Taking a break from the international series briefly, it is time to look at the Premiership table and how it has changed while some players have been away on international duty.
A familiar pattern has emerged with Saracens leading the way, and with new boys Bristol still winless in 12th, six points behind Worcester.
At this stage last year, now relegated London Irish had won two games, and there was a healthy battle at the bottom, but this year it seems inevitable that even before Christmas Bristol won’t be around much longer unless things start to dramatically change at Ashton Gate.
Indeed, as London Irish stroll their way through the Championship season, having won all ten of their games so far, it begs the question whether they really deserve to be there, and if they are simply too good for that league? With Bristol struggling, London Irish fans must be wondering whether their team could make a better bid to stay up?
It seems that when teams come up to the Premiership level, naturally they struggle to compete with the best England have to offer, and as we saw two years ago with London Welsh they can return to the Championship with their tails between their legs.
There have been suggestions in the past of a play-off between the bottom of the Premiership fighting for their place against the winners of the Championship, but these thoughts have never really materialised into something proper, as the RFU all but ignore the suggestion, but would it be a good idea?
Well, the immediate argument in support for the play-off is that it would test the two sides against each other in the best measure there is, by playing each other. It would mean that the better team would stay in the right league and the next season would be arguably more competitive at both ends as a result. It would also mean that the young, academy players in those teams would be more tempted to stay, as London Irish have had a problem of late holding onto young talent.
Finally, it would be a real testing game and cracking to watch for not only the fans of the two competing clubs but it also the neutrals, as it would throw them into ‘cup final rugby’ and show how they really perform under pressure.
However, there are some drawbacks to the suggestion of a play-off – the first being that the two teams are already playing a lot of games in a regular season. There are 22 rounds of the Premiership alone, without European rugby and the Anglo-Welsh cup, and with player welfare becoming increasingly prominent in the mindset of the RFU, it is unlikely they would add another game to the end of the season.
Also, the Championship winners would have already played in the play-off with the second place team to get to the stage of playing the 12th placed Premiership team, which is making it harder and harder for teams to get to that level, and strive to achieve similar feats to that of Exeter Chiefs, who have come from winning the Championship in 2009 (having won the play-off after finishing second overall) to last season losing in the Premiership final against Saracens.
It seems that there are good reasons arguing in favour of and against the play-off, but unfortunately for Bristol fans it is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon.
Oscar Reilly, Pundit Arena
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