The Aviva Premiership season is almost upon us and so it’s time to have a look at the structure the season.
Did you do this last year? Hasn’t this all been sorted with the new European competitions?
Yes I did this last year when the new european competitions were introduced. This time through it’s not political fighting that has changed the season structure but having the Rugby World Cup in England. There is a rule that there can not be any professional rugby on at the same time as the Rugby World Cup. Some how an agreement was reached that the Premiership could start after the pool stages meaning that the season is starting later but not as late as it might have been.
So how are they fitting all the games in?
The end of the season is going to be the end of May as usual and to allow this to happen the LV=Cup has been dropped which would normally take up 6 weeks. This means that for the teams in the European Rugby Champions Cup there are no weekends to rest players. Teams in the European Rugby Challenge Cup will be able to rest players during these weekends if they choose. This will have effected the recruitment of the top 6 teams from last season especially Exeter and Wasps to add depth to add depth to the squad as much as first fifteen quality.
So what are the factors that mean we need to deconstruct the season?
Essentially there are three main factors:
- Switching between Aviva Premiership and European competitions
- Players away due to international commitments
- The weather
So what is it about the Weather?
The one that hasn’t changed from last season despite global warming is the weather. If you check out the BBC website for average weather conditions for London, you will see that the average rainfall picks up in October and November. Whilst December is drier, January is also wet. Due to this rain you will hear talk of heavier pitches over winter. This is really October to January with pitches firming up from February. Conventional wisdom says you can’t play running rugby during this time. This is now being challenged with commentators pointing out that the All Blacks do it in the cold and wet of New Zealand.
How do the competitions and international commitments affect things?
The Season is roughly split into 3 sections. The period covering the European group stages, a middle block of Premiership games and then the European playoffs and end of season run in.
European Group Stages
This section runs from October through to January. The season opens with a block of 4 Premiership games which is down on the 6 last season. This means hitting the ground running isn’t going to be quiet so important. That’s a relief to teams reliant on their international players. As these games overlap with the knockout rounds of the Rugby World Cup players with the top teams will still be away. Teams will be getting their players back in drips and drops as their teams get knocked out. Even when players return they will need rest and reintegrating. All in all don’t expect to see many international players playing in the opening 4 games.
We then start switching back and forth between competitions. It’s two European games followed by two Premiership, two more European, 3 Premiership and finally two European. All the teams will want their international players back for the European campaign. We will see the Challenge Cup sides using these windows to rest players where as the Champions Cup sides will be looking to rotate players. All of this is through the wet/heavy part of the season meaning it will be draining on the players.
Middle Premiership Block
There is an unprecedented block of 10 Premiership games back to back from the end of January to the beginning of April. We can’t fully concentrate on the Premiership though as International rugby will be back in the form of the 6 Nations. The 6 Nations doesn’t encompass the whole block but the vast majority of it. Again those teams reliant on home union international players will be hoping to get through this without losing too much ground. Normally the impact of international call ups is reduced as we would have 2 rounds of LV=Cup action during that window. Now all the games will really count. The ground should be hardening up over this period with more attractive rugby on display.
European Playoffs and End of Season Run in
We again switch back and forth between competitions here for April and May. As we are into the knockout rounds of the European competition sides that didn’t qualify out of their groups will have weekends where they have no games. The order of the games are European Quarter finals, Premiership game, European Semi Finals, two Premiership games, European Finals, Premiership Semi Finals and Final. As you can see there are only 3 regular season games left by this stage so it is a very short run in and it might really start when players first come back from the 6 Nations.
There you have it the break down of how the season will unfold, I have included a table below so that you can see the order of the games and their overlap with International competitions and the wet weather.
|October||3||Aviva Premiership||Rugby World Cup||Wet|
|4||Aviva Premiership||Rugby World Cup||Wet|
|5||Aviva Premiership||Rugby World Cup||Wet|
|February||1||Aviva Premiership||6 Nations|
|2||Aviva Premiership||6 Nations|
|4||Aviva Premiership||6 Nations|
|2||Aviva Premiership||6 Nations|
|3||Aviva Premiership||6 Nations|