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