Even though only one round of matches have been played in the Aviva Premiership, already some results have got many pundits scratching their heads as to how they could get their pre-season predictions so wrong.
London Irish’s bonus point win over Harlequins at Twickenham and Bath’s first league win at Welford Road in 14 years almost overshadowed the events at Kingsholm on opening night and Saracens’ first half dominance of Northampton.
So here is the updated prediction based on round one performances:
For a team who played so well at times last season, their performance at Kingston Park was sloppy. They were regularly falling off tackles, their attack looked one dimensional and on the whole they just didn’t really seem up for this match (which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season).
Although they have made decent signings in David Denton and Ethan Waller, their failure to get any star power to replace Francois Hougaard while he is on international duty will make the first half of their season tricky.
If they play how they did on Friday every week then they will be relegated by Easter.
11th London Irish
This will seem harsh putting Irish 11th, especially as they got a bonus point win at Twickenham in their first game back in the big time.
But this predicted 11th is not one of a relegation scrap. Their back row and back three were both exceptional, with a special mention for Topsy Ojo appears to be getting better, and faster with age.
Irish fans must be realistic however, Quins made errors and failed to convert chances which most of the other opponents in this league will not do.
It’ll be interesting to see how they perform when they visit Sandy Park this weekend, if it is another good display then I could see them finishing even higher at the end of the season.
10th Northampton Saints
I do not remember the last time I saw a first half capitulation like I did on Saturday. Admittedly, Sarries were exceptional, but for the first half Northampton weren’t at the races.
The match highlighted that the loss of Louis Picamoles really is going to be as big as many predicted and that Harry Mallinder is a great 12 but not a great 10.
However, there were some small positives – their second half display was considerably better. In fact, they outscored their opponents 21-14 in the second 40, and the Saints faithful can also take comfort from the fact they still have their big signings of Piers Francis and Rob Horne yet to play.
However, with tough games against the Tigers and Bath in the next fortnight, Jim Mallinder’s men will need to drastically improve to avoid losing their three opening games.
I don’t know if Quins underestimated London Irish, but they got a rude awakening with their defeat in their opening fixture.
But the loss wasn’t only down to their opponents, Quins lacked a clinical edge and their ill discipline (which culminated in the yellow card for Demetri Catrakilis) was ultimately what lost them the match.
The other issue for Quins was Marcus Smith. Over the past week or so, many sources have told us how good he is but I didn’t see these skills at the weekend.
I have no doubt he will make it eventually, but the big question, which will probably have a big factor on where they finish, is when will he make it.
If it is in four weeks then it is likely they will finish higher than 9th, but if it is in four years then I see this prediction as being accurate for this season.
It was a mixed performance from the Sharks. I was unimpressed by their apparent lack of defence, but the way they managed to get back into the match when they appeared dead and buried was the defining thing I will take from the game.
It has to be remembered that once James O’Connor comes into the match-day squad then performances will improve, but if they can’t get their defence sorted then they will struggle to secure European rugby next season.
A dominant display from the Falcons against Worcester, but it is hard to tell how good they really are until they face some competitive opposition.
Newcastle are still yet to play their star signings so are likely to improve further, however it was their away record which let them down the most last season.
If they beat Sale at the AJ Bell on Friday then they will have seemingly turned a corner and Champions Cup rugby could be well within their reach. If they lose, then it will be an interesting trip across the Atlantic when they face Sarries in Philadelphia for round 3.
With two minutes to go it felt like a classic Gloucester performance. They played very well in patches but ultimately were going to lose another close match. But they didn’t.
Henry Slade missed a crucial kick and Jason Woodward scored dramatically four minutes later – it was a stunning end to a stunning match.
Even if Gloucester had lost then there would still be positives to take from the game; Johan Ackerman’s new attacking game-plan was already evident and although at times. Their ‘jouez jouez’ style of play almost led to intercepts their new style of play will definitely win the Cherry and Whites more matches than it loses them.
However the biggest positive of the new head coach was the belief he implemented into the squad. Last season, every league game Gloucester played in that was decided by less than seven points they lost. They have already they have broken this trend in 2017/18.
The litmus test for Gloucester will be how they do at the Stoop this week. Last year Gloucester had a real consistency issue, but if they beat Quins then maybe, just maybe, Gloucester will qualify for the Champions Cup.
Leicester’s back line comprised mainly of new signings or players returning from injury, and it showed. The George Ford, Matt Toomua, Manu Tuilagi axis is yet to function.
The other surprise was the stuttering Tigers set piece, for a team who pride themselves on their lineout and scrum it would be fair to say that Bath beat them in this department at the weekend.
Having said all this, they still only lost by four points and although the three yellow cards helped this the fact they almost staged a comeback will help them in their preparation for the East Midlands derby.
I have no doubt Leicester will improve, and once the forwards step up and Ford adapts to how his new midfield plays, they will be frightening team to face.
Yes they lost, but they played well enough to show that they are still a top four side.
Rob Baxter’s demeanour in his post match interview showed that he wasn’t really phased by the loss, so we shouldn’t be either.
Last season the Chiefs were in 11th after five games and it turned out alright come the end of May, I have every confidence a similar thing could happen this time out.
A slight smash and grab operation on Sunday afternoon, in the first 25 minutes Bath didn’t play well but they were clinical and took their chances during Leicester’s eight-minute switch off.
Max Clark and Jonathan Joseph kept their opposite numbers very quiet, the surprise selection of Chris Cook and Rhys Priestland was justified as they both managed the game well and the Bath forwards played havoc with the Leicester pack, particularly being a nuisance in the lineout.
With an even tougher test coming to the Rec this weekend in the form of Saracens, now is not a time for high-fives and patting each other on the back all week, but a first win in 14 years at Welford Road for Todd Blackadder’s men is not a bad way to start the season.
They picked up where they left off, scoring tries and lots of them. David Young may be slightly worried about the fact they conceded 35 points but if they can score 50 every week then they should be okay.
Dan Robson’s four tries deserves some sort of special mention and the footwork of new signing Gabiriele Lovobalavu was truly outstanding at times.
Sunday’s trip to Sixways will be fun for Wasps, with the possibly of an even bigger score-line being recorded.
Wow. Just wow. Any team that has a try bonus point wrapped up inside half an hour, scores nine tries in total and records a half-time score of 41-3 is special, but Sarries are something else.
I’m unsure whether they were still hurting from their semi-final loss at Sandy Park or whether this is just the performance we expect every week from them but every single player, from 1-23, was superb.
The worrying thing for the rest of the league is that Saracens still have five Lions (including new signing Liam Williams) yet to play and still their back up hooker Schalk Brits plays like a 26-year-old centre, not a 36 year old retiring player.
This club continues to amaze me and another League-European double is certainly on the cards for the north Londoners.
Xander Chevallier, Pundit Arena
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