If we’ve learned anything over the years following club rugby, is that you should never write a team off, especially not in the first two weeks of the season. Look to the English media and their dismissal of London Welsh. The Exiles had been written off after two heavy defeats, yet turned the tables on their senior opposition to suddenly look like contenders: a season of rugby is a very long time.
The ProRabo, or Pro12 has illustrated this point just as effectively in the first month of competition. For many commentators, the Ospreys, after several shock results, were a spent force, unable to cope with the loss of Shane Williams and company. Yet against the Scarlets and Munster, they suddenly woke up and turned into professional bullies, battering their supposedly on form opponents into the ground. With newcomers Zebre coming close to shocking Glasgow away from home, and the demolition job pulled off on Leinster by Connacht, it should be clear to all that this is no longer a competition where ‘easy’ matches will be frequently available.
Of course all the results of the last month were put into tragic perspective with the loss of the hugely promising talent of Nevin Spence. Only just arriving on the international scene, Spence seemed destined to make a regular home of an Irish center berth for the foreseeable future, and the rugby landscape is much poorer for his loss. His Ulster teammates have however responded in the best way possible, raising their game to brush aside the Cardiff Blues and stand undefeated and top of the table. If form and motivation are anything to go by after a month of the regional season, Ulster are one team who you would be brave to bet against being in the thick of the business end of the season.
From a Welsh perceptive, it would appear that the regions are settling into a predictable pattern. The Ospreys, while embarrassing early on, have suddenly found a pack that can disintegrate the very best put in front of them, and will surely be a force if their scrum continues to damage the likes of Munster. The Scarlets, having started so well, now find themselves back in the mix of the impossible to predict. With such attacking talent, the tries keep coming in with ease, but the new combinations in the front 5 are taking their time to gell. Once the front row spends some time getting to know each other, you would expect them to be contenders as well.
As for the Dragons and the Blues, we are somewhat in the unknown. For the Dragons, every game should be a struggle, yet their festival of goal kicking against Edinburgh went some way to suggesting that there will be plenty of teams who will be caught out on the trip to Rodney Parade (though few will fear hosting them). The Blues though face probably the longest season. They have the tools to win, but not the experience. Too many youngsters in the mix seems likely to leave the Blues walking the path of the Scarlets in recent seasons. It will be painful, but the rewards of bringing through the young regional talent will pay off. Once the likes of Rhys Patchell grow into their new senior roles, the Blues will be a force once more, but it will take more than a season to get that club firing again.
For Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh have again shown their ability in fits and bursts, but while Glasgow struggle at home to Zebre, and Edinburgh fail to match away wins in Cardiff with away wins in Newport, they are unlikely to generate enough consistent success to last the season. But then, five rounds in, there are few results you would have predicted so far!
And at this early point, the promising pack would have to comprise Ulster, Scarlets, Ospreys and Leinster. Even with Leinster’s shortcomings against Connacht, they should still have too much firepower for the likes of Glasgow and Munster, who, if they don’t find a scrum again soon, could be facing an exceptionally difficult season.
We’ll see how things stand at the close of round 10.