At the end of the year we are normally half way through the league. This season due to the Rugby World Cup we are only about a third of the way through. Still it’s a good to opportunity to take a look at the table and look at the shape of the table.
The table is forming into 3 main groups of teams. Though this doesn’t mean that teams can’t and won’t move between them. The first group is the top 4 teams which coincidently is the playoff places.
Saracens lead the way having won all their games. With the whole Wolf Pack defence image it shouldn’t surprise that this has been built on the meanest defence in the league. Only 5 tries and a total of 75 points have been given up in the 7 games so far. There have been several voices calling this boring rugby but if you look at the facts Saracens have scored the second most points and are second equal in the try scoring table.
Exeter are the team pushing them the hardest with having scored the most points and tries in the league. They have lost one game but even that yielded a LBP. These are at the two sides stand out sides of the season so far with both these teams having a points difference over 100 and double any other sides in the table. It would be a major surprise if these two sides didn’t go onto make the playoffs.
There is a bit of a gap back to the next two teams who make up the top 4 and they are there with contrasting styles. A lot of the talk about Tigers has been the influence of Mauger but if you look at the stats it’s their defence that’s the bedrock of their league position. With just 8 tries given up so far being the second least compared to their 13 ties scored putting them seventh equal and only gaining one TBP. They are better than that on points scored so their kicking is going well.
Quins in contrast have their attack to thank for their position. Good recruitment over the summer has added bulk and attitude to the side. Still the only sides that have given up more tries are the relegation candidates. On the flip side they have scored 20 tries to put them second equal in that table. Like Saracens and Exeter they have picked up points in all their games always getting LBPs when they have lost. Unlike the top two these sides are not seen as nailed certainties for the playoffs but clearly are in a better place than those below.
The mid-table pack is particularly large and tight this season with tenth only 6 points behind fifth. There is a 6 point gap between fourth and fifth which is more than a TBP win and the reason why I’m seeing a splitting appearing in the table. Also none of the teams from now on have a winning record.
It’s amazing to see that fifth has a losing record. Saints were cruising at the top of the table last season. This time around they have struggled to their game going. There have been some key personnel changes but not that many. Clearly the different preseason and reintegration of players has not been handled well. With only 124 points scored, less than Saracens points differential, it’s clear that their defence is carrying them at the moment. It’s not all doom and gloom though as Saints are the last team to get at least a point from every game.
Gloucester are the last team in the list that doesn’t have a losing record but they are also the first team with a negative points difference. This was supposed to be the year that they pushed on. Last season they had a new coaching setup and key players and ended the season playing good rugby. This season they have struggled and twice have only managed a penalty all game.
Bath have scored more tires and let in less than Gloucester but sit a point behind them in the table. They are another team that haven’t clicked this season. If this is down to the different season and bringing players back or distractions from issues like the salary cap and Sam Burgess only those inside the club can know.
Wasps have put in some inspired performances especially in Europe and have garnered a reputation for exciting rugby. The problem is that they have been inconsistent and given up as many tries as they score. For all that exciting rugby they have only managed to score the same amount of tries as the promoted Worcester Warriors.
Sharks are again part of that middle pack, unbeaten at home and with no wins on the road. With at kind of record they are going to stay in that middle pack neither worried about relegation or troubling the upper end of the table.
Warriors have shocked us all with their start to the season, promotion was supposed to be a season too early in their plan. They are holding onto the mid-table pack by their fingernails with only two wins in the league this season. The last of those was back at the beginning of November. They are proving stiff resistance and that is looking like enough to achieve their ambition of staying up.
Of the mid-table pack Saints and Bath have got to be the favourites to challenge for the playoff positions due to their form over the last couple of seasons. Saints though will have to deal with losing Alex King their attack coach to England.
The bottom two teams are already 7 points adrift and their games against each other and Warriors will be particularly important. Also these are the only two teams that have a points difference that is more than twice worse than another team in the league.
Irish changed their coaching staff and brought in key players to improve the squad over the summer. Losing their expected first choice fly-half in Andy Goode to an injury induced retirement just before the season added to the disruption. As we saw with Gloucester last season, this amount of change takes time to bed in on the pitch. With Irish picking up their first win and points last weekend moving off the bottom of the table we might be seeing some of their potential starting to show.
Falcons are the only team without a win in the league this season. Last season we saw an improvement in their attacking ability but this season that hasn’t been on show as they have scored the least tries. Without significant recruitment over the summer it’s hard to see where the improvement is going to come from. The added disruption of having to bring in a temporary injury replacement at fly-half doesn’t help.
At the moment it looks like Falcons are in the most precariously placed and must be the favourites to end up in the relegation place. There is still two thirds of the season to go so none of these views are certain by any means and I’m sure there will be unexpected twists and turns to come.
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