With the completion of the Heineken Cup group stages comes the recommencement of the stop-start Guinness Premiership campaign. With the excitement of the World Cup, Heineken Cup and Six Nations, it seems like the Premiership hasn’t really captured people’s imagination like it was supposed to, considering the influx of foreign stars. Would you, avid reader, agree?
The saving grace of the competition may be that all teams should have something to fight for come the end of the season, be it the title, a Heineken cup spot or survival.
Two teams with their eyes firmly fixed on the play-offs faced off against each other on Friday night in a game which promised tries aplenty but failed to deliver. Sale began the match against Harlequins with all their usual power and poise but allowed a mediocre Quins team back into the match late on in the first half through indiscipline. Jarvis, the Harlequins 10, seemed to have lost the ability to catch at the beginning of the fixture but regained his composure to guide his side to a losing bonus point as Sale won 20-13.
Saturday brought about an excellent win for Worcester over Bristol, 25 – 5. The Kiwi triple signing of Rawlinson, Gear and Tuitupou has now had time to bed in and the results are coming. With a 6 nations break that allows Worcester players to recover from their mid-season knocks, rather than pick up more on international duty, February and March could see the Warriors make a dent in the seven points they have to make up on Bristol to climb a place in the league.
Two other matches on Saturday saw Leicester thrash Newcastle (41 – 14) and Gloucester edge out Wasps (18 – 17). Newcastle now have a fit, settled squad and cannot keep losing against the big boys of the Premiership in this manner. Wading in on the Jonny debate, if Mr Wilkinson can’t get a backline including Flood, Noon and Tait firing against Leicester, what hope is there of those same players causing damage against any Six Nations opponents? Jumping straight back onto the proverbial fence, he will have the best of the Leicester pack to work behind so that could make a difference!
Wasps’ season is slipping away. Having allowed Gloucester a healthy lead they did well to claw the points back but threw away their opportunities to win it at the end. It could be that one barren season will spur them on to win more silverware next year, creating the “dynasty” that their players and coaches routinely talk of.
Sunday offered up two ding-dong battles involving Saracens v Bath and Leeds v London Irish. Bath lost track on Gloucester and allowed Leicester to skip ahead of them by capitulating to Saracens 26-20. A Brent “speedy legs” Russell brace and Glen Jackson’s reliable boot was enough to see off the west country men.
Leeds put up another spirited fight but ended up second best again, this time to a London Irish side who hadn’t won away all season in the Premiership. Irish scored four tries and ran out winners by 26 – 24. Putting this result alongside Worcester’s excellent win against Bristol means Leeds are now 6 points adrift at the bottom of the league and will need to fight for every point if they have any chance of staying up.
And just like that, the Premiership shuts down for another fortnight…
By Jon Hobbs