1. Down and out
Saturday afternoon confirmed what has looked likely for some time now – Worcester have been relegated from the Premiership. Many pundits – myself included – thought they would do well this season; with a squad that boasts several internationals and the acquisition of a gnarled, experienced coach in Dean Ryan, they were well set to battle it out mid-table. It just hasn’t happened though – they were at various points woeful and at others better than results suggested. They should bounce straight back up, if the majority of their players stay on, as they have far too many quality individuals to muck around in the Championship for too long. On that note, the Premiership has lost a gem of a player – arguably the best this season – in Chris Pennell.
2. The sunshine season
A weekend that saw 45 tries scored has seen calls renewed for the sport to consider moving to a summer season. The arguments are obvious – every game except the Bath v Northampton one was packed full of five-pointers and running rugby, owing largely to the nice weather and handling conditions on Saturday and Sunday. The first and last few rounds of the season tend to be played in such conditions – fans basking in the balmy sunshine while the backs spin the ball to all corners of the field. Of course, in the depths of December it is the forwards that get to have their fun, on freezing Friday nights as the rain lashes down and they truck it up in the close quarters. Rugby is rightly a game that reflects the need for a champion side to be able to play both ways, and the current season means both are rewarded. However, there’s no doubt that this form of the game is vastly more marketable, and attractive to potential new players, than the one that takes place in the dark of winter, so it is likely that calls for change will not be disappearing any time soon.
3. Not everyone is smiling
It has been the most competitive Premiership season for some time – Saracens are the only side that have looked completely assured for the whole season. The Saints have wobbled and could still (unlikely as it is) be caught in the home semi spot by the Tigers, who themselves only guaranteed their spot last weekend. Bath and Quins battle it out for the final one, all of which is fantastic for the fans, but not so for one man – Stuart Lancaster. All this high-tempo/intensity/(insert buzzword here) rugby has an attritional effect on players’ bodies, and also makes it very difficult for him to know who he will be with and without for the first test in New Zealand, given the semi-finals are likely to be hugely competitive affairs. It all means that, when he names his squad next week for the three test series, the list is likely to total 40-50 names.
4. A cracker at the Stoop
The improvement in Bath this season has been astronomic – they have a pack that can mix it with the best and a set of backs that has set many a game alight. For a long time it looked as though they would cruise into the semi-finals, but no longer. A combination of their inability to put the top sides away, and an upturn in Harlequins’ form, means it all comes down to the final day as to who will secure the final play-off spot. Quins against Bath will be an absolute cracker at the Stoop – the hosts are playing at their offloading, fast-paced best at the moment, while Bath will be desperate not to let this opportunity slip after what has been, for the most part, an exemplary season.
5. Into the unknown
Wasps confirmed that (newly) all-important seventh spot and the Rugby Champions Cup play-off that comes with it, after putting six tries past Newcastle in what was a mesmerising game at Adams Park. They now face Stade Français across two legs in May, a format that has not often been seen at the very top level of rugby (the Championship uses it in its play-off system). One game each is being broadcast on BT Sport and Sky Sports, in what could be viewed as the first real direct contest between the two, given that they will be handling the exact same product. That will be fascinating to watch, and so will the outcome – one of European Rugby’s heavyweights of old will be rejoining the top table again next season.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images