This season’s Aviva premiership has seen quite a few intriguing ups and downs. With the inclusion of the IRB Rugby World Cup, a few of the big boys started the season with quite a few big guns missing from their squad some teams struggled, while some teams heavily profited.
Those teams lacking their top boys may have seen it as a punishment for their success!
Losing 11 players to the RWC the Tigers were certainly one of the teams hit the hardest. They managed a win in their first match but then lost their next 4/5 fixtures with a crushing 25-50 against Saracens. With the players returning from duty, Tigers returned to form winning their next 6/7 games and playing an epic 24-24 against London Irish helping them back up the league raising 4th in the table.
Another team that took a big knock from the RWC was Saints, with the likes of Ashton, Foden, Hartley and Lawes all missing in action on the other side of the world. With a slim two point victory in the first game over Gloucester, they faltered and lost their next four games, including a 12-3 against Worcester. But then came some big wins; 33-3 against Chiefs, beating Falcons 44-15 and the convincing victory against Saracens 30-8. Then came the tense and feisty fixture against Tigers, seeing two red cards and Ashton being cited and receiving a ban. The final score saw a 30-25 win for Tigers. They’ve since settled down to three more wins and have been elevated to 3rd in the league.
The team that is sitting high up on the top perch at the moment is Quins who have come out of the blocks with all guns blazing, winning their first 10 fixtures and displaying some attractive scores and rugby along the way. A comprehensive win over Gloucester saw the cherry and whites go down 42-6. A lead against Sale had to be held onto, after being 48-21 up the Sharks ran in four tries and two conversions with just eight minutes to go, holding onto a 48-41 win. So far they’ve got to this point with 11 wins and two losses, which came at the hands of Saracens and Saints.
A team who seemed not to be too hard hit by the RWC was Saracens. Their first game was a defeat to Wasps but the next game was a squeaky finish against Bath, when the young emerging talent of Owen Farrell hit both posts with a kick that dropped over to give them the a two point victory with the final kick of the game. This began a compelling seven game unbeaten run before their loss to a full strength Saints. To date, they’re up to 10 wins, two losses and a hard fought draw against Gloucester with Farrell scoring all the points as Freddie Burns skirted home all of Gloucester. Their results have seen them hitting the dizzy heights of second and proving last year’s champions have a deeper strength in their squad than Tigers and Saints.
One team that appear to be finding premiership life the hardest at the moment is the most northerly team of Newcastle Falcons. They’re rooted to the foot of the table and nine points adrift of safety. A string of results that has not gone their way now sees them struggling for their league lives. After 13 rounds they hit the skids with two wins, one draw and 10 losses. They were desperately unlucky against Tigers conceding a late try to lose by one point, and they were lucky to win by the same margin beating Gloucester 26-25. Despite their hard work – especially Jimmy Gopperth – the results just have not rolled their way.
The most frustrating and surprising team this year has to be Bath. A team full of talent and promise owned by a man who wants to take the club places, yet a very faltering season has ensued. With an opening win against Falcons it looked to be a successful start to the campaign; a close fought game against Sarries seeing them lose by two points with the last kick, followed by some very close games either winning or losing by a few points. With the signing of Stephen Donald after the RWC, Bath was hoping to kick start their season but, unfortunately, this was not to be. Up to round 13 they’ve recorded 5/13 wins, one of which was a record score of 30-3 against London Irish. With such a topsy-turvy season Baths DIR Sir Ian McGeechan is coming under much scrutiny. How can such a strong squad not be firing well at all?
A team that looked like they could capitalise on all the absent players away serving their nations was Wasps. A surging start by beating Saracens and Tigers stood them in very good stead. But it seems this may have been as good as it gets, losing eight out of the next 10 fixtures, their two victories coming against fellow strugglers Bath and Worcester Warriors. In the return match against the Warriors we saw one of the lowest scoring games since the Avia Premiership began, a dire 6-0 in Warriors’ favour.
Worcester were the newly promoted team from the Championship, and were thought to be this season’s whipping boys. At the moment they are having a mixed time with results. Starting with a win over Sale Sharks closely followed by two defeats at the hands of Gloucester and Saracens – but jubilant with the return fixture against the Cherry and Whites after losing to Gloucester 29-8 -they returned the favour by winning 21-15. At this stage of the season they’ve got to seven losses, five wins and a draw, now focusing on finishing mid-table to secure their Premiership survival. A potential squad that could ride this season and secure their place and build for next year’s campaign.
With there only being 12 points separating 10th and 3rd and nine rounds left to play you could consider the table to be open. A few wins and loses in fixtures left to come could see a major shuffle in league placings. The filling in the middle of this premiership sandwich comes from four teams all vying to compete for at least a top four spot and standing a chance for a playoff. The mid-table quartet consists of London Irish, Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks and Gloucester.
Sitting at the top of the middle four is London Irish, who are having a very even split in results. From their 13 games they’ve won six, lost six and drawn one. Due to so many of their matches being so close they have managed to secure quiet a few bonus points; albeit two results have finished within 6 points, many only being as little as one! The other results have come in the form of a win against Falcons 46-29 and defeat 30-3 Bath. A problem the Exiles have suffered with is the poor discipline record, especially of Delon Armitage, who has had a few sin bins but notably a five week ban for a dangerous tackle on Tom Biggs and dropping a knee on Dave Attwood in the Bath game earlier in the season.
After their first trip to the top flight last season, Exeter Chiefs are enjoying life in the Premiership. Exeter’s refreshing approach to promotion last season has secured them in the dog fight for a top four spot and big chance for play offs! A brave start to their campaign by beating Tigers and Falcons, they’ve had a few peaks and troughs in results. They’ve managed to secure six wins and seven defeats in 13 games and successfully doing the double over Falcons. Because of their fairly close results, they have picked up six losing bonus points, lifting them above Sharks by one point.
Sharks are in a very familiar place as Chiefs winning 6/13 of their games. Starting off with a loss to Warriors, it looked like it could be a bit of a shaky season. Luckily they followed up with a few good wins against Irish, Wasps and Saints and it looked like this could be a season of good things. After an epic 48-41 loss to Quins they still maintained a few more wins against Gloucester, Bath and Falcons. Again like so many of the central tier, several of the losses have been close, so keeping them in contention for that hope of a playoff spot.
A team which is at the bottom of the close stack central in the Premiership is Gloucester. With the true emergence of a key player of the future – Freddie Burns, they as Chiefs, Irish and Sharks are coming up with some close caught bouts, starting of with a hard and close game with Saints but losing by a narrow margin of two. This was followed up by a few hit and miss results – 29-8 win over Warriors, 42-6 loss to Quins the 2 wins 23-6 against Bath 33-30 against Irish. This began a flourish of ups and downs. Gloucester got to round 13 with five wins, seven losses and one draw but managing to scoop up six losing bonus points.
With the RBS Six Nations approaching fast and the exodus of players that are now reporting for international duties, we could see a full re-jiggle of places in the league. With it being so close in points it could turn out to be some interesting times ahead.
2011-2012 – AVIVA PREMIERSHIP RUGBY