RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Scotland
Team: Edinburgh Rugby
Coach: Michael Bradley
Ground: Murrayfield Stadium
Andy Titterell (Leeds), Richie Rees (Cardiff Blues), John Yapp (Cardiff Blues), Izak Van Der Westhuizen (Cheetahs), WP Nel (Cheetahs).
Mike Blair (Brive), Phil Godman (London Scottish), Chris Paterson (Retired), Jim Thompson (London Scottish)
Edinburgh have one of the most dynamic offensive attacking systems in the pro game right now – they posses some real game-changing abilities throughout the entire squad. Stand-out half-back and team captain, Greig Laidlaw, performed heroics to help Edinburgh reach the quarter finals and semi-finals of the Heineken Cup last season and he will be instrumental in getting them there again this year. Newly-capped winger, Tim Visser is another notable attacking threat for Edinburgh, who will be looking to better his impressive season last time out.
Defensively, Edinburgh were poor last season, they allowed too many points which put them in some very difficult situations – the 48-47 win against Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup comes to mind. The side will need to shore-up the D and focus more on preventing points rather than just trying to score more than the opposition.
Back-rower, David Denton, had a breakout year last season, with dominating performances in both the RaboDirect Pro12 and the Heineken Cup, which ultimately lead to his first start for Scotland in last season’s Six Nations. The strong 6ft 5 back-row forward is an immense talent, who set the Heineken Cup alight with his trademark aggressive play and will be looking to repeat those feats this time around. Denton is young and full of drive, he is a prospect which can help make Edinburgh one of the top sides in Europe.
Edinburgh had a very lop-sided campaign last season: in the Heineken Cup they managed to reach the semi-finals following a huge victory over world club rugby royalty, Toulouse. But in the RaboPro 12, they could only manage 11th position, after some terrible performances home and away.
This season Edinburgh will be looking for a repeat of last year’s Heineken Cup victories, and both the fans and players are confident that the team can go one better than last year and reach the finals. Closer to home, the side will be looking to improve on their poor league finish last season – 11th in the Pro 12 is not good enough for a team who were performing so well in Europe. I expect that Edinburgh will qualify from their Heineken Cup group but won’t go any further, whilst in the Pro 12 they should finish close to the top and gain a play-off spot.
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Team: Glasgow Warriors
Coach: Gregor Townsend
Ground: Scotstoun Stadium
Taylor Paris (Ontario Blues), Sean Lamont (Scarlets), Tim Swinson (Newcastle) Angus MacDonald (Coca Cola West Red Sparks).
Richie Gray (Sale), Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier), Federico Martin Aramburu (Retired), Rob Dewey (Released), Fregus Thompson (Released), David Lemi (Worcester).
Glasgow have always prided themselves on their physical, workmanlike style, hunting as one big unit, wearing down opponents with their aggressive play. This season will be no different, combining strength, speed and experience in a squad which has the perfect balance of experience and youth. Sean Lamont returns to his old club where he found such impressive form, and the big winger will be a huge weapon for the Glasgow club as they bid to better their great season last year.
The loss of Richie Gray will hit Glasgow where it hurts, in the pack, his ability to break the gain-line, disrupt play and cause chaos on the pitch will affect the Warriors’ heavily over the course of the season. Glasgow are also welcoming in first year head coach and Scotland legend, Gregor Townsend, following the departure of Sean Lineen. Townsend certainly possess the credentials to become a great coach but with the daunting task of the Heineken Cup and the strong RaboDirect Pro12 ahead of him, only time will tell what he can achieve.
Ali Kellock is the inspirational leader and long-standing captain of the Warriors. The big lock is regarded as the talismanic figure of the club, where the team gains much of its drive, determination and focus. Kellock will be key to Glasgow’s success this season and will be at the forefront of everything the team achieves.
A strong second half to the season saw Glasgow finish fourth and reach the Pro 12 playoffs, where they were beaten by Leinster. The Warriors managed to finish second in their Heineken Cup group, which was not enough to progress, but they did still manage some notable victories over strong opposition.
Glasgow possesses all of the tools to go far in both the Heineken Cup and the Pro 12 this season. They have speed, youth, experience and strength throughout their squad, which is capable of ruffling a few feathers. I predict that the Scots will finish in the top four again and challenge for the Pro 12 title this season but wont make it out of the group stages of the Heineken Cup.
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By Alexander McLeman