Plenty to play for in the Aviva Premiership run-in

We are very much into the business end of the season, and pretty much every club in the Aviva Premiership has something to play for. With three rounds to go, it’s nervous times at the bottom of the table as teams know they can’t afford to slip up, while those at the top know any dropped points could see a season of hard work go down the pan.

The play-offs

This is an area that has changed fairly dramatically over the past few weeks. A month ago, most people would have said that Harlequins would be nailed for a home quarter final, and yet following a run that has seen them win just two from six since the beginning of February, they are now precariously positioned in third, just two points ahead of fifth-placed Gloucester.

Saracens are all but nailed on for a home quarter final, and the Tigers, with two games to come at Welford Road, should secure the other home berth. That leaves two spots from the three of Quins, Gloucester and Saints (Bath are still mathematically in it, but realistically need the other three to slip up monumentally).

None of them have exclusively easy games left, meaning it is going to be incredibly tight. The Saints possibly have the edge, given that they have both of the bottom two clubs left to play, but with relegation on the agenda they will be scrapping for every inch. Gloucester have got to play Sarries, who are in imperious form, and travel to Exeter – never an easy place to win. It looks like the Quins v Saints game on the final weekend could go a long way to settling this one – what a game that is shaping up to be.

Heineken Cup qualification

With six points separating fifth and sixth, the top five places are more or less sewn up. That leaves Bath, Wasps and Exeter battling it out for the all-important final Heineken Cup qualification spot.

The first thing to note is just how horrible Bath’s run in is. They have all of the top three to come – Harlequins and Saracens away, and the Tigers at the Rec. Their pack, which has looked undercooked quite often this season, will do well to front up to those three, and it is looking unlikely that they will hang onto sixth place.

Exeter, potentially crucially, are the only of the three teams with two home games left. They welcome London Irish and Gloucester to Sandy Park, both games they will be confident of winning, as well as travelling to Adam’s park for what could be a vital clash with Wasps. The men from Wycombe also face away trips to Welford Road and the Salford Stadium.

Exeter and Wasps will be looking to win two from three, while Bath will be lucky to come away with any win. With two points separating the three sides, bonus points could come heavily into play. It looks to be a shoot-out between Wasps and Exeter – and with Wasps currently one point ahead and in fine try-scoring form, they could just pip the Chiefs to sixth.

Relegation battle

Sadly, a certain Mike Scott seems to have wrapped this one up a while ago. Sale’s three point draw away at London Irish last round sees them eight points clear of London Welsh, and with only three games left it would take something immensely special from the Exiles to turn that deficit around. The five-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player was a crushing blow to their chances, and one from which they are unlikely to recover.

Worcester and London Irish are somewhat in no-man’s land, having secured safety a while back without ever doing enough to trouble the Heineken-Cup-qualification-chasing pack. Sale look to have survived by the skin of their teeth, but with Newcastle likely to bounce straight back up, they will have to be significantly better next season.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

18 thoughts on “Plenty to play for in the Aviva Premiership run-in

  1. aviva prem is fantastic but we clearly have three groups of teams –

    sarries, quins and tigers are the elite to decide the title every year.

    saints, glaws, wasps, bath, exeter – mid table teams that even the best (4th place) finishing team doesn’t really deserve the chance to be in hc based on the quality and performance of the teams

    worcester, london irish, sale and london welsh all far off the pace

    highlights the need to combine the pro12 (minus italian teams) and aviva premiership and create a two tier home nations (lions nations) premiership-championship for 2014/2015 season. this will help home nations improve internationally and club teams in european competitions by improving the quality and opposition of club games on a domestic front.

    imagine two leagues containing –

    London Wasps
    Cardiff Blues

    NG Dragons
    London Irish
    London Welsh

    1. Not sure I agree with you on this new league structure. I don’t think the English teams need it. You can see that Saints have the finances to compete European wide with their signings, so they will clearly improve.

      I would be surprised if any of the English clubs approve this – it would be of more interest to the Welsh regions. Again the Irish regions seem happy with their set up.

      Not sure what the need for this massive change is?

    2. Combining the home nations for the league structure reduces the appeal of the HC for me.

      I also disagree with you on the ‘mid table’ teams not deserving HC places.

      Saints, Glouc, Wasps and Bath have contributed to some epic games in the HC over the last decade. Turning over some of the biggest teams in Europe. Wasps won it as recent as 2007 and Saints made the final more recent than that.

      1. could do, but you’d still have the french, italian and maybe even east european teams to mix it up in the HC

        it will be interesting to see what happens when the agreements for pro 12 and aviva premiership finish at the end of 2013/2014 season. like you say the welsh will be keen but i think all nations/teams will be keen when the potential of much bigger sponsorship deals is realised.

    3. Andy,

      At the moment we have the structure of team that you describe, but it is a big step to say that these 3 teams will remain the Elite and fight for the title every year. Yes, of course that is the case today, and for the past couple of years (and in Leicester’s case, much more), but former European Champs Northampton, Wasps,and Bath as well as Gloucester would all dispute that this is set in stone and a guaranteed continuance.

      There is often a similar argument in football. It was not that long ago that Liverpool, Newcastle and Blackburn were (with Man Utd) the elite. It was not that long ago that German teams were seen as the poor relations compared to Italian, English and Spanish teams in Europe. It was very recently that Clermont/Montferrand were seen as not quite being good enough in both France and Europe, particularly in comparison to the likes of the mighty Biarritz and Stade Francais (among others). Where were Toulon 5 years ago?

      So, history does tell us that some teams can continue to feast at the top table (Leicester, Toulouse, Man Utd) but in reality it is very, very few of them that remain consitently in the top tier – and long may that continue.

      ‘Tis only 6 seasons back that Bristol came 3rd in the Premiership!

      1. Some really good points here Blub. I do think that the suggestions Andy made make it sound as though this is all set in stone. Sale won the Premiership not too long ago, and Quins were in the Championship a few years back!

        It would be crazy to suggest that nothing will change. I’m a Wasps fan, so believe me when I say that fortunes can change very quickly!

      2. Bristol came third in the Prem 6 years ago?! Is that actually true?! Mental.

        Perhaps the Robinson bros can lead them back to their glory days!

      3. yeah exactly, other than leicester we have a lot of inconsistency season to season with other teams. encouraging to see a lot of young players coming through with mid-table teams, in two seasons we could have a seven way battle for the title!

        financial consistency is also the key without impatient owners who understand the long-term aims of a club may need to sacrifice the short term results.

        bristol will be back to play-offs quicker than we realise, speaking to robbo on saturday at the bath game he was very excited to have in his words a long term project with young and exciting talent. seems like a renewed character as well after the sad and frustrating end to his period with scotland.

    4. Wait, what? What are the reasonings behind these tiers? If it’s current ability, then possibly that would be reasonable – although on the basis of points in the league, there’s hardly much difference between Quins and Saints, but yeah.

      If it’s money, then I have no idea where you’re coming from. Same with recent form. Same with league history.

      And as for that league suggestion, I personally see no problem with the formats at the moment. There is a problem among the Welsh regions, but I don’t think that’s due to the PRO12 format as such…

  2. Put bluntly Andy doesn’t know his arse from his elbow.

    Quins 2 seasons ago were 7th so not even HC qualifying
    Last season Wasps were 11th look now

    Things do change the only constant is Tigers only twice outside the top 4 since 97-98

    Saracens went from 9th in 08-09 to runners up next season

    Personal as a supporter of Exeter I can see us in the top 4 in the next 2 seasons looking at the youngsters coming through (5 players in Eng u20 this six nations)

    1. ‘expatchief’ always nice to get personal abuse in response to a suggestion to encourage a debate, thanks!

  3. Your second post makes a lot of sense but your first didn’t sorry if you didn’t like that be pointed out.

    We could definitely see 7 teams challenging for top 4 and financial stability is a must hence I think all clubs need to try to own their own grounds

    1. I fail to see a correlation between his anatomical proficiency and his lack of rugby comprehension

  4. Andy your second post makes a lot of sense but the first didn’t. Sorry if you didn’t like that being pointed out bluntly.

    Yes there could be 7 clubs challenging for top 4 places in the next 2 years.

    Personally I think Bristol would struggle to do it that quickly and something like 4-5 years is more realistic:
    1-get promoted
    3-mid table
    5-top 4
    You have a good coach, I don’t know your players but will have a better idea after our pre season friendly that’s planned

    Also totally agree about the financial stability being key hence I think all AP clubs should aim to have their own grounds and have plans to get to 20k+

    1. I don’t think it takes as long as you suggest. Seen as though mid-table and HC can be the same thing – it is not necessarily separate stepping stones. It was Exeter who went Prmomoted, stay up, then HC following season wasn’t it?

      1. Yes it was and a bunch of us had expectations of top 4 at the beginning of the season. But I think that we over achieved in the first 2 seasons and that this season with a 6th place will be more of par performance unlike the overachieving the previous 2.

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