie Hagan (Melbourne), Mick McGrath (Ireland 7s), Gordon D’Arcy, Aaron Dundon, Darragh Fanning , Luke Fitzgerald, Kevin McLaughlin , Eoin Reddan (all retired) , Royce Burke-Flynn , Collie O’Shea, Tony Ryan , Ian Hirst, Tony Ryan, Gavin Thornbury.
Last five seasons: 1st (final), 2nd (Champions), 1st (Champions), 5th, 1st (final).
Forecast: 2nd (champions).
Rassie Erasmus looks like a high-quality acquisition, and along with Jacques Nienaber should enliven the organisation which, of course, is now based en bloc in Limerick.
Jean Kleyn looks a good signing, but they still appear relatively light in the tight five and have not been especially active in the transfer market. Furthermore, Francis Saili and Johnny Holland have been lost to the early months of the season, further heightening the importance of Conor Murray, but it’s worth noting he only started five league games last season.
Thus, the odds on them winning a first title in six seasons are not appealing, and, as the Lam revolution in nConnacht demonstrates, Erasmus will need time.
Ins: Sam Arnold (Ulster), John Andress (Edinburgh), Darren O’Shea (Worcester), Jean Kleyn (Stormers), David Johnston, John Madigan, Seán McCarthy, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton (all Academy).
Outs: Shane Buckley, Jordan Coghlan , Gearoid Lyons (all Nottingham), Jack Cullen (London Scottish), Felix Jones (retired), BJ Botha, Denis Hurley, Gerhard van den Heever, Mario Sagario, Cathal Sheridan.
Last five seasons: 3rd (s/f), 6th, 3rd (s/f), 2nd (final), 6th.
The acquisition of pacey, powerful, elusive match-winning Charles Piutau after his eye-catching stop-off at Wasps looks like the league’s marquee signing of the close-season. He adds to an array of quality indigenous international backs, leaving Les Kiss with an even bigger headache in actually choosing a nominal first-choice threequarters if all were fit.
Nonetheless, they don’t have the most powerful tight five in the league and they’ve lost their main source of go-forward in Nick Williams, with prospective replacement, Springbok flanker Marcell Coetzee, sidelined for the first few months of the season. The Irish-qualified, one-time England Under-20s lock Kieran Treadwell from Harlequins is another interesting signing.
Ins: Charles Piutau (Wasps), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks), Rodney Ah You (Connacht), Kieran Treadwell (Harlequins), Brett Herron (Bath), Angus Lloyd (Dublin University), Matthew Rea (Academy).
Outs: Nick Williams (Cardiff Blues), Sam Arnold (Munster), Rory Scholes (Edinburgh), Ian Humphreys (retired), Willie Faloon, Paul Jackson, Ruaidhri Murphy, Bronson Ross, Paul Rowley, Frank Taggart.
Last five seasons: 6th, 1st (final), 4th (9s/f), 4th (s/f), 4th (s/f).
Signing the former Cardiff and Welsh lock Bradley Davies from Wasps on a national dual contract was a significant coup. If he and Alun Wyn-Jones (who will surely start more than last season’s tally of four) play half the games together, that’s some engine room, while Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate (his young heir Ollie Cracknell) and co give them an array of backrowers.
Rhys Webb will be akin to a new signing, and they’ve quality at ‘10’ in Dan Biggar and Sam Davies, while the signing of Kieron Fonotia, a regular in the Crusaders’ star-studded backline over the past few seasons, looks like it ought to solve their midfield problems. All in all, they should be doing better, and may well do so.
Ins: Bradley Davies (Wasps), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Hugh Gustafson (Dragons), Kieron Fonotia (Crusaders).
Outs: Aaron Jarvis (Clermont Auvergne), Kristian Phillips (London Welsh), Marc Thomas (Jersey Reds), Ifereimi Boladau (London Scottish), Rynier Bernardo (Scarlets), Jordan Collier, Matthew Dwyer, Lloyd Evans, Rhodri Hughes, Aled Jenkins, Gareth Delve.
Last five seasons: 2nd (Champions), 5th, 5th, 3rd (s/f), 8th.
The return of Jonathan Davies and signings of Rhys Patchell and Johnny McNicholl (a try-scoring winger from the Crusaders) to link up with their array of Welsh international backs could give them as good a backline as any in the league.
Up front too, they have signed former Springboks prop Werner Kruger, fellow South African Rynier Bernardo and another lock in the young Leinster’s Tadhg Beirne. Decent tight five so should again be playoff contenders, but perhaps lacking a quality number eight to go all the way.
Ins: Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne), Rhys Patchell, Richard Smith (both Cardiff Blues) Johnny McNicholl (Crusaders), Werner Kruger (Bulls), Jonathan Evans (Bath), Tom Williams (Cardiff Blues), Rynier Bernardo (Ospreys), Tadhg Beirne (Leinster).
Outs: Rhodri Williams (Bristol), Rhodri Jones (Ospreys), Steven Shingler , George Earle, Kirby Myhill, Ben Leung (all Cardiff) Maselino Paulino (Lyon), Jordan Williams (Bristol), Kieran Hardy, Regan King (both Jersey),Connor Lloyd, Torin Myhill (both Carmarthen), Michael Tagicakibau (Treviso), Josh Lewis (Ebbw Vale), Jack Jones (Llanelli), Harry Robinson, Phil John, Michael Collins Jack Payne.
Last five seasons: 5th, (s/f), 6th, 6th, 5th.
Danny Wilson is heading the Blues’ fifth coaching ticket in five years since Dai Young moved to Wasps but, perhaps significantly, is entering a second season, which reflects how they were the form Welsh side in the second-half of last season.
He appears to have emphasised quality over quantity with the ballast of Nick Williams strengthening their rich array of backrowers and and the powerful, side-stepping Willis Halaholo – a key man in the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby success last season – adding to their go-forward. Rhys Gill looks a good signing too. On that artificial pitch, could be relative dark horses. Ins: George Earle (Scarlets), Rhys Gill (Saracens), Willis Halaholo (Hurricanes), Matthew Morgan (Bristol), Kirby Myhill (Scarlets), Steven Shingler (Scarlets), Nick Williams (Ulster). Outs: Elis Wyn Benham, Gareth Davies, Harry Davies (Bath), Tom Davies, Chris Dicomidis (Pontypridd), Gavin Evans, Sam Hobbs (Dragons), Tom Isaacs, Craig Mitchell (Dragons), Miles Normandale (Rotherham), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets), Lou Reed (Sale Sharks), Richard Smith (Scarlets), Manoa Vosawai (Vannes), Tom Williams (Scarlets). Last five seasons: 7th, 9th, 7th, 10th, 7th. Betting: 80/1. Forecast: 5th.
At face value it’s hard to envisage how the Dragons can clamber out of the lower echelons after losing their best player Taulupe Faletau. But while he generally managed to play about half of the Dragons league games in his seven campaigns there, last season he played only seven.
This is compounded by Andrew Coombs’s retirement due to a long-standing knee problem. Wales’ poor relations will derive inspiration from Connacht, who were a regular reference point for Kingsley Jones at this week’s launch. “We’re going to have a go. If it don’t come off, it don’t come off. We’re going to make sure we play some attractive rugby and make suere we’re fast and furious at home.” What more can they do?
Ins: Sam Hobbs, Tom Davies, Craig Mitchell (all Cardiff Blues), Sam Beard (Edinburgh), Nick Macleod (Sale), Patrick Howard (Northampton), Darran Harris (Rotherham), Ashley Sweet (Ebbw Vale).
Outs: Taulupe Faletau (Bath), Hugh Gustafson, Alex Jeffries (both Ospreys), Jason Tovey, (Edinburgh), Ben White (Exeter Chiefs), Andrew Coombs, Matthew Pewtner, Matthew Pewtner (all retired).
Last five seasons: 9th, 11th, 9th, 9th, 10th.
Alan Solomons have moved to solve Edinburgh’s perennial problem position of outhalf by signing Duncan Weir from Glasgow and making Jason Tovey’s loan move from the Dragons into a two-year deal.
Solomoni “Junior” Rasolea has been recruited from Western Force in Australia to replace Gloucester-bound centre Matt Scott, while Tongan international Viliami Fihaki will add ball-carrying power in the backrow. Perhaps the biggest change of all will be the move in the New Year from Murrayfield to Watsonians’ more atmospheric ground at Myreside, giving them an identity akin to Glasgow following their move to Scoutstoun.
Ins: Nick Beavon (Melrose), Glenn Bryce, Kevin Bryce, Duncan Weir (all Glasgow), Lewis Carmichael (Melrose), Viliami Fihaki (Sale), Alex Northam (La Rochelle), Solomoni Rasolea (Western Force), Rory Scholes (Ulster), Sasa Tofilau (Kirkcaldy).
Outs: John Andress (Munster), Sam Beard (Dragons), Mike Coman (London Irish), Jack Cuthbert (Jersey), David Denton (Bath), Dougie Fife (Otulea Katoa), Nick McLennan (Scotland 7s), Matt Scott (Gloucester), Grant Shiells (London Scottish), Greig Tonks (London Irish), Alex Toolis (Melbourne), Jade Te Rure, Andries Strauss.
Last five seasons: 11th, 10th, 8th, 9th, 9th.
Akin to Leinster, there’s little doubt that supplying over 20 players to the World Cup hit the Warriors hard last season. Even then they were the form team in the second half of last season until twice running into the Connacht whirlwind at the Sportsground, where they begin this season.
The departure of Gregor Townsend at season’s end has been offset by the acquisition of Dave Rennie from the Chiefs as his replacement, and he’ll surely want to bow out by reclaiming their title. The loss of Leone Nakarawa does denude them of serious X factor. Cue the arrival of Namibian lock Tijuee Uanivi, and Leonardo Sarto could make a sizeable impact in every sense too.
Ins: Jarrod Firth (Manukau), Corey Flynn (Toulouse), Nemia Kenatale (F Constanta), Leonardo Sarto (Zebre), Hagen Schulte (Buller), Djustice Sears-Duru (Ontario), Tjiuee Uanivi (Natal).
Outs: Will Bordill, Glenn Bryce, Kevin Bryce, Duncan Weir (all Edinburgh), Jason Hill (Bedford) , Gregor Hunter (Gala), Leone Nakarawa (Racing 92), Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs), Fergus Scott (Currie), Javan Sebastian (Carmarthen), Mike Blair, James Eddie (both retired), Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Tyrone Holmes, Shalva Mamukashvili.
Last five seasons: 4th (s/f), 3rd (s/f), 2nd (final), 1st (Champions), 3rd (s/f).
Forecast: 1st (Final).
Poor husbandry off the pitch has contributed to a steady decline on it, culminating in their worst ever league campaign and has consigned them to their first Challenge Cup appearance since 2002-03.
Kieran Crowley has lured Tito Tebaldi, Tommaso Allan and Tommaso Benvenuti into prodigal returns, and Fijian flyer Michael Tagicakibau arrives from Scarlets. A raft of new outhalves includes Marty Banks, who helped the Highlanders to the Super Rugby title last season, and ex-Leinster man Ian McKinley after his inspiring return to pro rugby.
Ins: Marty Banks (Highlanders), Tommaso Allan (Perpignan), Tommaso Benvenuti (Bristol), Tito Tebaldi (Harlequins), Michael Tagicakibau (Scarlets), Andrea Buondonno, David Odiete, Federico Zani, Luca Sperandio (all Mogliano), Ian McKinley, Filippo Gerosa (both Viadana), Guglielmo Zanini, Giorgio Bronzini, Nicola Quaglio (all Rovigo), Tiziano Pasquali (Leicester).
Outs: James Ambrosini (San Dona), Enrico Bacchin, Simone Ragusi, Alberto Lucchese (all Petrarca Padova), Sam Christie (Waikato), Andrea de Marchi , Matteo Muccignat (both Rovigo),Salesi Manu (Honda Heat), Duncan Naude (Limoges), Chris Smylie (North Harbour), Ludovico Nitoglia (retired), Rupert Harden, Tom Palmer.
Last five seasons: 10th, 7th, 11th, 11th, 12th.
Since edging out Treviso for the dizzying heights of 11th place to earn a return to the Champions Cup after a two-year absence, the Parma-based club have overseen quite an overhaul in their playing staff.
In a decidedly more Italian slant, lock Josh Furno, hooker Carlo Festuccia and winger Giovanbattista Venditti have all been brought home, while they’ve signed a quartet of South Afrians. They’ll all need to settle in and judging by their pre-season defeat to Munster, they may be left in the blocks.
Ins: Joshua Furno, Giovanbattista Venditti ( both Newcastle), Carlo Festuccia (Wasps), Kurt Baker (NZ 7s), Lloyd Greeff, Derick Minnie (both Golden Lions), Bart le Roux (Leopards), Carlo Engelbrecht (Blue Bulls), Gabriele Di Giulio, Tommaso Castello, Maxime Mbanda (all Calvisano), Mattia Bellini (Padova)
Outs: Leonardo Sarto (Glasgow), Mirco Bergamasco (Sacramento), Filippo Ferrarini (Ohio), Mils Muliaina (San Diego), Emiliano Caffini , Filippo Cristiano (all Fiamme Oro), Kelly Haimona (Bay of Plenty), Giulio Toniolatti (Lazio), Jean Cook (Kintetsu Liners), Michele Visentin (Mogliano), Paul Derbyshire (Amatori), Emiliano Coria (Nevers), Gonzalo Garcia (Cahors), Marco Bortolami, Luke Burgess (retired), Ulrich Beyers, Bruno Mercanti.
Last four seasons: 12th, 12th, 12th, 11th.