Guinness Pro 14: Scottish Teams Preview

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Head coaching and personnel changes a plenty in Scotland ahead of Pro 14 season

Before the announcement that the Guinness Pro 12 league would expand to fourteen teams, the most off the field news in the league came from Scotland where Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors announced new head coaches and several marquee player arrivals and departures to boot. Hawkeye Sidekick casts his eye on the goings on in Scotland ahead of the new season.

Head Coach Changes

Not one but two head coaching changes. Gregor Townsend confirmed as national head coach resulted in the Glasgow Warriors head coach vacancy. Dave Rennie’s pedigree is second to none and should enhance the structures already established at the club as the new head coach.

Rennie’s coaching at the Chiefs has being standout with a memorable 2012 / 2013 season where the Chiefs running / expansive style won the Super Rugby title in back to back seasons. Prior to this, the fifty-three year old New Zealander led the national U20 side to three consecutive world titles (2008-2010). Glasgow’s running style of play will appeal to Rennie and the club signings secured this season will make Glasgow Warriors a dangerous opponent for anyone in the league.

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New optimism at Edinburgh Rugby

Edinburgh Rugby also were in search of a new head coach when Alan Solomons decided to step down only four weeks into last season to move to Bristol Rugby as a coaching consultant. Solomon’s era with the club will be remembered for the European Challenge Cup final appearance in 2014-15 and winning the 1872 Cup derby over Glasgow Warriors but the Pro 12 league form was a disappointment; too many narrow losses to mention and Edinburgh Rugby languished in the bottom stretches of the league.

The appointment of Richard Cockerill for this season will spark a revival at the club. Cockerill will bring his experiences from Leicester Tigers to hopefully resonate a winning culture within the club. It will be an interesting season to see where Cockerill effects change in a rugby club who have underperformed given their talent and skill set.

Edinburgh Rugby – Ins and Outs

The academy forms the majority of the arrivals to the senior squad; a continuation of cultivating talent from within the organization. McCallum, Hunter-Hill, Miller, Fraser, Galbraith and Graham will look to impress in their debut professional seasons but as mentioned in previous blogs, these players need to be nurtured and their development allow to blossom this season.

Three significant player arrivals have though joined the club. Mark Bennett arrives from Glasgow Warrior; solid, reliable and able to create and execute try opportunities from the three quarter position. Duhan van der Merwe could be a potentially astute signing from Edinburgh Rugby this season; massive upside in the winger given his size (100 kg), height (6’4), physicality and speed. At twenty-two, he still has his best years ahead of him and will be keen to relaunch his career in Scotland after a disappointing 2016 season for Montpellier.

Robbie Fruean joins from Bath Rugby, a player whose has battled hard in the professional ranks (open-heart surgery a couple of years ago). His playing career is formidable playing with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams at Crusaders. An outside center who relishes contact and his running lines will create game line breaks. This looks on paper to be another shrewd signing from the club provided that he can remain fit. Darryl Marfo and Jason Harries join from Bath Rugby and London Scottish; unknown quantities.

There have being several player departures from the rugby club. Six players were released from contract including Rory Scholes, Kyle Whyte, Alex Northam, Will Helu, Nick Beavon and Viliami Fihaki. George Turner leaves the club for a season long loan deal to Glasgow Warriors. The abrasive, ball carrying wrecking ball that is Nasi Manu leaves for Benetton Rugby while Jack Cosgrove moves south of the border to work with new head coach Pat Lam at Bristol Rugby. Michael Allen, a superb underage talent was forced to retire. Sasa Tofilau moves to Racing Club Massy in France. A number of key departures but also a number of releases which will free up roster space and budget to acquire additional players during the season (if need be).

Verdict:

Richard Cockerill joins the club with something to prove after an unsavory end to this Leicester Tigers head coaching career and an even shorter disastrous cameo in Toulon. Edinburgh Rugby’s form at home in Myreside and Murrayfield is not an issue. The issue is their ability to perform on the road. Last season saw a couple of close defeats on the road; accuracy lapses in defense and offense crucial.

Competitive side who will look to the new signings to complement well with the likes of Ford, Gilchrist, Hardie, du Preez, Hidalgo-Clyne, Tovey or Weir at out-half. Edinburgh Rugby should improve their performance this season and think they are capable of fighting for a top three conference spot this season.

European Challenge Cup progression to the knockout rounds is pretty much assured. A team who will not fear anyone at home, who will look to make the necessary adjustments to win on the road. This is a team which rugby fans should take note of.

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New era at Scotstoun

A new era arrives in Scotstoun. Dave Rennie is the new head coach and expectations in the club and the fan base has increased with the appointment. Rennie joins a club who had a disappointing campaign last term. Munster were a thorn in Glasgow’s side in the ERC; a road trip which was a highly emotional affair after the passing of Munster head coach Anthony Foley saw Munster win with fourteen men. The return fixture was a physical affair which was decided by an excellent finish from Francis Saili late on. Glasgow to their credit advanced to the quarter finals with a comprehensive beat down of Leicester in the final pool game, but the quarter final against Saracens was too much and a heavy road trip ensued.

The international fixture schedule impacted Glasgow Warriors in the Pro 12 campaign; the squad struggled during these periods and when the RBS 6 Nations had concluded, Glasgow were in must win territory with six games to go. The squad depth issues were unfortunate and were added to by several lengthy injuries. A season which heralded the end of the Townsend era but one that will not be forgotten as Townsend has established solid foundations for Rennie to take on and move to the next level. The Pro 12 triumph in 2014 was thoroughly deserved with expansive, sublime running rugby to the fore.

Glasgow Warriors – Ins and Outs

Three signings arrive from the South African Super Rugby side Stormers. Huw Jones showed last season incredible potential and upside in the three quarters. Brandon Thomson will add fly-half squad depth to a position during the international calendar; his game management and kicking is excellent, a player with plenty to prove.

Oli Kebble comes from several seasons with the Western Province and Stormers; A player who will add depth to the front row as Gordon Reid departs from London Irish. Callum Gibbins is an astute signing from Glasgow Warriors to offset the loss of Josh Strauss. Gibbins scored three tries in twenty-five appearances for the Hurricanes.

Lelia Masaga is an explosive back arriving from the Chiefs. Vunisa is a signing which complements the signing of Gibbins. Speed, ball carrying, physicality and quality breakdown work attributes. The Fijian born Italian capped international can fill all positions across the back row. A massive asset to the club this season. Siua Halanukonuka joins from the Highlanders who will add to the front row depth chart.

Several academy players join the senior squad signing their first professional contracts. Wynne, Smith, Bhatti, Home, Kelly, Hastings and McDonald will look to impress Dave Rennie early doors and would expect a couple of the rookies to be involved particularly around the international fixture windows.

Fourteen players left the club in the off-season, a big turnover with some keynote goodbyes. Sila Puafisi leaves for Brive. Mark Bennett joins Edinburgh Rugby. Rory Clegg moves south of the border to join Ealing. Josh Strauss is a big loss to the club as he joins Sale Sharks but Glasgow hope that Vunisa and Gibbins make up for this departure. Gordon Reid moves to London Irish; a loss for the front row unit. Sean Lamont retired along with Fraser Lyle and Peter Murchie.

Fan favorite Simone Favaro moved to Stade Francais; a move which the player and fans were sad to see happen. Tijuee Uanivi moves to London Scottish while Hagen Schulte and Nemia Kenatale were released from their contracts. Junior Bulumakau completed the departures with a move to Doncaster.

Verdict:

New head coach at the club. New ideas and approaches to defensive and offensive sides of the rugby ball. Glasgow Warriors squad depth is strong but the ability to win games in the international fixture calendar windows will be interesting. The side struggled last season during these fixture windows; some astute signings to offset this impact this season and if the club can negate these periods, Glasgow should be well placed to secure a top three conference standing spot. Glasgow look on paper the most equipped side from Scotland to challenge for Guinness Pro 14 honors. Rennie will look to make an instant impact and to be honest, they will not far off the summit this season in the league race.

 

 

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