The Runner Sports

Pro 12 Season In Review: Grading Each Team

The Pro 12 made impressive improvements this season from previous years. The quality of play and competition went far to improve Pro 12’s image among the professional conferences. Some teams had a very good year, some not so well. The Irish teams dominated throughout the regular season, and the European Cup.  The playoffs, however, saw the rise and domination of Scarlets, resulting in a record-breaking final for the Welsh side.  Here are the grades for each of the Pro 12 teams. For playoff teams, one for the regular season, and one for the playoffs.

Scarlets: 17-0-5

Regular Season- B+

Scarlets had a very good season improving on their 5th place finish last year. They played a significantly wider game than has been seen in previous years. Their season consisted of only one loss to a non-Irish team, from fellow Welsh club Ospreys. The Scarlets’ offense was very impressive with Rhys Patchell finishing at the top of the tables for points scored with 145. Steff Evans also put in a great season leading the league with 13 tries, four more than the closest competitor. Their offensive performance was complemented with a defense that was able to get the ball back, led by James Davies with 33 turnovers won. The team seemed to come out of nowhere in the playoffs but the build up to it was over the entire season.

Playoffs- A+

So much can be said about the Scarlets’ performance in the playoffs, but none of it would be enough. They were the first team to ever win an away semi-final, while a man down for over half the match nonetheless. The eventual Pro 12 champions outscored their opponents 73-37 over two matches.

They overcame a red card against Steff Evans in the semi-final to defeat the perennial finalists Leinster. The Welsh side approached the match with an impressive hard attack in the first half, and settled down into a defensive powerhouse that did not allow Leinster to stage a comeback.

Scarlets took Munster’s top-tier defense and shredded them continuously through the entire final. They only allowed Munster one try until the final 10 minutes of the match once it was firmly out of reach. Scarlets ended up breaking the record for most points scored in a final and largest points margin in a final as well. Great season and even better playoff performance by Scarlets.

 

Munster: 19-0-3

Regular Season- A+

Munster was an unstoppable force all throughout the year. They did not suffer defeat in the regular season after an early October loss to Leinster. They had the best points differential of any team in the Pro 12 at +286 points. Tyler Bleyendaal led the Pro 12 in points scored until the championship final. Defensively Munster performed well, with Billy Holland finishing third in the league with 245 tackles, averaging more than 11 per match and Justin Tipuric finishing fifth in turnovers won. Munster truly played their hearts out in the memory of Anthony Foley, and even went so far as to play Saracens in the Champions Cup semi-final. Munster made a massive improvement after barely qualifying for the Champions Cup with a sixth place finish last season.

Playoffs- B

Munster was dominant in their first playoff match against Ospreys. Their defense only gave up one penalty in the entire match that was centered on an impressive 92% success rate with the tackle. Simon Zebo and Kieth Earls had a great day with Zebo making 81 metres and Earls with 91. It was an amazing performance and what seemed to set the stage for another Munster title. That was not to be the case in the final. As good as the Munster defense was in the semi was as bad in the final.

The Munster defense became full of holes when they took on Scarlets completing only 62% of their tackles in the final. Munster was unable to develop anything offensively until the match was out of reach in the final 10 minutes. Keith Earls managed nearly as many metres as he did in the semi-final, but Zebo had a sharp drop off in production in the final. The playoffs started well for Munster, but ended in bitter disappointment.

Leinster: 18-0-4

Regular Season- A-

Leinster finished lower than last season in the standings, but had a better win record than a year ago. They had a solid season with only two of their four losses coming to non playoff teams. Rory O’Loughlin and Joey Carberry performed well during the regular season tying for fifth with eight tries per player. The Irish powerhouse dominated at home with an undefeated home record during the regular season.  Leinster’s Champions Cup performance was impressive as well, making the semi-finals after a huge win against the Premiership finalist Wasps. Their dominant nature in the regular season set them up with a home semi-finalist, and by coincidence a home final should they make it that far.

Playoffs- D

After such a dominant performance they were set up for a seemingly simple task with a home semi-final; this was not to happen. Leinster came out strong after an early try by Scarlets to take the lead 10-7. The Leinster defense would then seemingly disappear as Scarlets proceeded to regain the lead 21-10 before half time. Despite having a man advantage for the rest of the match, their attack could not find any holes and only scored one try with a 40-minute man advantage. Leinster were unable to find the production necessary to win the match which led to Leinster to losing a home semi-final.

 

Ospreys: 14-0-8

Regular Season- B-

The Ospreys’ season was very hit and miss. Ospreys had some great wins against Glasgow and Pro 12 champion Scarlets. This is contrasted with a loss to Benetton Treviso, the only team from the top half of the Pro 12 to do so.  Ospreys had a solid season for most of the year, including leading the tables for a large portion of the season. Unfortunately, they peaked too early as the lost four of their last five matches during the regular season. Dan Biggar had a difficult season with frequent injuries and time lost to international matches. Ospreys were able to perform well enough early in the season to hold on to a playoff spot at the end of the season.

Playoffs- D

Ospreys performed in the way a team was expected away in the semi-finals. Dan Biggar scored the first points of the match putting Ospreys on top, and that was all to be heard from their attack. They were able to make progress across the pitch with 338 metres made but were unable to make the progress necessary to get across the line for points. Ospreys hung within reach until the final 20 minutes where Munster was able to break loose and found 15 points in the final quarter of the match.  The score line of their match looks a lot worse than the match, due to a late collapse by the defense.

 

Ulster: 14-1-7

Regular Season- C

Ulster had a slight downturn this year not making the playoffs. The Ulster attack was strong with a powerful pair in Charles Piutau and Ruan Pienaar. Charles Piutau led the league in defenders beaten and offloads. Piutau also had a great season finishing third in metres made with 1567. The Ulster team missed the playoffs but had a better record this season than last year. The gap for Ulster to make the playoffs was very narrow as they finished only one point behind Ospreys in the final standings. Ulster’s performance in the the Champions Cup was not quite as hopeful with Ulster finishing at the bottom of their pool and the worst performance from any non-Italian Pro 12 teams. Hopefully, Ulster will be able to fill their gaps left by this upcoming off-season and get back on track.

 

Glasgow: 11-0-11

Regular Season- C

This season was very difficult for Glasgow. This was the first season since the integration of the playoff system that Glasgow has not made the playoffs. With a team as solidly stacked with international talent, a break even season is difficult to take. Glasgow was not able to quite pull off some close matches that would have put them in the postseason. Five of Glasgow’s losses this season were decided by five points or less. It was a very disappointing season for the Warriors, especially considering the departure of Gregor Townsend. The major redeeming quality of their season was making the knockout round of the Champions Cup for the first time ever.

 

Cardiff: 11-1-10

Regular Season- C

Cardiff had another season of just below middle of the road. The home of the British and Irish Lions captain has had a difficult road in recent years, and this year was no different. Cardiff has had some bright spots throughout the season, with an early season pair of victories over both Scotland teams and Munster. Later on in the season, Cardiff won Judgment day against Ospreys which showed an impressive display that had been missed by most of the season. Steve Singler and Gareth Anscombe had impressive seasons both finishing in the top six in points scored with 126 and 111 respectively.

 

Connacht: 9-0-13

Regular Season- D

Big things were expected for last year’s champions Connacht. Unfortunately, that would not be the case. After getting off to a  slow start losing their first three matches, things seemed to be improving as they went to on to win six of their next eight. The rest of the season became a feast or famine trend for Connacht as they would win a series of matches, then turn around and lose just as many. The best attacking option for Connacht this year was Tiernan O’Halloran who led the league with 2011 metres made. The disappointing performance may have to do with the early announcement of Pat Lamb’s move to Bristol following the conclusion of this season. Connacht’s inability to hold on to AJ MacGinty following his all-star performance last season may have contributed as well.

 

Edinburgh: 6-0-16

Regular Season- F

Edinburgh has been suffering for years due to the limited resources of the Scottish Rugby Union.  The other Scottish pro team had moments of solid play among a sea of darkness.  Duncan Weir was the top offensive producer for Edinburgh finishing fifth in the league with 116 points.

Edinburgh is better situated defensively with Ben Toolis finishing second in the league in tackles, and Hamish Watson. Watson is a true up and coming star in rugby and is making a place for himself at the table since the fall internationals as a solid flanker. Watson’s abilities are not only defensive as he is a very powerful runner who is almost never brought down by the first runner. Hopefully, new coach Richard Cockerill can make some progress in the right direction.

 

Benetton Treviso: 5-0-17

Regular Season- C*

The Italian teams are working off of a sliding scale, as the rugby structure in Italy is not strong enough for them to actually be competitive in the competition. That being said, Treviso legitimately had a decent season. Finishing 10th in the conference with five wins is their best performance since 2014. They also gained a shocking win over Ospreys and finished only win behind 9th place. It is unfortunate for them that next year they will not automatically qualify for the Champions Cup virtue of being the top Italian team.

 

Newport-Gwent: 4-0-18

Regular Season- F

Finishing behind an Italian team at the end of the season is very very difficult to forgive.  The Dragons were unable to get any traction going all season. Half of their wins came against Italian teams, and they did not manage a win against a team above 8th. There will need to be significant improvements for the Dragons for them to become relevant again.

 

Zebre: 3-0-19

Regular Season- F*

Zebre had a difficult year even by Italian standards. Low attendance numbers have made funding for the team difficult and as a result, more of their talent is continuing to go elsewhere. Zebre was shut out against their in-country rivals Benetton Treviso. The one positive for Zebre over the season was they were able to manage a win against one team in each of the other countries involved in the competition.

 

There were a lot of ups and downs for teams in the Pro 12. The playoffs were some of the best in recent memory and should be appreciated by fans around the world. The difference between the top and the bottom of the Pro 12 is still very present. For the Pro 12’s place among the pro competition to be elevated to its rightful place, the bottom of the league must be brought up to improve the competitiveness of the organization.

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David Bradham

Active duty Navy, have a true passion for Rugby.
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