Aviva Premiership Round 18: 5 things we learned

bath sale

1. The Tigers roar again
The East Midlands derby was, as so often is the case, the game of the weekend, and, as has so often been the case in recent years, it was the Tigers who came up trumps. This time last year it was a win at Franklin’s Gardens that sparked their late season charge to the title – what price that same thing happening this year? A ridiculous injury list and the strengthening of their rivals means they are still outsiders for the title, but the Leicester outfit look to have their swagger back, and that is bad news for the rest of the Premiership. With a host of those injured big names returning in recent weeks or set to return soon, you write the Tigers off at your peril.

2. A ray of light for Worcester
Let’s face it, in all likelihood Worcester will still be relegated at the end of this season. They are nine points adrift with four games to play, and still have to face Bath and Saracens away. That said, their win at the weekend against Newcastle was not before its time – they have threatened in recent weeks, and could quite conceivably have beaten any of Wasps, Quins, or Tigers. Newcastle have an easier run-in, but if Worcester can grab a win in the next could of rounds Newcastle will be sweating. It’s a long shot, but not impossible.

3. Chiefs on the slide
It has been a difficult season for the Chiefs. Having challenged for the play-offs for the past couple of season, most were expecting the Devon-based side to do similar this year. For whatever reason, it hasn’t quite happened for them this season and after a home loss to Gloucester (who have hardly set the Premiership alight this season) they find themselves languishing down in ninth. They have impressed in their European jaunts these past couple of seasons, but now face an almost impossible challenge to catch sixth-placed Quins, who are 14 points ahead of them (assuming it is six teams that will qualify for next year’s European Cup). They will rally and come back strongly next season – it is in their DNA – but it has not been a good campaign for the Chiefs.

4. Sale to scupper Bath’s best-laid plans?
After playing a blinder for most of the season and looking comfortable in their new position amongst the upper echelons of the Premiership, Bath suddenly look vulnerable. Their loss to Sale has left them just four points clear of the men from the North West, and they now can ill afford any further slip-ups. Sale, meanwhile, are having a great time putting the proverbial cat amongst the Premiership big-dogs’ pigeons, and have confounded several pundits’ pre-seasons predictions for them (this writer included). With Danny Cipriani on form and a gnarled group of forwards, not to mention the brute power of their sublime centres Jonny Leota and Sam Tuitupou, they have more than a chance of making the play-offs. Their remaining fixtures read: Quins (H), Exeter (A), Tigers (H), London Irish (A), while Bath’s are: Gloucester (A), Worcester (H), Northampton (H), Quins (A). Certainly all to play for there.

5. Can anyone stop Sarries?
It is starting to look like Sarries’ title to lose. Northampton and Bath’s form have fallen away alarmingly, while the Tigers have left themselves with an awful lot to do. Sarries, meanwhile, just keep plodding along at the top. When they lost at home to London Irish a few rounds ago they could have gone into a tailspin (see: “Northampton Saints”), but now it just looks like a blip. They swotted Wasps away with minimal issues, scoring some belting tries along the way. They face Saints at home in the next round, and then have Newcastle and Worcester in consecutive weeks. Win those three and top spot and all the confidence that goes with it will be theirs, regardless of what happens on the final day against the Tigers. After they came unstuck from a similar position last season, there’s little chance they’ll let it happen again.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

20 thoughts on “Aviva Premiership Round 18: 5 things we learned

  1. Starting to look like a Saracens vs Tigers final to me.

    Saracens and Saints to be the home teams but Tigers to beat Saints away again. Saracens to swot aside whoever out of Bath and Sale finish fourth.

    Can’t pick between Tigers and Sarries though.

    Any news of Geoff Parlings return from injury? And Tom Croft? Is there any other significant injuries for Tigers? Other than Cole obviously.

    1. Parling a couple of weeks away, Croft to be out for rest of the season. The reference to injuries was more regarding the season so far.

      I think Sarries will definitely be in the final, and it’ll be incredibly tight between Saints and Tigers for that final spot (unless Tigers do the impossible and chase down Saints and get a home semi). They won’t hold any fear going to Franklin’s Gardens in the semi, but if Myler plays it will be a lot more difficult.

      1. Yeh the injury enquiry was more me wondering than in reference to the article. Will be good to see Parling back. Strange how people seem to have forgotten what a player he is since he has been injured. All the talk is about Launchbury/Lawes, then about Attwood/Slater etc. when Parling will be very close to starting when fit. Top player!

        However the semi’s shape up, I think Tigers and Saracens are the two form teams and will end up in the final. How does that leave the England side for the first test?

        1. Marler 2. Hartley 3. Wilson 4. Launchbury 5. Lawes 6. Wood 7. Robshaw 8. Morgan 9. Care 10. Ford 11. Yarde 12. Twelvetrees 13. Burrell 14. Wade/Nowell 15. Brown

        Ok as I was writing that I realised that it will actually work out well for England. Can that be right that only Tuilagi and Farrell are starting options for England? Dan Cole as well when fit.

        1. Big Billy V. would be missing as well (who is close to returning to action). But it is quite surprising that a Tigers Vs Sarries final is one of the lowest impact permutations on a starting XV.

          Before Saints are written off lets see how they go when Manoa is back (away on international duty), if he’s not the Premiership’s MVP I have no idea who is! If Saints secure a home semi (which I think they will) and have Manoa and Myler in then they are favourites to make a final whoever the opponents.

          1. Wouldn’t say I’ve written Saints off, I just think when it comes to these big games, it’s the Tigers who seem to really believe that they will win it!

            Any news on when Corbs might be back in?

              1. Same sort of information on Wade. Expect him back this season but it isn’t clear when exactly.

                Ideally he needs some game time or the NZ tour won’t really be an option, or if he does go, he will be severely undercooked for it.

      2. The Times this morning noted that there was a chance that Croft may return before the season’s end.

        Probably too late for the England trip, but it is difficult to see where he fits in at the moment anyway.

        1. Interesting that you think it’s hard to see how Croft hits into how we play? To me he looks like he’d really suit the style of rugby we are playing.

          I assume this draws back to the 6/7 combo having the Wood/Robshaw work ethic. This is obviously working, BUT, there is still place for a Croft.

          The suggestion that he doesn’t do the dirty work is out-dated, and he has talents that no other English back row can offer.

          I think he’d be better paired with Wood than Robshaw, as he can act as that link-man, just with more pace and ability on the ball. Obviously dropping Robshaw is no easy decision, but Croft on for either Robshaw or Wood with half hour left could be interesting.

          1. We have had this discussion time and time again on this blog and I still hold that you are wrong.

            England’s play at the moment is massively reliant on the work at the breakdown and in defence by Robshaw and Wood. Change that balance and it is likely to fall apart as in the Wales game last year

            You say that the suggestion that Croft doesn’t do the work here is in my opinion incorrect. He may do some of it but by no means does he approach the work rate of either Robshaw or Wood.

            He is a good line-out option, but we seem to be fine in that area and i would not sacrifice either of our current flankers for Croft just because he jumps well.

            As for a bench option, who would you replace with him? Morgan?

            1. Completely disagree that we are dependant on Wood/Robshaw. There are important cogs in the England machine, but that does not exclude Croft.

              Englands work at the breakdown is down to the whole pack being excellent in that department, not just this Wood/Robshaw axis. In fact, I’d argue Launchbury and Cole offer as much, if not more that Robshaw in that area. Big fan of both Wood and Robshaw, but that does not discount Croft.

              In the same way, I really like Hartley has a hooker because he is very solid at the set piece and his throwing is outstanding. That doesn’t mean there is not times to see Tom Youngs come into the fold with his carrying in wider channels. Variety amongst a squad is vital.

              The Wales comparison isn’t relevant IMO. You can’t pin the pack being completely bullied and out manoeuvred on Croft playing, that’s absurd. That was an intensity issue on the day, and helped this England pack mature.

              I would absolutely have him on the Bench over Morgan. England do not have many world class talents lying around, leaving out a player who has been on two Lions tours is crazy.

              1. The Croft thing is a seriously tricky one. He is personally my favourite player and one who has that illusive ability we always harp on about under various guises-‘ x-factor’, ‘point-of-difference’, ‘ability to conjure something from nothing’. He may not score a 60 metre try every match (something which I always think then gets unfairly counted against him…) but he does it regularly enough in international games to warrant inclusion.

                It’s one of those ‘we will never know until we try’ situations for testing a new look back row. Personally I would be happy with him playing with Robshaw whose speed to the breakdown has infinitely improved this season. Remember we thought we couldn’t have both Lawes and Launchbury together as we needed ‘a line-out operator’. Good players will subtly adapt to take on new roles whilst keeping that essence of what makes them so good. Croft will do more breakdown work in a partnership with Robshaw than he does with Salvi as he’d have to, But that doesn’t mean every now and again we won’t see him break an international back line and score a match winning try…

                Give it a go. If it doesn’t work we revert to Wood and Robshaw- still an excellent combo.

              2. Be great to have Croft back as a bench option (his big busts tend to come later in a game anyway), but if we had a Woodshaw injury then I’d prefer to get a grafter like Haskell in instead.

                It’s not that Croft never hits a ruck or never makes a tackle, but he hits fewer rucks, isn’t particularly dynamic at the ruck and doesn’t make as many tackles. Picking him and asking him to play tight (like the first Lions test) is like picking Manu and asking him to always kick, it’s not his strength. But if he starts and is asked to play to his strength then there’s an load of work that remains undone that has to be soaked up by other players.

                Bench impact to help up the tempo with his perfect lineout delivery and find some space out wide is the best use. Be happy to see him back so we at least have the option!

              3. The Lions is irrelevant. Even Andy Powell has been on a Lions Tour, which shows that any old bugger can play for them.

          2. Don’t get me wrong Jacob. I do not buy in to the view that Croft spends all his time hanging around with the backs leaving the dirty work to the others.

            My view is more how the balance of the back row shifts when he is included, lets say in the 23.

            If he is on the bench, then he replaces either Morgan, or the replacement Lock. Whichever place here he takes, he offers a different game.

            If he starts, then he replaces either 6 or 7. Replacing Robshaw is probably not so different in terms of playing effect, but it is a big call on the dynamics of the team (I would guess), given not only that he is captain, but also that he appears to be a very good captain.

            He is better than Wood in the line (in fact he is better than most players in the line), but he is not as effective defensively as Wood, and given that turnovers at the tackle are not Englands strength, they really need a top notch offensive defender at 6.

            1. There is no reason why he can’t come on as a replacement for Wood or Robshaw, changing the dynamic slightly towards the end of a game.

              If he started, over say Wood, you would definitely lose a lot in the tight, but then you’d benefit in other areas. It should also be pointed out that selecting Wood or Croft is not a decision that is made and stuck with, it can be adjusted. Due to the fact that they both offer very different skill sets, they are both valuable in different ways. Certain fixtures may demand a Wood style player (I’m thinking SA), whereas against some teams, it may suit to play Croft (Australia at home for example).

              Whilst that logic can be applied to who the opposition is, it can also be applied dependant on the type of fixture, the time in the match, and various other factors.

              Key point is, options across the squad. Croft adds to them.

              1. Not sure about a start, whoever the opposition. A feature of the current back row is the incredible volume of contributions they make (numbers of carries, passes, offloads, tackles rucks hit etc). I like the balance as it is. Woodshaw in tandem with a proper 8 is the only combination we’ve had any real success with under Lancaster so think we should stick to that style through to 2015.

                To get ahead of Morgan (who was pretty spectacular off the bench himself) largely depends on how Billy V’s fitness progresses and whether he can maintain the intensity for 80. I don’t mind Wood as cover very late in a game, but not as a planned change 55-60 mins in. Plus the last time Wood, Croft and Robshaw played together doesn’t hold fond memories (Croft went completely AWOL) so would rather not see that as a unit again!

  2. I would probably agree with Jacob, but I can also see Saints slipping further if they lose at least one more. With Tigers and Sale in good form and confidence on the up? Who knows, but it does make for an exciting end to the season!!

  3. I hadn’t thought of the starting XV due to the Aviva Premiership Final. Weird but its not far off what my Starting line up would look like anyway. Obviously best case scenario would be for Newcastle to play Worchester in the final so we could have everyone but i think thats a tad unlikely….. I would be concerned about the quality of the bench if Sarries played Tigers as England would be wthout the likes of Mako, Billy and Farrell. Speaking of which has everyone stopped hating Farrell now? It’s only taken two years. Not a dig at you Jamie more at the BBC Sport Comments. I still think he is, and will be for some time the best option we have at 10 (moving to 12 when Ford comes off bench). I never much rated Burns and Farrell and Ford working in tandum can only get better.

    1. So replacements from the Italy game:
      16 H Tom Youngs
      17 P Matt Mullan
      18 P Henry Thomas
      19 L Dave Attwood
      20 F Tom Johnson
      21 SH Lee Dickson
      22 C George Ford
      23 C Manusamoa Tuilagi

      So we need a Hooker, FH and Back:
      Hooker – Rob Webber or Dave Ward (from Saxons)
      FH – Burns (from Elite squad) or Slade or Myler (from Saxons)
      Back – Wade/Nowell or Foden or Anthony Watson

      Hooker I had to look up but the other places weren’t hard to think of, there is more depth than you think.

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