After 22 rounds of matches we know where everyone stands. Bristol with a fleeting time in the top flight, Wasps finishing top of the pile for the first time in the season and it came down to the number of matches won that decided 6th position in the table between Harlequins and Northampton Saints. Here below are small reviews of each of the teams from the Aviva Premiership.
Bath its fair to say have rather under-achieved given their high expectations. They will rue games such as losing to their West Country rivals of Bristol at Aston Gate and to Sale Sharks up at the AJ Bell, both games they should have won. However, given that it is Todd Blackadder’s first season in Northern Hemisphere rugby, we do have to give him a bit of slack. They have secured the European Champions Cup; however, they would have liked the chance to be in the Semi Finals of the Aviva Premiership. Bath fans will be hoping that Blackadder will entrust the thinking of Mr S Baldrick to make a cunning plan for Bath to improve.
Final Position: 5th.
For all the money and the promise Bristol have not been able to bring the consistency that they had in the IPA Championship. They made crucial errors all season, for instance ineffective tackling, giving away too much of their ball and being too narrow in defense. With Pat Lam transferring from Connacht, I at least expect Bristol to be promoted into the 2018-2019 season. This is backed up with players that they have recruited including Ireland international Ian Madigan and All Black Steven Luatuawa.
Final Position: 12th, Relegated.
Exeter have continued to climb the levels of professional rugby in England. It could have tanked for the Chiefs but with eight try bonus points in their last eight fixtures in the season, it is nothing short of remarkable, setting a new record to boot. Exeter are able to do this with England fringe players such as Ollie Devoto, Henry Slade and Don Armand and players not as well known, for example, Gareth Steenson, James Short, and Olly Woodburn. Their team also includes a smattering of internationals, Tom Francis (Wales), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England) and a British & Irish Lion in Jack Nowell. Exeter will host Saracens at Sandy Park, a re-enactment of last year’s final, which should be a cracker.
Final Position: 2nd, Home Semi-Finalists vs Saracens.
The Cherry and Whites again have had a frustrating season, probably summed up with Laurie Fisher announcing his resignation over Twitter. Gloucester’s backs could frighten most sides and with the inclusion of Wales Flyhalf/Centre, Owen Williams, and Jason Woodward, they surely can pose a big threat with a potential back line of Geig Laidlaw (Scotland and British & Irish Lions), Matt Scott (Scotland), Henry Trinder, Charlie Sharples (England), Johnny May (England). However, Gloucester have not been able to have consistency with their performances. Johan Ackermann, the former Springbok international bringing the Lions of Johannesburg to the final of Super Rugby last season, should bring in more grunt especially in the forwards. Gloucester do have the chance for silverware this season by playing Stade Francais Paris at Murryfield in the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final on Friday 11th May and also the chance to play in the top flight of European rugby next season.
Final Position: 9th, European Champions Cup Final.
Another frustrating season for Quins, they have all the talent in the form of: James Horwill, Jamie Roberts, Adam Jones, and their England contingent of Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinclair, Mike Brown and Danny Care. However, due to injury and international call ups, they have not provided a high standard of rugby for the whole campaign. The fantastic performance they put on for Nick Evans’ final home fixture against Wasps proved this. Quins just need to have more belief in themselves that they can perform at a higher level. Even with the loss to Saints last weekend, they secured the European Champions Cup rugby next season.
Final Position: 6th.
Again the Tigers have managed to secure themselves a top four position, much like Arsenal in the round ball game. In a similar way to the gunners, they have had problems with the main man in charge this season, going through not two but three managers this season, Richard Cockerill, Edinburgh Rugby bound, Aaron Mauger, Highlanders in Otago New Zealand bound, current coach Matt O’Conor. However, despite this, they have still been able to light up the pitch with Telusa Veainu, Jack Roberts, Owen Williams and Freddie Burns. It will be interesting to see how Leicester go about next season with not many signings being announced thus far.
Final Position: 4th Away Semi-Final vs Wasps.
The Falcons were finally for the first time in a while not in a relegation battle but instead trying to scrap for a chance to be in the top flight of European Champions Cup rugby. Although they didn’t get it this season, Dean Richards will set the new precedent for the men from the North East to aim for a top 6 finish for this coming season.
Final Position: 8th.
Northampton will be ruing some of the results towards the end of the season losing by 7 points to sides such as Saracens, Wasps and Leicester. They are starting to lack confidence in themselves and haven’t been able to build from winning the Aviva Premership Title in 2014. They will also want to hold on to key players with rumors of their invalubale number 8, Louis Picomoles, potentially returning to France with Montpellier. The Saints have not been able to get all of their star players on the pitch all together, and they have a problem at flyhalf that they’ll need to address before the start of next season.
Final Position: 7th.
Arguably one of Sale’s worst seasons in recent years. 10 years since the golden year, winning the Aviva Premiership title under Phillipe Saint-André and with players such as Jason Robinson and Sebastian Chabal. Although the young contingent of English players is coming through such as, Tom and Ben Curry, Sam James, Mike Haley and Denny Solamona. The Sharks have not yet shown the capability that they can cope with the top flight of European Champions Cup rugby as well as the Aviva Premiership. They also lack a clinical edge to win games.
Final Position: 10th.
Not the 100% performance that they were hoping for, however, with me being super critical, and with the dual purpose of the Aviva Premiership and the European Champions Cup, Mark McCall can be happy with his work thus far. Saracens have had lapses such as games against Worcester. With the confidence and mentality they have at the minute, they will not be bothered with the prospect of going to Sandy Park, as they are starting to have the mindset that they can play anywhere.
Final Position: 3rd Away Semi-Final vs Exeter Chiefs.
For the first time in their history they have finished top of the pile of the regular season. Some cry from where they were at Adam’s Park fighting relegation about five years ago. They have played the most attacking and exciting rugby this season, with the likes of Elliot Daly and Christian Wade, who last weekend equaled the record for the most tries scored in a regular season, 17 to be precise. They will relish the Tigers coming to Coventry, as they seem to have created a fortress there. I expect them to see Saracens in the final.
Final Position: 1st Home Semi-Final vs Leicester Tigers.
The Warriors seemed to be heading into a dog fight with Bristol in the relegation but the clash at Six Ways proved that they still have enough in the tank for another season, mainly down to their scrumhalf Francios Hougaard. They will most likely fight against London Irish for relegation battle next year, but who knows what could happen in twelve months time.
Final Position: 11th.
Morgan and other members of the BURN FM Sport will produce articles relating to the Semi-Finals and Final of the Aviva Premiership. Morgan shall be reporting for BURN FM and the Brum Rugby Show on the European Champions Cup Final between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne this coming Saturday from Murrayfield, so stay tuned to hear from one of BURN FM’s Rugby Commentators.