A great year of rugby in 2015 is behind us, as we look ahead to 2016.
The bad news is that there is no World Cup. The good news is that we have 12 straight months of intense rugby action coming our way.
Enough talk, let’s get down to business. Some of Pundit Arena’s main rugby writers, Paul Peerdeman, Ozer McMahon, Jonathan Fitzpatrick and Brian Barry have got together to predict what may unfold on planet rugby in the coming year.
We’re excited already.
One wish for 2016.
PP: My only wish for 2016 is for the minor countries to continue their upward trajectory. Teams like Japan, the USA, Canada and Georgia have been outstanding and I hope they will continue to breathe down the neck of the major nations.
OmcM: It would be great to see the Six Nations teams adopt a more free-flowing, attack minded approach to the game, similar to the Southern Hemisphere sides heads up, play the situation mentality.
JF: Irish Rugby to embrace change. It’s a new four cycle and it’s time for Ireland to prepare to peak in 2019. Some changes in personnel & passing of the guard, as well as a less systematic approach to how they conduct themselves in the opposition 22.
BB: Scotland to deliver upon potential. 2015 was a year that promised much, but delivered little for the Scots. They could/should have won their first three games in the Six Nations, and let’s not get started about the World Cup. It would be great to see them close out games.
One outlandish prediction.
PP: Scotland will win the Six Nations. I am setting myself up for disappointment, but Scotland have been so good for so long, they can’t remain without a major upset forever.
OmcM: With CJ Stander in exceptional form, and Peter O’Mahony returning to fitness in 2016, Jamie Heaslip must be gazing into the crystal ball through intertwined fingers. His international career may not last beyond the year’s end.
JF: I’ll cheat here and make two. Ireland will defeat New Zealand for the first time ever in 2016, and Toulon won’t qualify for the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup.
BB: A negative one here unfortunately. The Sunwolves to flop, and maybe even withdraw after their maiden Super Rugby season. Their squad does not look anywhere near strong enough, and it is difficult to see where they can find wins. I hope to be proven wrong.
Player to watch out for?
PP: Eliot Dixon is the up and coming man. He was awesome in the Super Rugby Final and has been very consistent. He is setting himself up for an All Blacks berth and more.
OmcM: Ardie Savea. He had an exceptional Super Rugby season for the Hurricanes in 2015, he’s a prime candidate to replace Richie McCaw on the All Black openside for years to come.
JF: Stuart McCloskey and Elliot Daly. Two different types of centres, but both massively exciting prospects. Both started the year well, and should feature heavily in this year’s Six Nations.
BB: Already established at the top level, Handre Pollard looks set for a big 2016. He has had good and bad days for both the Bulls and South Africa, but that experience can stand to him to become the world’s best out-half.
Team to watch out for?
PP: Canada have been getting better and the inclusion of a number of sevens players has made for a very explosive and interesting game. Add DTH van der Merwe to that mix and there is one team that will be worth watching when you can catch the matches.
OmcM: Los Jaguares. Argentina’s first ever Super Rugby franchise will have many of the Pumas star players that impressed so much at the World Cup in the squad and could really makes waves in 2016.
JF: Wasps. The two time Heineken Cup winners lost their way after their success in 2007, but they’ve started the 2015/16 campaign in excellent form. After comprehensively outmuscling Leinster & Toulon who have won 6/7 Heineken Cups since 2009, Wasps’ stock is on the rise.
BB: Argentina. The benefit of having a team in Super Rugby will be evident on the national side, and they will be looking to build upon a promising 2015.
European Champions Cup Winners
PP: Ulster. While the other Irish provinces have struggled, Ulster have quietly been going about their business in Europe, and will be a threat should they make the last eight.
OmcM: Saracens have fended off all comers with ease, while playing a relatively exciting style of rugby. Heavily backed financially, they are the only team capable of competing with the French clubs.
JF: Saracens. Toulon are looking vulnerable this season, and are definitely capable of dethroning. Saracens have momentum & form, and could finally claim some much eluded European success.
BB: Racing Metro. The Parisian side have the squad to challenge on all fronts, and look to have one foot in the quarter-finals. The addition of a certain Mr Carter has bolstered them no end.
Six Nations Winners
PP: Scotland will win the Six Nations. I have to stick to my guns on that!
OmcM: The last two championships went right down to the wire, and I’d expect the same again. Wales look best placed to end Ireland’s reign, they will be welcoming back many key World Cup absentees by the spring.
JF: England. There are points to prove for a lot of teams, coaches & players in this one after the World Cup. There could be three potential winners heading into the final day, with points difference reigning supreme once again. Hard to call.
BB: Do you remember France? With a new coach and proper preparation, Les Bleus could be a different beast to the one we saw in the World Cup.
Super Rugby Winners
PP: Highlanders. I’m backing the New Zealand franchise to repeat the trick this year.
OmcM: A notoriously difficult competition to predict year on year. So many stars have departed for the northern hemisphere which means some teams will bear no resemblance to their sides from last year. However, the Chiefs seem least affected by big name losses.
JF: Brumbies. Need to secure a home semi-final to make it happen after two consecutive away semi-final defeats. Under the guidance of Stephen Larkham, their talented roster can secure their first Super Rugby title since 2004.
BB: Los Jaguares. They have been making big sounds, and have a talented roster and coaching ticket. What is stopping them going all the way? It will be intriguing to see how the Argentinian side fare.
PP: New Zealand. Despite the retirements, there is enough class within the ranks of the World Cup champions to do see off South Africa, Australia and Argentina.
OmcM: There have been a host of big name retirees amongst the south’s big three, which means they will all be looking to build new cores. New Zealand may have lost the most players, but they also have the best replacements.
JF: Australia. New Zealand have lost key figures both on and off the pitch, and it may take them a bit of adjusting. Australia under Michael Cheika are only getting started however.
BB: Over a longer format than 2015, the cream will rise to the top, and I expect New Zealand to regain the crown.
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