Iain ‘Mystic’ Morrison digs his crystal ball from the kitchen cupboard to see what 2017 holds for rugby
1Everything from the Champions Cup final to The Great British Bake Off, will be seen through the prism of the British and Irish Lions summer tour to New Zealand.
Some will reduce the Six Nations to little more than a series of trials for the tour. Players will be selected for the Test team, dropped to the Wednesday squad and then overlooked altogether long before the 747 takes off.
2The Lions will win the opening Test in New Zealand, their first since Gavin Hastings’ team of 1993, but lose the series 2-1. The Lions’ Test team is mostly culled from Irish and English ranks. A smattering of Scots will get the nod, especially for the third Test by which time it is last man standing, but probably not the ones that are heavily backed now.
3Eddie Jones’ England will equal the All Blacks’ winning streak of 18 when they beat Scotland at Twickenham but they will not break the record, losing to Ireland in Dublin the very next weekend. That showdown on the final day will give Ireland the championship but not the Grand Slam since they lost to Scotland at Murrayfield in the opening round. The Scots win three matches for the first time since 2006, beating Ireland, Wales and Italy.
4Glasgow make the quarter-finals of the European Cup for the first time since... EVER! They sneak into the Guinness Pro12 play-offs thanks to a late run on the rails but lose the semi-final for the second year running. Munster top the table at the end of the regular season, powered by the memory of the late Anthony Foley, but Leinster win the play-offs and that success propels Stuart Lancaster into the top job at Edinburgh.
5Edinburgh’s move to Myrseside sees the attendance drop as the lack of parking combines with a lack of success. The club finishes in the bottom four.
Edinburgh’s issues lie not with the coach but with the senior players. They need Al Kellock, or rather they need Kellock and a time machine to return to the era when the lock was prime leadership material.
Until the senior players take ownership and drive standards Edinburgh will continue to under-achieve.
6The whole head injury debate will continue with both sides getting shriller by the minute, especially following the inevitable retirement of George North. Both sides have a point. The game must put player welfare at the top of its priorities but at the same time iron out some of the inconsistencies and allow the put-upon players to actually play. Sometimes you wonder how anyone enters a breakdown at all given the myriad laws delineating exactly what they CAN’T do. As Gregor Townsend correctly noted of Brian Alainu’uese’s recent red card, it probably would not have been given a few weeks ago! Most attacking players lead with their noggin so it can be difficult for defenders to avoid it.
7One simple change to the scrum laws, allowing them to move just five metres, brings to an end constant collapses and resets. It also ends the absurd situation whereby one player is penalised simply because he is not quite as good as his opposite number. It doesn’t happen anywhere else on the field... why should it happen at the set scrum?
So the dominant scrum gains five metres and the subservient scrum retreats five metres without falling down, standing up or losing their binding, and play continues.
The integrity of the set scrum is preserved because teams can still win a pushover try from a five-metre scrum.
8Gregor Townsend inherits the best Scotland squad of the professional era and makes a very decent fist of things as you’d expect. His teams play a little too much rugby to begin with but soon learn that the international game is a different animal to the Pro12 or even the Champions Cup. His trickiest task is to find a suitable back-up for Finn Russell although Ruaridh Jackson was, typically, both erratic and effective in a recent and rare start for Quins against Gloucester.
9Ireland get the 2023 Rugby World Cup – a relief to those of us who view long-haul flights as incarceration without due process.