Well in this instance, it’s two new teams joining the newly re-vamped Pro14 in the guise of South Africa’s Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs.
Given the radio silence coming from the then Pro12 headquarters in the summer, rumours were running rampant as to what exactly the new format of the league would be, and it’s been with a fair bit of trepidation that the news of the new South African teams was welcomed. Is this really what the league needed?
Regardless of whether the answer to that is a yes or a no, there’s no doubting that these new teams bring much needed money with them, especially through television revenue which the longer rugby union is professional, the more vital that component is. The rather romantic side to me begrudges that as I would never wish for us to walk down the same farcical money route as Premiership Football, yet from a business and economical view point there’s no getting away from the fact that money is the key driver, and if the Pro14 has any chance of keeping with the English and French leagues then they must make changes to remain even remotely competitive.
The changes to the league with their new conference set up, whilst confusing on first reading it is now starting to settle in to place and I think it will be the best way they could have re-jigged the format for two additional teams. The double header weekends out to South Africa are going to be key fixtures given the different climate and weather our players will encounter and it’s a refreshing shakeup to a league that is often much maligned by its lack of competitive edge for the second half of the season.
The league structure isn’t the only change this season. There are new laws for us all to get our heads around too, many of which are the focus of the breakdown and in the Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh game last night we saw one team adapt much more quickly to it than the other.
From a Scarlets perspective, it’ll be interesting to see how the likes of James Davies, so often the lead player in breakdown stats, copes with the new laws. Early on as referees seek to impress the new laws on the game more vigorously, it is those teams that can adapt and learn most quickly that will take an early advantage in the W column.
The Scarlets have had a rather strange off-season with the rumbling rumour of Leigh Halfpenny joining seeming to take an age to be formally announced thanks to the WRU involvement as he joins us on a National Dual Contract. Yet there is no escaping the wave of positivity that seems to be emanating from Parc Y Scarlets at the moment.
Last season’s championship victory seems to have instilled a sense of confidence and belief that the team was it must be said often lacking. It’s a very strange feeling to be going into a new season as Champions and with confidence in how well my team can play. That’s a throwback feeling to the Scarlets’ inconsistent nature over the last decade so there’s always going to be a part of me that dreads our fall back to earth. Who knows when it will come, but I for one will approach every game as I did the last few of last season; I just want the players to play well. If they go out there and play well, then whether they win or lose (though obviously I’d prefer the former!) then I can’t ask for more. There will be times when sometimes their opponents are simply better.
The Scarlets team for today’s match is one of the strongest we could name for the first half of the season and it’s going to be a daunting prospect for Southern Kings in their first game in the league.
All I can say is bring on the season, I can’t wait to see how the Scarlets go in their bid to retain the title, and I can’t wait to see what the South African teams can bring to the league. For this supporter, I’m starting the season on a positive; let the roller coaster begin.