While the likes of Leinster and Munster have kicked off the domestic campaign in stylish fashion, despite their squads being depleted of 14 and 12 World Cup warriors respectively, other teams have found the going tougher without some of their more prominent names.
While a handful of teams have already displayed a level of marked improvement since welcoming back some of their biggest stars, we take a look at some of the key individuals who could make a crucial difference to their side’s exploits over the coming weeks.
Justin Tipuric – Ospreys
Ospreys have endured a tough start to proceedings in Conference A – winning just once in their first five games – a record that sees them sit sixth in the table, above only winless Zebre.
The Swansea-based side have been crying out for the return of their nine World Cup absentees and will be hopeful results will take a turn for the better with the likes of Owen Watkin, George North and Alun Wyn Jones soon to be back involved.
But Justin Tipuric will be one of the most welcome faces back at the Liberty Stadium, with the back-rower having enjoyed a stellar tournament on Wales’ journey to the semi-finals.
The 30-year-old was handed the captaincy in his side’s final pool match against Uruguay, and his handling ability, intelligence and leadership will undoubtedly strengthen Ospreys’ Guinness PRO14 credentials.
Josh Adams – Cardiff Blues
Another of the regions to have got their league season off to a disappointing start is Cardiff Blues, who remain without a victory since creeping past Isuzu Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth in Round 1.
Samoan centre Rey Lee-Lo was the first of five international returnees in the Blues’ defeat at home to Munster in Round 5 and as Conference B’s lowest scorers so far – with 92 points – they are in desperate need of more firepower.
7 cais mewn 7 gêm i Josh Adams… Mwy nag unrhyw un arall yn #CRB2019! 🏉🏴
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) November 4, 2019
Josh Adams could well be just the man they need, after he topped the World Cup try-scoring standings with seven, going over in Wales’ defeats to South Africa and New Zealand in the semi-final and third-place play-off respectively.
If Cardiff are to better their fourth-place finish in Conference A last season, the addition of the 24-year-old’s try-scoring prowess could be critical.
Iain Henderson – Ulster
Ulster sit behind only defending champions Leinster in Conference A and will be buoyed by their start to the season having just lost once away at Toyota Cheetahs.
Dan McFarland’s team are looking to go one better than their semi-final place in 2018-19, and while only three of their contingent were missing to the tournament in Japan, the return of skipper Iain Henderson will be a big boost.
Ireland endured a frustrating World Cup – exiting at the quarter-final stage – and the 27-year-old will be eager to utilise that disappointment to steer Ulster to their first Championship title since 2005-06.
Despite their second-place standing, the Belfast-based side have conceded the most points out of the top four teams in their pool and the addition of Henderson could be crucial in shoring up their defence and maintaining their impressive form.
Adam Hastings – Glasgow Warriors
Of all the Guinness PRO14 clubs, last year’s beaten finalists Glasgow Warriors were the most affected by the World Cup, with 16 of their squad absent in the early rounds of the campaign.
Following Scotland’s pool-stage exit, Dave Rennie has already seen the added strength at his disposal make a significant difference to results, with Round 5’s 50-0 win over Isuzu Southern Kings much more like the form we came to expect from the Warriors last season.
Key to that performance – that yielded only Glasgow’s second win of the season – was fly-half Adam Hastings, who was named player of the match in his country’s 61-0 thumping of Russia at the World Cup.
Hastings pulled the strings throughout a dominant showing at Scotstoun and together with the rest of his international counterparts will be focused on helping his team climb their way up the table in the coming weeks.
Mattia Bellini – Zebre
Zebre are one of just two sides still chasing a win this season, and currently stand as the lowest scorers with just 60 points from their opening five fixtures.
Results such as their 3-0 reverse at home to defending champions Leinster will have given the Italians hope that a win is within their grasp, but they are undoubtedly in need of improvement in attack.
Having had 10 absentees in the first few weeks, much of Zebre’s Azzurri talent is back on show following Italy’s early exit from the World Cup, and livewire Mattia Bellini looks among the likeliest to fire the Parma-based team to a win.
The 25-year-old notched two tries in Japan and has looked in imperious form back in domestic competition, so will be keen to add to the score he claimed against Ulster in Round 5.
Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!
General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.