We have come to the end of one of the most exciting seasons of Premiership rugby, well a the top end anyway. Here is my review of the season and how I think all the teams got on.
The Final Table
Saracens were the champions beating Bath in the Twickenham final but the table finished like this.
1) Northampton 2) Bath 3) Leicester 4) Saracens 5) Exeter 6) Wasps 7) Sale 8) Harlequins 9) Gloucester 10) Irish 11) Falcons 12) Welsh
So how did you pre-season prediction turn out?
1) Saracens 2) Leicester 3) Northampton 4) Harlequins 5) Bath 6) Exeter 7) Sale 8) Gloucester 9) Wasps 10) Irish 11) Welsh 12) Newcastle
I didn’t think that Quins would drop so far, even if I did think they were the most vulnerable of the top 4. I did have Bath as at the main challengers but wasn’t expecting them to go all the way to the final. Wasps also over performed and didn’t suffer from fatigue as the season went on. Finally I thought Welsh would put up more of a fight. Otherwise I don’t think I was that far off.
Prem - 1st and SF Champions Cup - QF LV=Cup - SF
Blitzed the Premiership early doors and built up a big lead. But their season fell apart after that semifinal loss to Clermont, that 37-5 beating must have been demoralising. In stark contrast to their domestic form, Saints had been up and down in European with a relatively poor performance against Racing Metro for example. With 2 losses in the last 4 games of the Premiership season, compared to 3 across the rest of the season, and the continued absence of George North they headed into the playoffs with their aura diminished. Making the playoffs and getting out their group in Europe is an OK season but this is a club that targets making finals.
Grade – B
Prem - 2nd and Final Champions Cup - QF LV=Cup - Group
Bath took another step up this season. Last time they just missed out on making the Premiership playoffs and this season they went a couple of steps further. Add into that getting out of their Champions Cup group in Europe and it was a successful season even if they will be disappointed with the Premiership final. Having managed to do all this with their exciting attack play, centred around their young English players and not getting distracted by the media circus around Burgess is a major achievement. The only cloud on the season has been the unsubstantiated rumours linking the club with the salary cap breach investigations and we will just have to see how that plays out.
Grade – A
Prem - 3rd and SF Champions Cup - Group LV=Cup - SF
This will be remembered as a very poor season for Tigers. We have to remember that Tigers have set themselves exceptionally high standards and other clubs would love to end the season with these results. How ever it has been a torrid season, starting with only 3 wins in the first 7 games. Tigers will point to their high number of injuries but their squad does have a high number of players who have a poor injury history. In some ways you make your own luck and their post season review should look into this. They showed the character of the club and squad to battle back from that and rack up enough wins to make the playoffs. The big question is if this is going to be a one off season or the end of a dynasty?
Grade – D
Prem - 4th and Champions Champions Cup - SF LV=Cup - Champions
This is possibly the most successful season for a club, they won the Premiership, LV=Cup, A League, Women’s Cup and League. They were far from dominant and looked weaker then they had in the previous couple of years. But the experience of coming top and not winning the final meant a different approach this year with everything targeted at the end of season finals. In the end the approach paid off with the big prize and Saracens are the first team to win the Premiership after finishing outside the top 2 places. Again like their finalist opponents there is the cloud of the salary cap investigation but at the moment this has been almost the perfect season.
Grade – A
Prem - 5th Challenge Cup - SF LV=Cup - Final
Many were predicting that the Chiefs would struggle this year after their 8th place finish last season. As with a lot of things the devil is in detail, Exeter’s “poor” season was down to a lack of depth in the second row and a loss of experience in the pack. Those were gaps that were filled in the off season and especially the signing of Waldrom paid huge dividends. A return to the LV=Cup final and a first European semi-final (even if in the challenge cup) were a good return. If it wasn’t for a slump over christmas they would have also made it to the Premiership playoffs. A very good season and maybe soon we will stop thinking of them as the new boys.
Grade – A
Prem - 6th Champions Cup - QF LV=Cup - Group
Having made it into the Champions Cup via the playoffs last season the fans would have been looking forward to some big games but not expecting too much. In the end, like in many things Wasps did this season, they over performed and got out of their group. In the premiership an impressive home record saw them qualify by right for the Champions Cup again. A poor away record of only 2 wins however, saw them fall short of the playoffs. But the biggest success of the season for them was their move up to Coventry after being so close to bankruptcy recently. It’s still early days, but the signs so far are, that they have the right structure both on and off the pitch to be a club on the rise.
Grade – A
Prem - 7th Champions Cup - Group LV=Cup - Group
Sharks might have slipped one place in the table and not achieved much in the cups, but after losing 4 of their first 6 games that’s not a bad result. The Champions Cup was always going to be a tough ask and stretch the squad. There are some young players coming through, but they are heavily dependent on a couple of players. When those players are missing they can struggle. Due to this they lacked the consistency to push for a top half of the table finish in the end. Not having the budget of some of the other teams this was an OK season, maybe not one to tell the grandchildren about but far from a disaster either.
Grade – B
Prem - 8th Champions Cup - Group LV=Cup - Group
To go from Champions to lower mid-table in a couple of seasons is very poor. This is the first time in 4 years that they have not made the playoffs and they never looked like doing so either. O’Shea sounded delusional at times saying that everything was OK and they would put a run together. In the end they only managed to string 2 wins together twice and never more than two. With nothing from the cups either it clearly showed that they didn’t have the squad to compete. It doesn’t sound like there will be any management casualties but clearly rebuilding is needed.
Grade – D
Prem - 9th Challenge Cup - Champions LV=Cup - Group
There was plenty of hope at the beginning of the season but a new front row, half back pairing and coaching structure takes time to gel. With all that change the team took time to know each other and there was inconsistency, only managing to get 2 wins in a row. Finishing in the same place as last season might suggest a season of stagnation. However performances have improved and the Challenge Cup title give the fans confidence that things are improving.
Grade – B
Prem - 10th Challenge Cup - QF LV=Cup - Group
London Irish have been in decline since being runners up in 2009. They started off OK but a run of six losses from october to late december decided their season. There was the odd upset victory to raise hopes but this was a wasted season. Losing your coaches midseason is disruptive, with new coaches and players announced for next season it really could have gone downhill. To be fair to the squad that didn’t happen but it was still a forgettable season for the club.
Grade – C
Prem - 11th Challenge Cup - QF LV=Cup - Group
11th and not begin relegated because London Welsh were so bad might sound very much like last season. But if you scratch the surface this season was very different. With their new 4G pitch many people thought that Falcons would struggle with the pace of the game. Richards has transformed their game plan though and they picked up a couple of good results at home. Being safe by christmas and improving the game plan means it’s been a step in the right direction.
Grade – B
Prem - 12th Challenge Cup - Group LV=Cup - Group
It’s been a horrible season for London Welsh, they knew it was going to be difficult with not many wins but they did expect a win or two. They have been unfairly panned in the press for turning over to much of their squad. There was a large amount of change but a lot of players had already decided to move on before promotion was decided. But what ever the reasons the season was a disaster. Rumours of optional training sessions that senior players decided not to have didn’t help the image of a club scraping for every point.
Grade – D
Overall a wonderful season that saw attendance at games raise again and exciting rugby. Unfortunately the salary cap investigation is taking a long time and suggestions that it should be scrapped, leave us with lingering doubts about the governance of the game. Still I’m looking forward to the action on the pitch next season with many teams looking to kick on.