The 2017-18 Pro12 season is set to become a little more international with the addition of two South African teams: the Cheetahs and Southern Kings. Assuming the deal doesn’t fall apart, the South Africans could add some flavor to the historically Celtic league.
The new season kicks off in September but the league is still in a state of flux. The Cheetahs and Southern Kings still haven’t received official confirmation and last year’s wooden spoon recipients, Zebre, are under new management following a payment dispute. [AUG 2. UPDATE: the expansion to 14 teams is now official.]
With all these growing pains, the upcoming Pro12 (potentially Pro14) season seems quite unpredictable. The dominance of the big three — Leinster, Munster, Ospreys — may come under threat with the inclusion of the Cheetahs, and the refurbished Zebre may no longer be a guaranteed last-place finisher.
How will all these changes affect the league favorites? Let’s check out the preseason odds!
PRO 12 PRO14 TITLE ODDS: 2017-18
Leinster have been a dominant force since the Celtic League days, and that’s not about to change. They’ll be adding seven homegrown players to their squad this season along with Brumbies lock Scott Fardy and Chiefs fullback James Lowe.
With four titles and five runner-ups, Leinster is the most successful club in Pro12 history. Their strong academy guarantees that they’ll continue to be a force to be reckoned with, and they are once again the favorites this season.
Last season’s first-place finishers had an amazing run but faltered during the final, losing 46-22 to Scarlets. This year, they’ve promoted five kids from the academy and recruited South Africans Chris Cloete and Gerbrandt Grobler.
A high-stakes choke denied them the prize, but they were the most consistent team throughout the season. Once again, they’re a top contender for 2017-18.
An amazing run in the knockout rounds last season gave Scarlets their second ever win. After finishing a distant third to Munster and Leinster, Bois Sospan went on to defeat both by a significant margin in the semifinal and final.
The defending champions haven’t made many changes to the squad since last season, which makes sense given how they finished up the year.
Ospreys only just made it through to the semifinals last season, edging past Ulster on bonus points. They’ve won every final they’ve reached in Pro12, but in the last few years they’ve struggled to get that far. Scarlets are now hot on their heels for the title of most successful Welsh team.
If granted a spot at Pro12, the Cheetahs could cause quite a stir against their northern counterparts. The Irish and Welsh have dominated the league since its inception, while Scottish side Glasgow Warriors have had just one win and the Italian clubs have traditionally wallowed around the bottom of the table.
With an all-South African squad that includes players like Francois Venter, Rayno Benjamin, and Oupa Mohojé, the Cheetahs could potentially wreak havoc in Europe.