Well, the Rabo12 starts this weekend, kicking off the new domestic season. It promises to be a very long season for the players, with the addition of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, which takes place in June/July next year.
The season is very long anyway, with Rabo and Heineken games through ‘til May, 3 tests in November, and then the 6 Nations from February to April. The last season only recently ended, and that lasted about 11 months as well. A month’s break in two year’s is far too short.
It was a poor season for Ireland in terms of internationals. The performance in the 6 Nations was dire, with losses to Wales and England (England really thrashed us). We also gave away a lead against France.
This was all capped off by a 3-test whitewash to New Zealand, including a record 60-nil loss. Granted we had almost beaten the All Blacks the week before, but we still lost the match.
Ireland play 3 tests in November, against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina. The tests take place on consecutive Saturday’s, starting on the 10th. The Springboks and Pumas will provide tough test’s, especially if they do well in the new Rugby Championship.
The last 4 games between Ireland and South Africa have taken place here, with Ireland winning 3 of them (Ireland have won 4 times, overall, to South Africa’s 15 in 20 tests). The most recent game, in 2010, ended with South Africa winning, 23-21.
Argentina have won 5 tests out of 12 played against Ireland (who’ve won 7). The 2 most recent games resulted in quite heavy defeats for Argentina. They should be much better after playing in the Rugby Championship, though.
It’s difficult to rate Ireland’s chances in the test’s at the moment. Realistically, it should be a heavy defeat for Fiji, close win against Argentina, and a close loss to South Africa.
Wales won the championship last year and will be going for back-to-back wins. They lost all 3 tests to Australia in the summer, though, which will have dented their confidence. Also, the other countries will be more familiar with their style of play.
England had a great tournament last year, which surprised many. They also had a 3-test series in the summer, against South Africa, which was slightly better, losing 2 and drawing one. I believe that they’ll provide a very stiff challenge for the championship.
France were poor last season, with new coach Saint-Andre seeming to repeat the mistakes of the last coach, Lievermont.. They were slightly better in the summer, where they shared a 2-test series with Argentina (one win each). They will want to be much improved after last year’s embarrassment.
Ireland’s saving grace this year is that we’re playing both England and France at home, which should improve our chances of beating them. We were terrible against England last year, who ran all over us.
We did very well against France, but failed to score a point in the second-half of the match, which enabled France to come back and draw the game. The match ended up embarrassing after a great start.
We’re looking at 3 losses to these teams, with the only wins coming against Scotland and Italy, the weakest sides. Scotland will be a danger, though, after their shock win against Australia in the summer.
Leinster won the Heineken last year, making it back-to-back victories. They’ll be certainly going for a hat-trick, which would make it 4 Heineken’s in 5 years, equalling Toulouse’s record.
Leinster should top their pool, the only major challenger being Clermont. Leinster actually beat Clermont in last year’s Heineken semi-final. Welsh club Scarlets are also in the pool, as are, newly promoted, Exeter.
Ulster had a great Heineken, coming a close second in their pool, they went on to shock Munster in the quarter-final, and then beat Edinburgh in the semi, before coming undone against Leinster in the final. Still, it was a great showing, their best since winning in 1999.
Ulster have an easier pool this season, with Castres, Northampton and Glasgow. Castres featured bottom of their pool last year, with Northampton second-last. Although, Glasgow finished second to Leinster, in their pool, it was a far second.
Munster dominated their pool last year, the only team that won all their pool matches in the Heineken. They than came undone against Ulster in the quarter-final, making it their second worst Heineken campaign.
They have a pretty tough pool this season, with Edinburgh providing their stiffest challeng. Edinburgh topped their pool last season, before going on to shock Toulouse in the quarters, before losing a close semi to Ulster.
Saracens also topped their pool, before a bad performance against Clermont in the quarters. 4th team Racing had a poor Heineken, coming last in their pool, and narrowly avoiding relegation.
Connacht made their Heineken debut last season, but it didn’t prove to be a memorable debut. They came last in their pool, and only avoided relegation when Leinster won the tournament.
Connacht are pooled with Biarritz, Harlequins and, debutants, Zebre this season. Both Biarritz and Harlequins placed second in their respective pools last season, with neither reaching the quarters. Connacht should at least finish ahead of Zebre.
As it stands, barring injury, only Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell are guaranteed their places on the Lions test team against Australia. Rob Kearney and Rory Best should be shoo-ins as well.
Other Irish players that should be on the tour; Cian Healy, Ross Ford, Stephen Ferris, Jaimie Heaslip and Ronan O’Gara. Prop, back row and out-half should prove to be very hotly contested positions in the 6 Nations.
Donncha Ryan should be there if he’s given enough starts for Ireland and Munster; Sean O’Brien and Colm Murray need to regain their prior form, and other players are still injured.