Pro14: Previewing a big season ahead for the four Welsh regions

Sam Parry (Ospreys), Cory Hill (Dragons), Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues)
Sam Parry (Ospreys), Cory Hill (Dragons), Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues)

A new Pro14 season beckons and there has been a lot of change among the four Welsh regions during the summer.

The format remains the same with two conferences and no teams added to the tournament for the 2018-19 campaign.

However, there have been high-profile departures and arrivals in the playing and coaching ranks of the regions.

Scarlets, Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and Dragons are all aiming to topple champions Leinster, who completed the European and Pro14 double last season.

Wales-bound Pivac 'focused on Scarlets'

Wayne Pivac
Wayne Pivac is a former Fiji coach

The headline news surrounding the Scarlets' summer was the announcement Wayne Pivac will replace Warren Gatland as the new Wales head coach after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

This will be Pivac's fifth and final season in charge at Parc y Scarlets but the New Zealander says his focus remains with the region.

"It is work as normal and nothing has changed from the other four," he said.

"This is my job until the end of the season and I will work hard.

"I have not changed as a person and the coaching group won't change and our style will remain the same.

"There might be a bit more pressure from outside but it is business as usual. There is lead in time to the other job so I don't have to be worrying about that now."

Pivac's target will be to try to overhaul Irish powers Leinster, who defeated the Scarlets in the Champions Cup semi-final and Pro14 final in the space of six weeks at the end of last season.

Pro14 player of the year Tadgh Beirne has moved to Munster, while Scotland captain John Barclay has left for Edinburgh.

Wales duo Scott Williams and Aled Davies have made the short move to the Ospreys with Kieron Fonotia making the opposite journey.

The Scarlets have signed South African duo Uzair Cassiem and Clayton Blommetjies, while Scotland qualified New Zealand-born forward Blade Thomson and Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne have both come in.

Overhauling Leinster and replicating the Pro12 success of May 2017 is Pivac's aim for his swansong.

"We would love to lift a trophy. We had that Pro12 success a couple of seasons ago and those changing room memories in players' careers are the highlights.

"Hopefully we can have our best season yet. We have had a good look in the off season at what Leinster do well and what we have to do to close that gap.

"They are the benchmark; hopefully we can compete with them on the bigger stage."

All change in the capital

John Mulvihill has replaced Danny Wilson as Blues head coach
John Mulvihill has replaced Danny Wilson as Blues head coach

While the Scarlets are only preparing for change, it is all new at Cardiff Blues who were the only Welsh region to celebrate silverware in the 2017-18 season, winning the European Challenge Cup.

The final victory over Gloucester in Bilbao proved the last in charge for Danny Wilson, who has left the Blues and joined the Scottish set-up.

Backs coach Matt Sherratt has joined the Ospreys, leaving the Blues with a new-look set-up spearheaded by John Mulvihill.

The Australian has never been a recognised head coach but hopes he can build on last year's success.

"What we built from last year was some good momentum," said Mulvihill.

"We want to get back into finishing how we did last season with a lot of wins towards the end.

"What let the Blues down last season was the start so that is a big focus for is that we get away with some wins early."

There is no ex-Wales captain Sam Warburton following his summer retirement with flanker Ellis Jenkins taking over the captaincy from namesake Gethin.

Dmitri Arhip and Rory Thornton have arrived from the Ospreys while United States back-rower Samu Manoa is the big signing.

Lions losses for Ospreys

Justin Tipuric (left) has captained the Ospreys 27 times before taking over teh permanent role from Alun Wyn Jones (right)
Justin Tipuric (left) has captained the Ospreys 27 times before taking over teh permanent role from Alun Wyn Jones (right)

The Blues also qualified for this season's Champions Cup, while the Ospreys have to make do with the Challenge Cup.

There is a major change at the Liberty Stadium with Justin Tipuric taking over the captaincy from Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones, who had led the region for eight seasons.

"It is massive to try and fill the boots of someone who is one of the best captains in the world," said Tipuric.

"To take over from him is not going to be easy task."

Wales and Lions half-backs Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb have moved onto Northampton and Toulon respectively but Scott Williams and George North have arrived to provide some firepower.

The half-back void will be filled by new scrum-half Aled Davies and the hope of a revived Sam Davies.

New permanent head coach Allen Clarke will be assisted by Sherratt while Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards has signed up as a consultant.

"It is a fresh opportunity for everybody," said Clarke.

"We have new players coming in, a new skipper and changes in our management team and freshness of approach to our rugby.

"We are optimistic but realistic about the challenges ahead."

Second season success for Jackman?

Bernard Jackman
Bernard Jackman is a former Ireland hooker

Nobody has a more challenging season than Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman in his second campaign in charge at Rodney Parade.

The Irishman presided over a disastrous 2017-18 season with two victories, two draws and 17 defeats.

"Last season was incredibly difficult but it had to get worse before it got better," Jackman said.

"If we were going to be ruthless in trying to change the Dragons from the worst to the best region we needed to make hard decisions and not be completely focused on the short-term.

"Even though last year we knew we were building to something bigger it is horrible to be losing every week and it affects us all."

Jackman has overhauled the squad and brought in international forwards like Richard Hibbard, Ryan Bevington and Aaron Jarvis, with Wales back-rower Ross Moriarty the star signing.

The coach hopes the experienced influx will gel with young Welsh international players like captain Cory Hill, Hallam Amos, Tyler Morgan, Elliott Dee, Leon Brown and Aaron Wainwright, while 36-year-old Gavin Henson remains at Rodney Parade.

"It feels more like my project and team this season," said Jackman.

"We have made big changes in the backroom staff and added a lot of resources we were missing to give the players the best possible environment.

"We have a good influx of talent and experience to supplement the squad and help the Dragons change their place in the pecking order."

Pro14 Conference A

Glasgow Warriors, Munster, Toyota Cheetahs, Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Connacht, Zebre.

Pro14 Conference B

Leinster, Scarlets, Edinburgh, Ulster, Benetton Rugby, Dragons, Southern Kings.

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