1. Calls for Cipriani can no longer be ignored
It has been brewing for some time now, and while there will still be plenty of doubters, Cipriani has earned the right to go and prove them wrong in an England shirt. At the weekend he pulled the strings in one of the most astonishing performances of the season, as his Sale side completely dismantled the Chiefs. While Exeter have not had the best season, they have rarely been battered in this manner at home. His defensive frailties appear to be behind him – he has tackled at upwards of 90% this season – and his ability to control a game has come on leaps and bounds. Against Exeter it was not about showmanship, it was about bringing those around him into the game to superb effect. It remains to be seen if he fits with Lancaster et al’s new England culture, but he deserves to be given a chance at least.
2. Wasps’ return to the top table?
Amongst the fanfare and average music at Twickenham on Saturday, there was actually a pretty decent game of rugby played out. Wasps emerged victorious and in doing so put themselves in pole position to bag seventh spot in the Premiership and the European play-off that comes with it. With Tom Varndell back in the side, Elliot Daly fizzing about dangerously and a back-row that is second-to-none at the moment, there is every chance they will win that play-off, too. If so, it would be just rewards for a club that has wallowed in Premiership mediocrity (and even flirted with relegation) for too long. With the likes of Bradley Davies and Lorenzo Cittadini on board for next season as well, they will be competitive in Europe’s top competition, too.
3. Race to avoid Allianz Park
With the Tigers’ loss at Harlequins on Friday night and Northampton’s bonus point win over London Irish, the top two are all but confirmed with two rounds to go. Bath and Leicester occupy third and fourth, six points clear of (and probably safe from) Harlequins. Now, it is a case of who can avoid travelling to Allianz Park in the semi-finals, as that is easily the less favourable draw, compared to Franklin’s Gardens. The Saints have shown plenty of chinks in their armour in the last few rounds, and the Tigers have even won on their home turf recently. With injury headaches plaguing the Saints’ front row, both the Tigers and Bath will fancy Franklin’s much more than a trip to Allianz Park, and ironically it could come down to the champions’ game on the final weekend against Sarries to decide it.
4. A flavour of the South Pacific
It’s been great to see several English qualified players performing well this year, but the Pacific Islanders that permeate the Premiership have really turned it on too. They tore up last weekend, with four of the five try of the week nominations going to players from that region. Niki Goneva has been one of the players of the season, while more recently Nathan Hughes and Sinoti Sinoti have burst onto the scene with eye-catching displays. When you throw into the mix the likes of Fetu’u Vainikolo, who has been underused by the Chiefs, the Pisi brothers, Sam Tuitupou and Josh Drauniniu, you begin to appreciate just how much talent comes out of that part of the world – and that’s just those playing in the Premiership. It is crying shame that the likes of these guys are not seen playing together more often on the international scene.
5. Doing just enough
Newcastle’s season has been a lesson in how to do just enough to survive in the top flight. They sit on twenty points, eight clear of Worcester. With games left away at Wasps and at home to Exeter, they are unlikely to get another win. To put it into context, the last four teams to be relegated finished on 23, 32, 23 and 28 points respectively. Newcastle will likely finish with fewer than any of those totals. After impressive early wins against their likely rivals for relegation, they have completely petered out, having now not won since late October. That is an atrocious record, and one that will not be good enough next year with a star-studded Bristol side looking like being promoted and also likely to be far more competitive than Worcester or Newcastle have been this season. It has just been a surprisingly lacklustre season from a Dean Richards-coached team.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images