The presence of Benetton and Zebre in the Guinness Pro14 means followers of the league have been aware of the possibility of postponements and cancellations of games because of Covid-19 for nearly a month now. With up to nine rounds still to play, the tournament has now been suspended indefinitely.
The international nature of the league means that renewing the tournament could be much more complicated than other domestic leagues. David Jordan, Tournament Director PRO14 Rugby, said, “We have made this decision with everyone’s welfare foremost in our minds. With an evolving situation in the five countries that take part in Guinness PRO14 it is important to make a clear decision that is in keeping with the advice of the various governments involved.”
The current policy is that both teams in a cancelled game would be awarded two match points, with the game deemed a 0-0 draw but that approach may now be under review. If it were to be implemented, however, the only material difference to the conference standings would be to lift Benetton into fifth place above Cardiff Blues.
Whatever happens, it seems likely that this season will become a pub quiz answer at some point down the line. But, if the season were truly over as things stand, how might the teams involved assess their seasons? After all, a global tournament like the Rugby World Cup can be planned for, a global pandemic can not.
RugbyPass reviews each team in the Pro14.
Situated in Northern Italy, it is unlikely that fans and players are thinking too much about rugby right now. Benetton are arguably one of the most-improved teams in Europe in recent years and would, in other circumstances, perhaps be disappointed not to have repeated last season’s position in the league or done better in the Heineken Champions Cup.
That said, their first Champions Cup victory since 2015 against Lyon will remind them that they can mix it with the big boys on their day, as will yet more evidence that they can take on Leinster better than most in this league.
With the type of platform his pack has shown they can provide, Tommy Allan increasingly looks like a fly half who can take a team to the next level.
Mood: purely looking on the field, things are mixed. There is hope for next season but they might have expected more than fifth.
Another tough season, although news of the postponement came not long after Blues announced they had five remaining fit backs. Consistency continues to elude them but so, frequently, does luck.
In their final PRO14 fixture before postponement, away to Conference B leaders Edinburgh, they went down 14-6 but, despite having three players drop out of the matchday 23 before kickoff, put in an impressive defensive performance to keep one of the best teams in the league to only one try.
Elsewhere, there is cause for optimism: a stellar backline will include Nick Tompkins next season and Matthew Morgan has re-signed after improved defensive performances. They top the league by some distance for turnovers and, in Shane Lewis-Hughes, look to have another exciting back row talent.
Mood: disappointed but plenty to build on if they can find some consistency.
After a tough second album, Cheetahs have fought their way up the conference to be close to where they were in their impressive first season. As things stand, they would miss out on the play-offs although, given their style, they might have expected to make up the two points on Glasgow as the weather improved, especially with most of their remaining games scheduled to be at home.
Their discipline has been woeful, with nine yellow cards and two reds putting them at the bottom of the league in that particular department although at least that is a clear work on, as is their defence. Yet again, attack has been their redemption.
Mood: Fairly positive. It’s always tough to enter a new competition, especially one with significantly different playing conditions and styles. Cheetahs can look forward to their third season, as long as they can curb their addiction to yellow cards.
Like Cheetahs, Connacht are currently only two points off third place and might have hoped to leapfrog Scarlets towards the end of the season. As it stands, a play-off for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup against Dragons would be their consolation prize and one you fancy they might have won.
The western Irish province are another team to have been hit badly with injuries this season and, all things considered, have performed fairly well. Head coach Andy Friend has no time for excuses, however, and was ready to push his team to an end-of-season PRO14 surge.
Mood: middling, albeit with high standards. Plenty of cause to be optimistic about next season, with an impressive defence and still much to show in attack.
This has been their best season for some time, with five wins under the belt already, including two out of three of the festive derbies. An actual spot in the play-offs may have been beyond them but they look like they would have been the Conference A representative in the Champions Cup play-off and how that would have been welcomed by the region!
In Europe this season, they made the knockouts of the Challenge Cup and their pipeline of young talent continues, with Taine Basham getting plenty of interest from Wales. If they can keep Cory Hill under contract, they will look forward with hope.
Mood: thrilled. It’s been a long time since Dragons fans had knockout games to look forward to and they would probably have had two.
Leinster have understandably received most of the attention in the Pro14 but, in a highly competitive conference, Edinburgh emerged as the pace-setters of Conference B. They have more wins and a better points difference than anyone but Leinster across the entire league and they have earned them with a series of impressive performances.
Such has been their success that many have been clamouring that coach Richard Cockerill should be considered for an international position but Edinburgh fans will hope they can keep their man. Another they will be looking to keep is winger Duhan van der Merwe, surely one of the players of the season.
Mood: proud. There will be disappointment that they couldn’t take it all the way to the final if the play-offs are also cancelled but they are undoubtedly one of the teams of the season and have a firm foundation.
Technically, Glasgow sit in third place, with qualification for Europe’s premier competition secured alongside a play-off spot but it’s not been the most uplifting season for the Warriors.
They have regained ground after a tough start although they have struggled against the stronger sides, amply demonstrated by their two losses to weakened Leinster sides. Warriors are not alone in losing in Dublin, of course, but they will have expected more of themselves than a 55-19 drubbing with many of their own internationals in the team.
Mood: disappointed, although their destiny remained in their own hands. They need to show up better in key games, however, as a team with their ambitions know all too well.
To win everything and nothing feels like a philosophical musing rather than a season summary but Leinster’s extraordinary season might have an even more extraordinary conclusion. A month ago, all the talk was whether they might end the season unbeaten, having swept all aside in Europe and the Pro14. Now the question is whether they will sink to a pub quiz answer or an asterisk of a season.
Such has been their dominance this season, it would seem fair to consider them winners in the Pro14 but sport, like life, is not fair and it may well be that their superb performances receive nothing. Will we remember them as one of the best teams of the modern game or a footnote? Perhaps the philosophers can answer us.
Mood: philosophical. This superlative team is built on foundations that only seem to get stronger and they have bounced back from disappointment before.
Another philosophical Irish conundrum: can a team underperform and still rate their season highly? In Munster’s case, the answer is probably yes. A team of their aspirations and history would have expected more convincing performances in domestic and European competitions. Yet they are comfortably second in Conference B and a number of exciting young players have shown more promise at this level, not least Craig Casey.
New attack coach Stephen Larkham has had a disrupted first season, especially with first-choice fly half Joey Carbery injured, but it’s clear his methods are starting to have an impact.
Mood: upbeat about the future. With Damian de Allende and RG Snyman expected at Thomond Park next season, who wouldn’t be positive?
Difficult to imagine a worse season for the former galacticos, with problems on and off the field. A 13-match losing run was broken with an impressive 26-24 victory over Ulster but otherwise there has been precious little cheer about. Former captain and talisman Alun Wyn Jones spoke out about the off-field issues after one particularly dispiriting loss, revealing his frustrations.
With a new coach, new signings, and the promise of a new start, next season can’t come soon enough.
Mood: looking to the future. With a season like that, who would look back?
It’s been an unusual season for Scarlets. They started well, with new coach Brad Mooar reviving the region after a difficult final season under Wayne Pivac and making light of their many international absences and injuries with a string of wins.
Results didn’t initially tail off with the announcement that he would be leaving at the end of the season to join Ian Foster’s New Zealand staff but they are currently in a dogfight for the third place rather than aiming for a home semi-final.
That said, there’s plenty to be excited about next season. Steff Evans and Uzair Cassiem have found their form, Jac Morgan looks like another excellent back row prospect, and there are still so many to return from injury.
Mood: mixed. They have learned to aim higher but a Challenge Cup quarter-final and a domestic play-off spot would have been a solid result.
ISUZU SOUTHERN KINGS
Another difficult season for Kings, who have not adjusted to this league in the way their fellow South African side have. Discipline and leadership have been poor but interim boss Robbi Kempson understands the problems his side face and has put steps in place for the long term.
New owners, new players, a new approach to contracts (longer-term), and new ambition mean Kings might be an interesting team for the neutral over the next few years, even if this season remained a disappointment.
A first away win, at a struggling Ospreys side, is another box ticked on the long road to improvement. As limited as they currently are, it was not long ago that Benetton and Dragons were equally poor.
Mood: resignation mixed with cautious optimism. It’s no worse than it was before and there’s reason to believe it might get better.
Second place in Conference A behind the all-conquering Leinster, a Champions Cup quarter-final, and John Cooney. It’s been a decent season for Ulster fans so far with reason to believe it might have got at least a little bit better.
The rapid rise of Robert Baloucoune is another reason Ulster fans have enjoyed much of the season and squad news for next season is promising. It hasn’t been an unmitigated success and the form of Leinster will have stopped them from getting too carried away but it has been a good season for the Ulstermen with many reasons for optimism.
Mood: positive. While a Pro14 or European final is probably beyond them at this stage, there is some exciting talent at Ravenhill and it has been on show enough this season to keep fans happy.
Another difficult season and one in which off-field events have understandably taken priority. The poor form of Ospreys and Kings, alongside an impressive win over Cheetahs, means, as it stands, they would finish twelfth in the overall league – a small improvement on recent years.
The best scrum and discipline in the league and the second best lineout are a foundation from which they can make progress, however, and it is clear that is the aim, with the contracts of twelve forwards renewed this season. If they can add more sparkle like the exciting Mattia Bellini, they might find themselves rising upwards a little.
Mood: on the field, there is some – limited – reason to be optimistic. There are exciting young players emerging from Italy’s improved youth system and Zebre will hope to benefit from that along with Benetton.
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