The 2016/17 Guinness Pro12 Dream Team was unveiled yesterday ahead of this evening’s final round of regular season matches and tomorrow night’s annual Pro12 Awards and while Munster’s return to successful ways was reflected with the inclusion of six players, the presence of just two from league leaders Leinster was met with some surprise in Dublin and its surrounds.
Back rowers Jack Conan and Dan Leavy were the only Leinstermen to top the poll of journalists and broadcasters from the Pro12’s four competing nations with Irish-based players accounting for 11 of the 15 places.
Second-placed Munster lead the way with a sextet of Jaco Taute, fellow centre Rory Scannell, fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal, props Dave Kilcoyne and John Ryan and second row Billy Holland while Ulster had Charles Piutau and Ruan Pienaar selected.
Welsh region Scarlets were the only other team to have more than one player in the line-up. Yet while some may see it as a conspiracy, Leinster may be the victims of their own strength in depth. Head coach Leo Cullen has used more than 50 players this season and with players needing a minimum number of 10 Pro12 appearances by the April 19 cut-off to qualify, that left just 22 Leinster players eligible for selection.
Of those, their chances may have been hampered by a split vote, particularly among the Leinster backline, where at fly-half, Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne would have vied with Bleyendaal for recognition, while Luke McGrath and Jamieson Gibson-Park might have given Pienaar a run for his money.
If nothing else it will stimulate some debate, heading into the play-offs, not least at the Guinness Storehouse tomorrow evening when the Pro12’s great and good will assemble to dish out further gongs, including a Dream Team captain, coach of the season, players’ player of the season, young player, Golden Boot and try of season.
Tiernan O’Halloran (Connacht); Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Jaco Taute (Munster), Rory Scannell (Munster), Charles Piutau (Ulster); Tyler Bleyendaal (Munster), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster); Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Ken Owens (Scarlets), John Ryan (Munster); Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Billy Holland (Munster); Dan Leavy (Leinster Rugby), James Davies (Scarlets), Jack Conan (Leinster).
Piutau; Adam Byrne (Leinster), Taute, Scott Williams (Scarlets), Ronan O’Mahony (Munster); Bleyendaal, Ali Price (Glasgow); Kilcoyne, Ken Owens, Ryan; Toolis, Holland; Leavy, Davies, Dan Baker (Ospreys).