PRO14 PREVIEW | What to expect...

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PRO14 PREVIEW | What to expect from Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster


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It's that time of year again when the Northern Hemisphere rugby season gets back into full swing.

And the next cycle will take us right towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup next Autumn.

This week the Guinness Pro14 season gets underway with the Irish provinces looking to get their campaigns off to a good start.

The full Monday Night Rugby podcast:

PRO14 PREVIEW | What to expect from Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster

00:00:00 / 00:00:00

Reigning domestic and European champions Leinster will be aiming to repeat their feats of last season, Munster have Joey Carbery in their half-back line alongside the world class Conor Murray, Connacht are under the tutelage of new head coach Andy Friend who we spoke to last week and Ulster are aiming for a fresh start.

Ahead of the new campaign, Joe Molloy was joined by Irish Independent rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O'Connor to look ahead at what it will bring for the Welsh, Scottish, Italians, South Africans and most importantly the Irish.

You can watch the full first Monday Night Rugby of the season on YouTube below: 

Connacht

After a difficult period under Kieran Keane, Connacht have renewed hope of getting back to where they were under Pat Lam now that Andy Friend is in situ.

"He's very much an antidote to the Kieran Keane style," said Ruaidhri, adding that Keane "wasn't popular behind the scenes after a couple of weeks and it just didn't work for whatever reason".

"So it's positive. Four of their first five games are at home and you've got to make that pay because under Pat Lam, the year they won it, that season the first couple of games were the ones they built it on and suddenly had momentum."

Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne ©INPHO/James Crombie

Munster

Johann van Graan's side appear stronger with the very impressive Ireland international Tadhg Beirne in the second row and hot prospect Carbery at 10. Simon Zebo is a loss however, having left for Racing 92.

"I think they're stronger. I think Zebo is a big loss in the same way that Donnacha Ryan was last year," said Ruaidhri.

But he also added a third signing, Irish-qualified Michael Haley, who is one to watch out for at full back.

"All the players are saying he's impressing them in training," said Ruaidhri.

Leinster

For Leinster, it's the challenge of not letting standards drop domestically and on the continent. 

"They haven't replaced Carbery so a lot will fall on Ross Byrne," Ruaidhri said of the back-up to Jonathan Sexton, and pointed out that much of the leadership will now transfer to Scott Fardy during international periods following Isa Nacewa's retirement. 

And as for new signing Joe Tomane, the challenge will be to break into a talented back-line replete with options.

Pictured today at the launch of the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 Season is Ulster's Rory Best ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ulster

Ulster have a new head coach in the shape of Dan McFarland and a revamped backroom team.

Defensively, Ruaidhri says ex-Ireland international Jared Payne is developing an "Andy Farrell style system" which will be more similar to the other Irish provinces.

"They've lost an awful lot of experience over the summer. They're not going to see a huge amount of Rory Best. He's still struggling with a hamstring injury," he added. 

"A lot falls on the shoulders of Iain Henderson and they've got a new out half in the shape of Billy Burns who comes Gloucester. A lot falls on his shoulders.

"There's a lot of intangibles, it's going to be interesting to watch. They've got some really good players but they've lost  a hell of a lot of experience."


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