Rugby in 2016: All-change or more of the same?

Greig Laidlaw will miss a last-minute penalty against England in the Calcutta Cup match and Craig Joubert will smile. Picture: Getty

Greig Laidlaw will miss a last-minute penalty against England in the Calcutta Cup match and Craig Joubert will smile. Picture: Getty

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What will the new year bring, all-change or just more of the same? Take a look into our crystal ball

CHAMPIONS CUP

Glasgow put in their best performance ever in Europe to unseat Racing 92 in Paris early in January before losing to the French giants at Scotstoun, falling to Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens and failing to make the quarter-finals of Europe… again.

The European Cup knock-out stages are populated entirely by French and English clubs with the sole exception of Ulster who exit at the quarters. Bath sign two Ulstermen. Purely from force of habit the English clubs issue a statement arguing that the whole system is hopelessly weighted against them… relegation… yadda yadda… salary cap… fill in the blanks yourself.

Once again the European Champions Cup is won by a big-money club packed with international talent culled from all corners of the globe and paid handsomely for their time… congratulations to Saracens. Harlequins complete the English double by winning the Challenge Cup, which tees up their director of rugby, Conor O’Shea, nicely for his summer move to Italy.

CALCUTTA CUP

England turn up at Murayfield looking an awful lot like Saracens who Eddie Jones used to coach. The most eagerly anticipated Calcutta Cup in a generation ends in a low-scoring draw, the stalemate satisfying only those who have money riding on it. Joe Launchbury is England’s new captain, Chris Robshaw has a great view from the back of the stand.

Greig Laidlaw hits the posts with what would have been a match-winning penalty in the final minute although television replays show it was awarded incorrectly. Somewhere in South Africa Craig Joubert smiles to himself.

From force of habit Sir Clive Woodward insists volubly that Stuart Lancaster needs to get his selection right before England can win anything. Somewhere in England Lancaster shakes his head and smiles ruefully to himself.

SIX NATIONS

The Six Nations committee adopts the bonus point system as per the leagues. It works! France and England both play with adventure and help produce one of the best tournaments in years even if the finale can’t quite match the last-day drama of last season.

A rejuvenated French team win the Six Nations trophy under the eye of the 61-year-old Guy Noves and a nation wonders why on earth the appointment wasn’t made a decade ago.

Inside Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, Craig Joubert is warmly welcomed by Scottish fans with a traditional offering of Irn-Bru, straight from the bottle. Unhappy at the competition for “worst referee in the world”, George Clancy retires and returns to the day job as a tax inspector in Ireland. Irish accountants weep. Referees continue to be undermined by technology that gives fans more information than the officials.

Ireland do well enough for Joe Schmidt to be handed the task of taking the Lions back to his native New Zealand in 2017. He asks Vern Cotter along for the ride and both men know that if the Lions win the series they will be in pole position to replace Steve “Shag” Hansen who will step down in 2017, win or lose. Despite defensive frailties Scotland finish with two-and-a-half wins in the campaign, their best showing for a decade. Italy finish bottom of the pile and O’Shea wonders what he was thinking of? Bath sign a couple of Italians anyway.

GUINNESS PRO12

An unconvincing Glasgow team sneak into the top four and the play-offs but fall to eventual winners Ulster at the quarter-final stage, Ospreys the losing finalists. Munster fail to make the play-offs and, after copping it in the press, coach Anthony Foley loses his post to Pat Lam, who has taken Connacht to a creditable fifth-place finish, one place above Alan Solomons’ Edinburgh who, finally, qualify for the Champions Cup. Bath sign another Edinburgh player to keep David Denton company.

SUMMER TOURS

Scotland see off Japan who are back to ordinary without the wit of Eddie Jones who has his hands full keeping the English press at bay after his new team are whitewashed Down Under by his old one. This despite England selecting the Fijian/Samoan Wasps’ No.8 Nathan Hughes and the Tigers’ Kiwi flanker Brendon O’Connor. Bath sign both men.

Ireland are whitewashed by the Springboks under new coach Jake White who insists on selecting South Africans wherever possible… much like Ireland and Scotland. CJ Stander is now a regular in green and Cornell du Preez is aiming for Scotland’s November squad and he duly makes the cut. Bath announce they have signed Du Preez and Stander.

Wales make history by beating New Zealand on home soil in the opening match but lose the series 2-1. Italy make history, losing to Canada in Toronto and O’Shea wonders what on earth he was thinking? Bath sign a couple of Canadians.

CLUB GAME

Heriot’s and Ayr contest the league final but the real arm wrestle is between those who want semi-professionalism and those who don’t.

LAWS

World Rugby announces a world-wide trial for the six-point try and the two-point penalty, but shelves the twin-referees idea for the time being. They trial a five-metres limit on pushing at the set scrum which is promising but the all-powerful front row union squashes it behind closed doors.

SUPER RUGBY

In the Super Rugby final, the Hurricanes beat the new kids on the block, the Jaguares, who have persuaded half of the Pumas to sign on the dotted line. (Mourad Boujellal of Toulon already has the other half.) The Sunwolves go through the season without a win to their name and are re-branded the “Sunbathers”. Bath sign a couple of them anyway.

NOVEMBER INTERNATIONALS

Scotland’s squad for the autumn internationals boasts three Kiwis, three Saffas and a real Dutchman, slowly but surely eroding what differentiates the international game from club rugby. Scotland’s all-comers beat Australia who spoil the result by not caring very much.

Meanwhile, Syrian refugees complain that they are being overwhelmed by swarms of Sanzar players who are heading to Europe in their thousands. Bath sign a couple of Syrian refugees.

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