By just the third week of the season Exeter, Saracens and Wasps had resumed occupancy of the top three spots in the Aviva Premiership table. While a few dips in form late in 2017 opened the door for a handful of pretenders to press their title credentials, the class acts of the English club game are sitting pretty once again.
Sunday’s clinical, muscular dismantling of Wasps may not have been Saracens’ most emphatic victory of the season, but following their recent run of defeats it was a timely reminder of their quality.
The 38-15 win was quintessentially Saracens: a suffocating defensive display and a monstrous comeback from Billy Vunipola, dusted with a few moments of class from Alex Goode. Although they are fated to lose Vunipola to England no sooner than he had returned, the snarl and swagger that he brought with him may stay with his teammates for the rest of the year.
Six straight losses may have cost Saracens their shot at another Champions Cup, but it may harden their resolve to claim a third domestic title in four years.
Wasps saw their recent good form slam into reverse at the Ricoh, but they would be foolish to lose heart. Last year’s runners-up saw their own autumn slide arrested when Danny Cipriani’s return allowed them to put their foot back on the gas, running from deep with the same abandon and ambition that set Premiership records just last season.
Eddie Jones’ indifference towards the mercurial number ten, along with his teammates Dan Robson and Christian Wade, portends a profitable international period for the midlanders, and with Nathan Hughes, Elliott Daly and Jimmy Gopperth all set to return, the lock could be well and truly off the toy box once spring has sprung.
Much as Saracens are a unique proposition in defence, no other English team can really tear an opponent to bits quite like Wasps.
Champions Exeter, meanwhile, have held their lead atop the league table since October. Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown goes the old adage, but the Chiefs’ transition from plucky upstarts to commanding frontrunners has been seamless in the wake of their first championship.
Unsung heroes like Harry Williams and Olly Woodburn have begun to garner more national acclaim in 2017/18 and Gareth Steenson’s steady hand on the tiller has allowed the Chiefs to play with assuredness in this new, rarefied air.
Their cause has not been harmed either by Henry Slade finally meeting a nice position and settling down at outside centre.
For their occasional forays into the upper strata this term, none of the Premiership’s other sides appear to possess the firepower to displace the big three in the Twickenham showpiece.
With Gloucester perhaps a season or two away, Leicester a season or two behind and Bath, as impressive one week as they are torpid the next, fans of the teams in black should keep their diaries clear for final day.