It’s been another enthralling year of Rugby Union at both university and professional levels. Rugby correspondant, Morgan Roberts, looks back on 2016, and predicts what he believes is on the horizon in 2017.
University of Birmingham Mens 1st Rugby Team
For the Lions the start of the season has been a mixed bag; 4 wins and 6 defeats but they are crucially off the bottom of the table. Having watched the home fixtures, the Lions always seem to come back in the second half of the match and they are really starting to show their strong potential. The forwards are starting to become hardnosed and the backs are starting to gel into a mercurial attacking force. For me there have been standout players with Amadi, Smith, Onslow and Bonar coming to mind. However, the key man for the Lions has been Chaumenton consistently throughout the season who has been converting kicks at crucial parts of the game, proving pivotal for Birmingham. The Lions of course face the medics in their first fixture after the Christmas break in the much anticipated Varsity game, which given their recent form (a win against Loughborough 2’s) shall be a tough test.
Aviva Premiership Teams
Saracens with Owen Farrell and Jamie George, Wasps having Joe Launchbury and Tommie Taylor, Leicester the Youngs brothers Tom and Ben and Bath with George Ford and Taulupe Faletau, are all set to be on course to be the semi-finalists in this 2016-2017 season. Exeter and Harlequins have the talent but haven’t converted some of their tight games into wins so far this season. The story so far has to be the form and the run of wins for Newcastle Falcons. The league’s most northern competitors are laying down a mark with their current 7th place position. Their teams consists of some exciting talent such as Marcus Watson (Anthony’s brother) and Vereniki Goneva. Northampton, Sale Sharks and Worcester are all struggling for form but are unlikely to go down due to the poor form of Bristol. This makes the game between Bristol and Worcester on Boxing Day almost a cup final day for Bristol, in which they must surely win to keep their Aviva Premiership dreams alive.
Guinness Pro 12 Teams
This 2016-2017 season seems to be one of the more fiercely contested seasons I have seem for a long time but the top 6 still consists of 3 Irish teams (Munster, Leinster and Ulster), 2 Welsh (Ospreys and Scarlets) and one Scottish (Glasgow). Munster seem to have been galvanised this season with the death of their former Head Coach, Anthony Foley. Munster have risen from the tragedy back to their best with uncompromising grunt from the forwards, such as C J Stander and quick stylish play from the backs, such as Simon Zebo. The highlight over this Christmas period will be the all-Welsh derby between the Ospreys and the Scarlets. The Italian sides in their league continue to cause controversy with questions being raised over their involvement in the league with the quality of rugby they can offer.
European Rugby Champions Cup
With their win over Sale Sharks, Saracens can now boast 13 wins in a row. Racing 92 have had a bitterly disappointing campaign by losing 3 of their pool stage games; Glasgow by contrast could create history in the tournament by becoming the first Scottish team to be in the quarter-finals. Two games have stood out for me, Ulster vs Clermont Auvergne at the Kingspan Stadium and Munster vs Leicester Tigers at Thomond Park. Ulster Clermont was an entertaining affair in which Ulster came out on top . Munster gave a masterclass in how to dominate a great team such as Leicester.
England and Ireland proved the dominate Northern Hemisphere sides. England in particular recorded their fourth consecutive win over Australia earlier this month, and in doing so equalled their own record of 14 wins in a row to end the year unbeaten. Ireland of course with their magnificent victory over the All Blacks in Chicago stopped New Zealand’s own winning streak. Scotland too could have had a clean sweep but narrowly lost out to Australia. Wales slumped to a surprising lack of form, although they still managed to win 3 games out of 4, none of the games were the usual vintage performance we have come to expect in recent years. For me, England and Ireland will be favourites for the Six Nations Title, whilst Scotland will be hopeful of fighting for 3rd place with France and Wales having to improve enormously.
Any negatives for 2016?
For me rugby and the referees in particular are becoming too soft with the tackling around the upper part of the body. With player safety of course a high priority, tackles concerning the neck and the head are being taken extremely seriously, with yellow and red cards frequently being issued. However, if the arm is not on the neck and is on the upper chest or the collar bone, it should not be considered a high tackle. Referees are wary of reviews from World Rugby and are giving yellow cards away against strong tackling, which simply isn’t necessary. Rugby Union at the end of the day is a contact sport, a hard physical game and should not be ruined by tackles ajudged to be ‘too high’, as its becoming a bad habit.
Predictions for 2017:
University of Birmingham Mens 1st Rugby Team: I’d say that the Lions will win the Varsity match against the Medics and will continue to climb the table hopefully into a top 6 place in the table.
Aviva Premiership: Saracens and Wasps I believe will challenge for the title and as it pains me to predict a team to fall from the premiership, Bristol will go down, surely to be replaced by London Irish.
Guinness Pro 12: I think that it will be an all Irish final with Munster and Leinster going toe to toe with each other. There will be a scrap for places in the top 6 with teams such as Cardiff Blues and Connacht battling for a place to be in the European Champions Cup next season.
Six Nations: England to win with a Grand Slam and the new record for the most consecutive win by a terroir 1 nation with 19 victories. Ireland will also challenge for the title, Scotland should perform well and France, Italy and Wales have a point to prove.
British & Irish Lions series vs New Zealand: Obviously too early to make a prediction with no idea about form, but with the right squad, I think that the Lions can win at least one test match against the All Blacks. The next four months will be crucial to every player in the British and Irish Isles wanting to get on that plane to New Zealand.
Earlier this month, Morgan was joined by three guests to discuss all the latest from the Rugby world in the Burn FM studio. Listen to the full show here…