Print editor, Harry Wilkinson, was at Villa Park on Sunday where the second city derby took placeWritten by Harry Wilkinson on 24th April 2017
Rugby Mid-Season Review: State of the Country
Rugby correspondent Sam Harrison reviews how the Aviva Premiership season has been progressing at the half-way point
We are midway through the domestic season, which seems to be a good time to discuss the state of English rugby, which can be split into four groups of teams.
The New Generation
Teams: Saracens, Wasps, Bath, Exeter
Saracens are the example of the new group of giants. They are the team to beat, not just in England, but in the whole northern hemisphere. They have won four of a possible five trophies in the past two seasons, and don’t look like slowing down. They have a core group of English players and yet they still have a bad reputation, which makes no sense. They are no longer a boring team, and they give Wasps a run for their money in attack.
Wasps are the current ‘it’ team. They play really exciting rugby and have a world-class back line. People want them to win, which leads to some predictions of success this year. It is too early for them right now, as their forwards and game management cannot match Saracens, but they will provide some great highlights nonetheless and should still make at least one final.
Bath have had a revival this year, but two years ago they were the team to watch, with George Ford pulling the strings. They are still capable of that style of play, but the new management has focused on the fundamentals, the best way to achieve success.
Exeter have grown exponentially since being promoted, and were last year’s beaten finalists domestically. Rob Baxter has them functioning across the board, and on their day they are as good as anyone, including Saracens.
Teams: Leicester, Northampton
Leicester have been the standard-bearers of English club for as long as anyone can remember. They have made the playoffs in each of the last thirteen seasons, always finding a way to get it done. But it looks like that streak will be snapped this season, and the team needs to catch up to their rivals. Firing Richard Cockerill was not the answer, as he has brought great success to the club, but they do need to change their attitude. Grinding out a win just doesn’t work anymore.
Northampton have had a very quick fall from grace. Champions just three years ago, they are now middling, and struggling to beat some very average teams. Like Leicester, their plight can be attributed to their stubbornness; they have stuck with the same tactics that made them successful when they won, but the game is faster-paced and more attacking now than it was, and they haven’t adapted.
Teams: Harlequins, Newcastle, Gloucester, Sale
There is no need to address these sides individually, as there just is not much to say. They rarely put in exceptional performances, though it does happen, and the results can change on a weekly basis depending on which version of the side turns up. They are all some way off challenging the top teams.
Teams: Worcester, Bristol
It is sad to label these two as being in a relegation battle already, as you would hope for better competition, but that is the case. Bristol seem to have found their feet, but it will likely be a case of too little too late, though they are gaining on Worcester. Both teams are too good for the next division, always fighting for promotion, but neither is good enough for the top flight.