Jeff Pagano has been a rugby fan all his life and started his blog HarpinOnRugby with reports on all Leinster’s matches in August 2008. His favourite all-time rugby moment was Leinster’s first Heineken Cup win in 2009, coming so soon after Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam.
Since the RaboDirect PRO12 switched to a “top four Play-Off” format there have been three Finals. I have attended all three, but sadly not once have I walked away a happy man.
Now I'm not so sure fans of the other 11 clubs in the competition will have much sympathy for me, since my beloved Leinster have been a bit more successful in another competitions in recent years. But as a season-ticket holder, when you watch your team do so well throughout a long campaign only to fall at the final hurdle year after year, it makes you even more determined to take that final step no matter what's happening elsewhere.
So I fully expect coach Joe Schmidt to be approaching this season with a view to reaching the same level of consistency Leinster showed last time round to reach a fourth Final in a row. Of course he was able to do this in 2011/12 not only thanks to his “marquee” stars like O'Driscoll, Sexton, O'Brien, and Nacewa, but also a fine crop of talent able to fill in while they are either injured or away on international duty, most notably out-half Ian Madigan who stepped up when Mat Berquist suffered a season-ending knock in September to help us to an amazing 18 wins and 1 draw in 22 regular-season matches.
Not that I'm saying things are going to be easy by a long stretch. The reigning champions Ospreys beat us all three times we played them last season and will no doubt be keen to continue the sizzling form they have shown since the spring while Munster and Ulster have brand new head coaches keen to make an early impression. We mustn't rule out the Scottish teams either…both got to final four stages in major competitions last season and will be looking to build on that success.
It seems the standard of the competition is increasing with each passing season and I can assure you every player on the books at the RDS will know what levels they will have to achieve put that coveted RaboDirect PRO12 trophy in the cabinet.
And with the campaign going from September right through to next May, there is only one way to progress…one match at a time. There is tough competition for places for starting spots in our opening match in Parc y Scarlets on September 1 and over the next few weeks they'll have the chance to test themselves in tough preseason battles against Aviva Premiership opposition to play their way into the reckoning.
All of which means we Leinster faithful will be counting down the days until the big kickoff. Can we achieve the elusive double this time? We most certainly can. Will we? I can't wait to find out!
Best addition to your side? Replacing Brad Thorn in our second row is pretty much impossible, but I am very keen to see the young South African Quinn Roux challenge for a regular starting spot. Devin Toner will see this year as his chance to lead and maybe even get some more Test recognition but Roux is there to push him all the way.
Opening day prediction? We're away to the Scarlets…normally Leinster don't do so well on opening day, I expect this to continue, though I'll go with a bold rugby prediction, a draw.
Overall season prediction for your side? I believe Leinster will finally win the title this season, but the hard way – second in the competition and breaking the curse of the Ospreys on their own turf in the Final.
Other predictions? I fully expect Jonathan Sexton to retain his Golden Boot, but watch out for Connacht's Dan Parks as well in this category. As for top try-scorer, with Tim Visser now a Scottish international, watch out for Leinster's Andrew Conway to grab some headlines next season.
Who's going to win the RaboDirect PRO12? Why Leinster of course! Fourth time lucky!
Jeff Pagano writes the HarpinonRugby blog.