Energia Power Rankings

Adam Redmond
15 May 2019

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The Guinness PRO14 Semi-Finals have arrived and to coincide with this weekend, we have also unveiled the first edition of our new Power Rankings.

With four teams still in contention for the title, and an all-Welsh Champions Cup play-off also taking place – let our inaugural rankings tell you who’s hot and who’s not.

 

1. Glasgow Warriors

Leinster might be the defending champions and playing at the near-impregnable RDS in their semi-final. But Dave Rennie’s Glasgow Warriors deserve first place in these new rankings. They are the form side in this league with eight wins on the spin and had to dig so deep to hold off Munster for top spot in Conference A. They also downed Leinster last time they met in April, have their big guns like Stuart Hogg and Huw Jones returning to form and fitness at the right time and remain the key attacking force in the league with more clean breaks, defenders beaten and metres made than any other team. Ulster arrive at Scotstoun this weekend with a mountain to climb as the Warriors – who downed the Irish province 30-7 just last month – target a Celtic Park final in a fortnight’s time.

 

2. Leinster

That Leinster often suffer a hangover after a European final is well documented. And they are not in the best of form when it comes to the league, with their last win coming back at the start of March.

But they are the defending champions for a reason, they pushed Saracens all the way last weekend at St James’ Park and domestically are tough to stop.

Munster, who arrive at the RDS this weekend, have not won there since 2008.

Leo Cullen’s side are still the dominant force in possession in this league with the most carries, and second most defenders beaten but they also are ruthlessly efficient both at ruck time on their own ball and in their tackle completion in defence.

 

3. Munster

Munster head to the RDS this weekend looking to end 11 years of hurt. But while history is not on their side, they will relish the chance to get one over their old rivals.

Johann van Graan’s side have only lost once in the league in 2019, arrive on a five-match winning run domestically and proved their bottle in digging deep to get past Benetton in the quarter-finals just over a week ago.

They can also take heart from how they pushed Leinster so close at this same point last year and the expected returns from injury of Keith Earls and Joey Carbery.

If they are to claim victory you can be sure their reliable set-piece will be key. They have the best lineout in the Guinness PRO14 at 92.6% success and the joint best scrum at 96.2%.

 

4. Ulster

After three years on the outside looking in, Ulster are back in the Final Series and will not be there just to make up the numbers.

Dan McFarland’s side have been revitalised after a fairly disastrous 2017-18 campaign, both on and off the field.

Rory Best and Darren Cave got the dream Kingspan send-off in their quarter-final win over Connacht but they will need to find another gear at Scotstoun this weekend.

Glasgow Warriors gave them a beating last month when they met in the regular season, and the Ulster set-piece creaked badly.

But this season Ulster have dominated possession, only Leinster and Edinburgh spend more time with ball in hand, and win plenty of turnovers led by Marcell Coetzee in the back row.

They are also third for defenders beaten and clean breaks and will head north to Scotland dreaming of a first league final since 2013.

 

5. Benetton Rugby

The Italians’ dream season is at an end.

But Kieran Crowley, the newly crowned Director of Rugby of the season, deserves serious credit for the campaign that they have had.

They will begin next season looking to repeat their efforts of making the Final Series this time around – and they will certainly fear no one.

They pushed Munster all the way in the quarter-final at Thomond Park – where the hosts have not lost in the league all season and have never lost a Final Series games.

They also claimed a draw with Leinster at the RDS while their home form has become increasingly impressive.

Neutrals have been blown away by their attacking flair, their 10.3 offloads a game is way out in front in the league while they also do not ignore the basics.

They finished the season with the second best lineout in the league. Crowley has strong foundations on which to build.

 

6. Connacht

Andy Friend’s first season at the helm brought Connacht back to the post-season for the first time since their fairytale title win three years ago.

The Kingspan in the quarter-final proved a step too far for the re-vitalised men from Galway but this year they have announced their return at the sharp end of provincial rugby.

They drew with Leinster, won in Belfast for the first time in 68 years and pushed Munster all the way both home and away.

Jack Carty’s emergence as an international-class fly-half has garnered headlines while their set-piece has been the key to their return to the Final Series.

But it is their defence that stands out, they made more turnovers than any team in the league barring Cardiff Blues and Ulster and their tackle success rate of 88.3% was second only to Leinster’s from the teams that made the play-offs.

 

7. Ospreys

Ospreys will be back at Europe’s top table next year, should they manage to down the Scarlets this weekend in the European play-off.

And after Allen Clarke’s first season in permanent charge, it would be a fitting reward for their efforts this year.

Unfortunate to miss out on the Final Series, it is their forward pack that has really caught the eye this year.

Their scrum has been exemplary – 95.2% success on their own ball the third best in the league and their four scrums won against the head the most in the entire competition.

Their 29 lineout steals are the most around while their 90.4% tackle success rate is comfortably the best in the business.

Should their attack click in similar fashion, they will be a tough nut to crack in the 2019/20 season.

8. Scarlets

Champions in 2017, runners-up in 2018, and now out of the Final Series and potentially not even in the Champions Cup next year, it has been a steep fall for the Scarlets.

Wayne Pivac can at least end on a high if they down the Ospreys this weekend but the numbers do not make for pretty reading for the Scarlets this year.

They finished the season with a defeat to the Dragons on Judgement Day, and while Johnny McNicholl was a revelation – there are few other mitigating factors in their seasonal slump.

Their attack remained impressive, third for metres made but fifth in the league for clean breaks and defenders beaten.

But they struggled for turnovers this year in Tadhg Beirne’s absence, missed more than their fair share of tackles, did not generate clean ball enough and creaked at scrum time.

 

9. Cardiff Blues

Right in the mix for the Final Series for much of the run-in, the Blues were made to pay in the end for defeats to Connacht and Ospreys that cost them dear.

But overall the Welsh capital side can reflect on a season of improvements in some areas with clear areas for improvement.

In terms of turnovers, there is no one to rival the Blues this year.

Olly Robinson and Nick Williams led the way as the team managed a league high 173 turnovers in the regular season, and remember Ellis Jenkins missed much of the campaign.

Their attack also caught the eye in flashes, their 413 defenders beaten was sixth overall in the league and defensively they made their tackles overall to the tune of an 88.2% success rate.

But their fundamentals need work, their lineout success rate of 81.6% was the second worst in the league and their scrum did not fare much better.

 

10. Edinburgh

It feels harsh to have Edinburgh this low after season that saw them make a first Champions Cup quarter-final for seven years and threaten the Final Series for much of the season’s business end.

But in the end, Richard Cockerill’s side came unstuck when it mattered most and will be playing Challenge Cup rugby next year.

Hard to believe for a team that kicked their goals better than any other in the league, enjoyed more possession than any other side and had the best scrum in the competition.

They also made off with the 1872 Cup once more but in key areas they were lacking.

Their attack could be predictable with only 103 offloads all season – every single other team in the league managed more – while in terms of clean breaks only the Kings and the Dragons were worse.

And in the end, that bluntness plus a lack of turnovers, 4.8 a game was 12th of the 14 teams, proved their undoing.

 

11. Toyota Cheetahs

A step backwards for the Cheetahs after last year’s impressive debut.

There will be no Final Series exploits for the Bloemfontein-based side this time around but they did finish the season on something of a high.

They won their last two league games of the season, also won in Italy this year and were one of the few teams to down Benetton Rugby in the second half of the campaign.

Their attacking style remains the envy of the league, with 169 offloads the second most in the competition for 430.1 metres made per game.

Their scrum and lineout remain middle of the road but it is their defence that has been their undoing.

Their tackle success rate of only 84.8% was comfortably the worst in the league

 

12. Dragons

Dean Ryan has a job on his hands next year in Newport but the Dragons did finish the season with a bang.

Downing the Scarlets at Judgement Day is no mean feat and their defence and set-piece proved the match of most of the sides in the league.

But with ball in hand, they will have to improve.

They were the worst in the league when it came to total carries, metres made, clean breaks and defenders beaten.

There is a clear pattern there, and one that needs addressing immediately.

 

13. Isuzu Southern Kings

The Kings continue to struggle on the road in the Guinness PRO14 but their baby steps are still moving forward in this league.

Two wins this year doubled their tally from last year and they make more offloads than nearly every team in the league with 153 for the season.

But their attack is still inconsistent and, like the Dragons, they must improve their possession time and metres made if they are to threaten the big boys at the other end.

 

14. Zebre

It all started so well for Michael Bradley’s side.

They won two of their first three games and were being spoken about in the same breath as Benetton when it came to the Italian revival.

But after a win against Edinburgh at the end of October the wheels came off, and they finished the season on a 14-game losing run in the league.

Injuries did not help their cause and they bravely continued their expansive style with 169 offloads the third most in the league.

But their lineout misfired horribly, 80.3% for the season on their own ball is not good enough, they could not kick their goals either with 60.3% made and also propped up the turnover table with only 95 made all season long.

 


 

The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

 

 

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