Alan Quinlan: Leinster will win the Pro12
Former Ireland flanker believes Connacht can 'push hard' for their place in Champions Cup
Former Munster and Ireland forward Alan Quinlan has not changed his mind when it comes to the 2015 winner of the Guinness PRO12 League.
"I thought Leinster at the start of the year. I still think Leinster," he said.
"They have made some decent signings in Kane Douglas and Ben Te'o - he is very exciting for them.
"But, they are not where I thought they would be after eight rounds."
Leinster's latest step back was taken at lowly Treviso last Sunday.
"I still think they will claw their way back in, even if they end up away from home at the end of the season.
"They have so many to come back in and some of them are already there, like Dave Kearney," he added.
QUNNY ON ...
Quinlan sees Matt O'Connor's problems as solvable.
"Look, Leinster have had issues. Their depth has really been stretched, not just losing the household names, like Seán O'Brien and Cian Healy.
"They've gone down to third or fourth choice in some positions. They've brought Jamie Hagan back to help out at tight-head. That is no disrespect to Jamie. It is just unsettling.
"I fully expect Leinster to back in business in the near future because they have a lot of players coming back and they have too strong a squad to stay where they are."
The League leaders have shed the glamour boys for greater concentration on homegrown, young blood. And it is working.
"The Ospreys are the team that has been the most consistent. They are exciting to watch. They've probably been the least effected of the top five by having Welsh internationals taken away.
"This has allowed them to get their way of playing in place and to improve with the rounds. They are dangerous once they get flowing.
"They have also developed from within and they've been knocking on the door since their last title win in 2012."
There is a palpable positivity about Scottish rugby through the rise of Th e Warriors and the entry of Vern Cotter at national level.
"Overall, Glasgow and Ospreys have been the two standouts, so far," said Quinlan.
"They definitely have the consistency needed to compete and Glasgow have come close to the breakthrough in the last two seasons.
"They are playing a nice brand of rugby and have developed really well under Gregor Townsend."
Coach Anthony Foley has "simplified" Munster's playbook, gone back to old school values.
"Look, Munster could be top of the League if they had won two matches they should have at home to Edinburgh and The Ospreys.
"They were seen as disastrous results at the time. And they were.
"They have gone on a quiet kind of run of form, picking up four wins, three of them away from home to move into contention since the email scenario.
"They've got their confidence back. It was impressive how they went to The Dragons the other night and got a bonus-point against a club that would have few international call-ups."
The Northern Province has had to deal with a revolving door of coaches.
"They were very good against Glasgow three rounds back and took The Ospreys unbeaten record last week.
"Their question marks arise over their inability to perform in the Champions Cup against Toulon. They are in a strong position at joint-top with The Ospreys.
"It is just that if you go out of Europe before Christmas, it can have a really negative impact on the rest of the season."
Surely, it would be asking too much for Pat Lam to guide Connacht into the semi-final play-offs? Europe is a legitimate target.
"I have been taken with Connacht. I think they can push for that Top-6 or Top-7 depending on how it works out.
"There are four clubs already off the pace at the bottom with the two Italian clubs in a scrap for a Champions Cup place.
"They can really push for it," stated Quinlan. "They have (Mils) Muliaina, (Bundee) Aki, Tom McCartney, Robbie Henshaw returning to the group and (Kieron) Marmion moving into Ireland contention.
"This will build depth and you need that as injuries happen and form is lost.
"Consistency is the key there. They've shown in the early season form that they are very capable. No one will look forward to going to The Sportsground."