As the Guinness Premiership season careers towards its half way point and with the Autumn Internationals firmly behind us, it’s time to turn our attention back to the domestic game and all that it will bring in the New Year.
Saracens are racing clear
This season’s Premiership table has a very unfamiliar look to it. Saracens are sitting proudly at the top of the pile whilst more consistent title challengers are being left to prop up the rest.
The new regime at Vicarage Road seems to be paying off, with the influx of South African players and coaching staff proving to be a very shrewd and positive move. Even though Saracens are comfortably 6 points above the rest, there is not a bonus point in sight – not one achieved all season – but they are winning, even though enterprise may not be on top of their agenda. With the experienced game management of Neil de Kock and Glen Jackson at 9 and 10 respectively, the ability is there for Saracens to build platforms from which they are consistently winning.
So what about the other end of the table? Leeds were always going to struggle coming up from the re-named Championship as all promoted sides do, but under the tutelage of Neil Back, a battling Leeds could make the fight for relegation interesting.
Bath could easily blame drug scandals and injuries for their current blight but a lack of leadership on the field and no proven quality back up at stand off and inside centre has also been a contributing factor. The long awaited return of Butch James and Olly Barkley in the New Year should see them secure in the league.
Gloucester need consistency, but with Nicky Robinson looking like a player that defies his paltry collection of Welsh caps, then Gloucester can look dangerous and free scoring with ball in hand. If a few results go their way, they should finish mid-table.
London Irish will challenge aggressively for the top spot and with both Armitage brothers now fit, together with their ever domineering pack, they look like worthy challengers once again, although a young Northampton team playing adventurous, running rugby will certainly be hot on their heels.
Expect Leicester to kick into life and challenge as they always do. With players like England’s shining light of the Autumn Internationals, Lewis Moody, back in Tigers colours, watch for Leicester to go from strength to strength in the new year and launch their traditional title challenge.
Wasps have a dilemma on their hands. The mercurial Danny Cipriani is back from a string of injuries and wanting to fight for his England shirt, yet Dave Walder, who is kicking his points and winning games for Wasps may be the more obvious choice at 10. They’ve had some mixed results this season, but are always difficult to beat on their day.
The second half of this Guinness Premiership season is going to be tight, competitive and compelling viewing which is going to be hard to predict week in week out. With Heineken cup places also up for grabs, expect a few surprises and a less familiar shape to the final table.
By Andrew Daniel