We are just over halfway through the Aviva Premiership season and left with one of the tightest tables ever. That’s in spite of so many free scoring and thrilling games of rugby.
While the English teams have not dominated in Europe as in previous seasons, the domestic league has thrown up some top class games and other than first and last place the table is wide open.
Starting off, we will focus on the bottom half of the table.
12. London Irish
We would have anticipated Irish to have a strong season and after their first game against Harlequins expectations were high.
They have a great mix of youth and Premiership experience and seemed to be a healthy club, not built on money or quick fixes.
While they have lost their last eleven, they have not had a season like London Welsh three years ago – they have been competitive in most of their games but just haven’t found a way to win. Home matches against Newcastle and Wasps are just some examples of missed opportunities to win.
Nevertheless, I can’t see them surviving. The club will be ready for relegation and hopefully it will not affect them too negatively in the long-term, but they will have to accept a return to the Championship.
Predicted finish: 12th
11. Worcester Warriors
Worcester found themselves in a difficult position in the early part of the season but thanks to some fine free-flowing rugby they have moved ten points clear of the relegation places.
Gary Gold has got them playing well and, while he will be leaving at the end of the season he will do more than enough to keep them up.
They won’t lose many players to internationals and have a series of winnable home games in the back end of the season that should be enough to keep them up comfortably.
Predicted finish: 10th
10. Northampton Saints
Saints had been in steady decline since winning the Premiership but this has been a terrible season. Despite briefly being on top of the Premiership, they have lost their last seven and have shipped 50 points three times in all competitions.
The sacking of Jim Mallinder was inevitable and probably the correct decision but if anything has made things worse.
Saints were struggling badly under him, but the players just haven’t been performing. They’ve looked out of ideas in attack and have an incredibly leaky defence.Yet they are still likely to lose players to the Six Nations, which will further unsettle the squad.
Whoever they bring in, he has a serious job on his hands and I just don’t believe they will turn it around quickly enough to get anything out of this season.
Predicted finish: 11th
9. Leicester Tigers
For the teams that I see finishing fifth, sixth and seventh, how they negotiate the loss of their international players will be massive.
Leicester are a good side, but they’ve lost their ability to win games playing badly that kept them in the classier section of the table for so many years. Leicester will yet again record big wins in the league, but with that inability to maintain a consistent level in such a tight competition, I think they’ll miss out on the top six for the first time in the history of Premiership rugby.
Predicted finish: 7th
8. Sale Sharks
Sale have put in some outstanding performances, particularly in thumping wins over Bath and Gloucester, which suggests they have the potential to do better things than finish ninth, but they are still too inconsistent.
Bottom of their European Challenge Cup group, they will likely turn their attention to the league, and when some of their star players return from injury they will have a quality side.
But it is so competitive in that part of the table, and I believe they just don’t have the experience in the squad to mount a successful top six charge.
Predicted finish: 9th
Harlequins are the most inconsistent side in the league, and haven’t managed to string three consecutive wins together since 2013/14. They have the quality to produce some sublime rugby, especially when the likes of Danny Care and Marcus Smith are in form, but their defence is still extremely weak.
They also don’t win enough games away from home. Just four wins in their last 23 away matches have meant they have not threatened to get into the top four in recent seasons.
They will also suffer during the international period, but playing against Wasps, Leicester and Bath will help as those sides are also littered with internationals.
Predicted finish: 6th