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Summertime. . . And The Predictions Are Easy

The Guinness Pro14 fixtures are out and with an August start date Robin Davey is already considering how the first weekend might shape up for the four regions after a long, hot summer.

It’s been a blisteringly hot summer and the nation’s top rugby players have needed hosing down as they step up training for the new season which actually starts this month.

The pre-season friendlies are about to get under way and pretty soon the heat will be turned on the regions and their leading players in what is the last season before the World Cup.

Welsh rugby is on something of a high – a 100% summer tour record against South Africa and Argentina, following a second-place finish in the Six Nations, while the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues both performed admirably in Europe last season.

So, a great deal will be expected in the new season and who knows the feelgood factor of Geraint Thomas’s brilliant Tour de France triumph might just rub off on some of the rugby stars who have been texting him their congratulations.

Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys are first into action on the final day of the month, both of them kicking off at 7.35pm and both with home advantage.

The Blues have got the most difficult task of all against Europe’s top team Leinster who last season became the first team to do the double, lifting the Champions Cup and Pro 14 titles.

They will be without some of their stars who will start the season late, but they have a formidable squad, probably the finest in the league, and Stuart Lancaster has rediscovered himself again as one of their coaches after his difficulties with England.

But the Blues also enjoyed success in Europe, albeit in the lesser Challenge Cup competition, and will be keen to start the season with a bang under new head coach, Australian John Mulvihill who has replaced Scotland-bound Danny Wilson.

They, too, will be without their summer tourists, but there is an air of confidence about the Arms Park now, even though chairman Peter Thomas has loosened the reins.

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The same applies to Ospreys chief Roger Blyth, who is stepping down as chairman.

They take on Edinburgh and will fancy their chances on the opening night of the season at the Liberty Stadium, keen to improve on a disappointing season just gone.

The Scarlets have been comfortably the best Welsh team for the past few years and head coach Wayne Pivac will be keen to go out with a bang in his final season with them before taking over for Wales from Warren Gatland.

They have got a difficult start against Ulster on September 1 at the Kingspan – the hosts having to play a home game on a Saturday for a change.

But such is the quality of the Scarlets squad now that they could well come away with a victory, especially as Ulster are not quite the force they were a few years ago.

Which brings us to the Dragons and their well-documented need to get off to a winning start with a much improved squad in what could be considered the first real season of Bernard Jackman’s time as head coach.

They are the last of the Welsh regions to get going, with a home game against Benetton on September 1 at 7.35pm.

The Italians were vastly improved last season and did the double over the Dragons, but there can be no repeat this time for Jackman’s men if they are to be taken seriously.

There will be considerable interest in how the team performs and how the new-look line-up settles with so many changes in personnel.

So, the heat is on in more ways than one. It’s a big season for Wales and the regions and the sense of anticipation is high.


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