Guinness Pro12 Team of the Season 2015/16

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My Guinness Pro12 Team of the Season 2015/16

By all accounts, this has been one of the most exciting season’s in the Pro12 in my opinion. If we go back ten years, going into the final round, Connacht and Glasgow Warriors were at the bottom of the league. This weekend, they go head to head in a battle for a home semi-final. With no Pro12 side having ever won an away semi-final, it really is crunch time.

Meanwhile Leinster have to earn a solitary point to make the Champions Cup, Ulster need a win over Ospreys to claim the final play off spot. In fact, almost all of the games have relevance to the Pro12 play-offs or Champions Cup rugby on the line. Here’s a look at my Pro12 team of the season; the players that I think have performed well domestically and internationally.

  1. This one was a head to head between Jack McGrath of Leinster and Scarlets prop, Rob Evans. Both Evans and McGrath have had breakthrough seasons, gaining starting sports for Ireland and Wales respectively. With such a strong set piece, combined with great loose play, neither Leinster nor Ireland have looked to be missing Cian Healy too much now that Jack McGrath is on the scene, so he is my first choice.

  2. A divisive player, Rory Best, the Irish captain has impressed this season for Ulster, as has Wales and Scarlets hooker Ken Owens. However, I’ve gone with Scotland and Glasgow Warriors hooker Fraser Brown. Having converted from a back row player, he gets some great work done at the breakdown and in the loose, whilst his set piece has really come on. Since returning from an injury at the tail end of 2015, he has impressed.

  3. Ireland and Connacht prop Finlay Bealham has had a real breakthrough season, earning his first Irish caps in this years Six Nations. Connacht’s scrum has been solid this season and Bealham has played no small part in that. However, WP Nel has transformed the Scottish scrummage and made it a safe source of possession, so he takes the three shirt for me.

  4. With Connacht defying all odds, *insert Leicester City reference that Sky Sports don’t make every Connacht game* another man from out west gets the nod and that is Ultan Dillane. A huge ball carrier and often getting front foot ball, he’s a great player to have on the field. Credit has to go to Jonny Gray, who has never missed a tackle in his life ever (fact) but Dillane brings a lot going forward.

  5. This man is big, Fijian and absolutely unplayable. Glasgow Warrior’s favourite Fiji Weegie was unstoppable at Rugby World Cup and has been for as long as I can remember him at Glasgow. Born with a a genetic disorder that means his hands are made of velcro, Leone Nakarawa easily slots into my team of the season.

  6. If there has been one man carrying the Munster team this year, it has to be Ian Keatley. If you’re not convinced, then CJ Stander has also been pretty good, making his Irish debut this Six Nations, at number Six. Despite usually playing at number eight, one of Stander’s great attributes is his versatility in the back-row and of course his incredible work-rate, so he gets the green light.

  7. There have been two young open-sides that everyone has been talking about this year. They are Osprey’s english qualified Sam Underhill and new Irish cap, Ireland’s Josh van der Flier. In the end, Josh VDF gets the nod- during a poor European Champions cup, Josh VDF was often one of Leinster’s only causes for hope, with brilliant defensive work and ability to get front-foot ball. He particularly impressed me on his appearance against England in the Six Nations Championship this year.

  8. Another recycled phrase, but during yet another bleak season for Newport Gwent Dragons, Taulupe Faletau hasn’t failed to produce the goods. Always a threat when on the ball, he has been the backbone of the Dragons for a few years now. His loss is a huge one for the Dragons and a big advantage for his new employers, Bath Rugby. To top it off, he’s managed this in a season where the WRU tried to block his move to Bath, and Dragons have gone up for sale and recorded their worst losing streak the history of the region (9).

  9. A number of players have impressed here, but anyone who has followed Connacht this season, won’t be surprised that my first choice nine is Kieran Marmion. Opposite numbers constantly have to keep their eye out for Marmion as he is a real spark on the ball. His commitment to run and score a crucial try in Connacht’s first ever season double over Munster was a stand out for me.

  10. Of late, Finn Russell has been impressing at ten for Glasgow Warriors, whilst I think Sam Davies has done excellently in Dan Biggar’s international absences for Osprey’s- kicking Ospreys to a win over Clermont was certainly memorable. However, the ten shirt easily goes to Paddy Jackson of Ulster. When first capped for Ireland a few years ago, he looked a little shaky, Nowadays, when he’s on the field I really fear Ulster’s backline, as he carries the key to it. In my opinion, Joe Schmidt needs to hand this guy another chance.

  11. Newport Gwent Dragons winger Hallam Amos has had a mixed season. He’s had periods where he has been in a rich vein of form. His only issue is sometimes he doesn’t have the best vision and takes the ball in when there are better options. Perhaps a more controversial call, I’ve chosen Scotland and Glasgow winger Tommy Seymour. Despite not being as prolific as previous season’s for Glasgow, he has really shone in a Scotland shirt, especially under the high ball. His link with Russell for this try against Ulster was exceptional, so he takes the wing berth.

  12. The centre’s caused me a lot of problems- Pro12 rugby seems spoilt for options this year. Cardiff Blues and Samoan international has really shone in the Blues end of season renaissance, but Stuart McCloskey gets the nod at inside centre for me. Big, physical and a constant threat in the Ulster backline, he has been key to Ulster in Pro12 rugby and their victories in their Champions Cup pool.

  13. With a lot of young guys coming through, Owen Watkin of Ospreys has impressed me this year and I agree with Brian O’Driscoll that Gary Ringrose is the future for Ireland and Leinster at outside centre. It’s difficult though, to look past Connacht’s Bundee Aki this season though. When he keeps a cool head, he can really cause trouble to any backline in the Pro12. If he gets residency, I wouldn’t be surprised if people’s Aki O’Bundee jokes become a reality..

  14. Another man key to the awakening of the west is Connacht’s Matt Healy. As the top try scorer in the Pro12 this season he was one of the first names I thought of and I really hope he is rewarded by Joe Schmidt with a cap sometime soon. A real threat every time he has the ball.

  15. My favourite Angry Pepperami lookalike has to take this spot. Having been voted the player of the Six Nations this year, it’s not hard to see why he’s on here after having a good Rugby World Cup, Pro12 season and Six Nations. His step, pace an vision makes him one of the best counter-attackers in the northern hemisphere. Oh, it’s Stuart Hogg, by the way.

SUBSTITUTES

  1. Ken Owens- another solid season with Scarlets for the Welsh international hooker.

  2. Rob Evans- Scarlets prop burst onto international scene- a big future.

  3. Finlay Bealham- Key to a solid Connacht scrum and rewarded with Irish caps.

  4. Jake Ball- Big, physical, and storng set piece. Solid for Wales and Scarlets.

  5. Justin Tipuric- Not so great for Wales this year, but stand out for Osprey’s in Europe- impact sub.

  6. Mike Blair- Controversial, but covered well for Glasgow during international windows and seems to have helped Grayson Hart, Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos a lot.

  7. Peter Horne- Capable of fly-half or inside centre, can unlock any defense, especially a tired one.

  8. Craig Gilroy- Prolific, makes something from nothing and excellent guy to bring on and exploit the gaps.

Osprey, Rhys Webb has been left out due to game time, other wise he most probably would have made this side. Damian Hoyland has also impressed on the wing for Edinburgh Rugby this year.

Representation:

Leinster: 2

Munster: 1

Ulster: 3

Connacht: 5

Glasgow Warriors: 6

Edinburgh Rugby: 1

Ospreys: 1

Cardiff Blues: 0

Scarlets: 3

Dragons: 1

Treviso/Zebre: 0

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter!

The Scribbler, 6th May, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

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