As has become a little customary, This blog usually crops up around this time of season and is just my way of doing a little season update and give some credit where its due for the next calender year of rugby.
We'll start with the reports! (I'll light the blue touch paper and retire.....)
Northampton Saints - The champions have been impressive thus far in the 14/15 season. I, along with other clueless rugby folk, were worried about a lack of signings but some great results (most notably the thrashing of Gloucester and beating Leicester despite playing most the game with 14 men!) have seen them set the pace so far.
Bath Rugby - At last starting to regularly perform in the style the media have hyped about. Eastmond is turning into the game breaking number 12 Bath fans hoped he'd be, young guns like Watson and Joseph are performing consistently well, George Ford is developing into a class playmaker and the pack are fearsome at times! The 'Burgess factor' is starting to irk a lot of fans from other sides, but if he learns quickly, Bath will fancy the title this season!!
Exeter Chiefs - Perhaps the surprise package of the season so far. A team with no swagger, just true grit, teamwork and brotherhood built around some key men like Steenson, Jess and Mumm and some youthful exuberance thrown in from Hill, Slade, Nowell and Ewers. Most impressively, they appear to have done what Leicester couldn't and have turned Thomas Waldrom into the player it was hoped he'd be and he has been monstrous at time, and the 'toot toot' celebration has become a regular sight!
Saracens - A few uncharacteristically poor games has left Sarries with 3 defeats and a draw so far this season, although they have been showing signs of improvement in defence and attack and the pre christmas, 11 try demolition job on London Welsh will set the hopes high for a good second half of the season. To do that, they'll need to see the form of Owen Farrell improve now he's back to full fitness and they'll need to perform well during the 6 Nations break and the loss of a few key men to international duty.
Sale Sharks - Tipped far and wide to be lower mid table this season, Sharks under Steve Diamond have become a very difficult side to beat and have ridden the back of some amazing performances of the likes of Braid, Patterson and Cipriani to find themselves is a solid 5th spot and they have unarguably done it on merit. If they can keep up the levels of performance seen so far, they may be in pole position for a seat at the European top table next season, and maybe a push to the playoffs?
Wasps - I've spoken a lot of Wasps on this blog over the last few months, mainly over their move to Coventry's Ricoh arena and the bitter taste left in the mouth of some of their long term fans, but on the pitch, the players have been impressive and had a few great results this season. Andy Goode has rolled back the years and leading the backline beautifully at the moment and the back row trio of Johnson, Hughes and Haskell can dominate almost any side in the Premiership. Consistency is now the key for Dai Jones men and with passions high after their recent move, It may well be the fillip for a push up the table in the second half of the season.
Leicester Tigers - It's a sign of the success craved and expected of the Welford Road side that this 7th place start is putting pressure on Richard Cockerill in the hot seat for the Tigers. Infuriatingly inconsistent, beating Toulon then 2 weeks later unable to beat a side with 14 men. Some of the signings made have been below Tigers high standards, Freddie Burns especially has seemingly lost the touch that made him an England player, but the injury list was crippling for Tigers and some old heads back, like Croft and Coles will be the boost needed for the traditional late season sprint to the top 4
Harlequins - Like Leicester, injuries have stalled Quins so far this season, especially in the backline, and losing several key players for international duty didn't help their cause. It's been a difficult time for them, but they are beginning to show signs of life and are another side that will be looking towards a top 4 finish, or at least a spot in the top European competition next season. They will hope to get key men fit and will hope for improved form from the likes of Mike Brown and Marland Yarde!
Gloucester - It was always going to be yet another rebuilding season at Kingsholm, with a huge turnover of playing staff and coaches, but some of the underwhelming performances have left fans scratching their heads! Some quality play from the likes of Laidlaw, Kvesic, Palmer and rejuvenated England pair Jonny May and Ben Morgan have been highlights, but the lack of squad depth in certain area's (prop and centre, mainly) and big names such as Hook and Afoa struggling to adapt to Premiership life and the retirement of the legendary James Simpson-Daniel have meant some dismal performances and their season is already looking as good as over.
Newcastle Falcons - Hopes were high when the Falcons signed players like the Tuilagi brothers and Josh Furno but the reality has been a disjointed side that ultimately need a strong fly half to lead the side. Games have been lost due to basic errors like missed kicks and they really need to find some kind of a spark to enable them to win games.
London Irish - On paper, Irish had recruited really well and seemed to have a pack to be feared across the league, but they've at times been inexplicably poor and have been on the wrong end of some big losses so far, although they did have an impressive win over Leicester. It's definitely a team that can improve quickly though and they will be hoping to jump up a couple of places in the league.
London Welsh - I think anyone who follows the premiership will already know the gist of what will be written here. A massive squad turnover from last seasons promotion winning squad has totally backfired on Welsh, and they continue to try and sign their way out of trouble, but the real issue is they are signing journeymen and frankly too many players way past their peak. Already they've set records for the most 40 point defeats in a row, only 1 point on the board (which came as a try bonus in a hammering against Bath) and just 80 points scored and 490 against in just 10 matches (an average of a 49 - 8 loss per game.....), they simply are not good enough for the Premiership and are currently not showing any kind of improvement or encouragement that they can turn it round. Will more than likely, without a miraculously huge turnaround go down as one of the worst premiership sides of all time, and that is a huge shame as the fans and investors to the club deserve better!!!!
I'll finish with a small section cut and pasted from my season preview blog (found HERE) for how I thought the season would go.... to be fair, I'm not massively off target so far a few sides need to improve for it to come properly true, but not a bad effort!!
Top 4 – (In no particular order) Saracens, Tigers, Saints, Quins
Euro qualifiers - Gloucester and Bath
Euro Play off – Wasps
Relegated – London Welsh
So for the second time tonight, have a great xmas!!!