One of the main talking points from the weekend will be Italy’s unusual tactics at Twickenham. But back in the Aviva Premiership, clubs are battling for points without their international stars. Round 15 has delivered some more fascinating results and the Aviva Premiership Play-off Race is certainly hotting up.
The table is starting to take shape, particularly at the top. With six games left to play, here at Last Word on Rugby, we look at ‘the contenders’ for the top four positions coming up to the end of the season.
Wasps: The new contenders
Wasps’ mentality is very much “we will score more than you”. They couldn’t quite manage it against a Denny Solomona-inspired Sale Sharks, but at home they had too much for Gloucester. It brings attractive and exciting rugby to the Ricoh Arena but it is still debatable that it will bring trophies for Dai Young’s men.
In knockout matches last season against Saracens and Exeter, the games were tighter and the control of the opposition overcame the attacking flair. Also, as Wasps have been away from the top table for a while, they seem to lack the experience to close out crucial, tight games.
HIGHLIGHTS: Re-live yesterday's 35-22 win v @gloucesterrugby extending our lead at the top of the @premrugby table! https://t.co/l3hKzvuNEV
— Wasps (@WaspsRugby) February 27, 2017
Fortunately they have been able to extend their lead at the top, and now stretch out to six points. And with Saracens having slipped-up in the chase, everything points to them finishing in first place.
A home semi-final should surely bring a first final appearance since 2008. Whether that will result in their seventh league title is currently a different question. Their semi-final place will be confirmed in a few weeks and they can work on preparing for the crunch games in May. The only distraction may be Europe.
Last year’s finalists: Exeter Chiefs and Saracens
The top two from 2015-16 are up there again and don’t look like giving up their top four places just yet. Saracens have lost twice on the road whilst missing the spine of their team to the Six Nations–but still have a talented enough squad to pick up points.
Exeter started slowly but have caught up and now lie in second place. They have tough away games at Leicester, Harlequins and Gloucester to come and this could threaten their home semi-final place. However the Chiefs have always shown no fear away from home and they would still be confident in an away semi-final.
That could well be against Saracens, whom they almost beat at Allianz Park back in January.
The traditional names: Bath Rugby and Leicester Tigers
After the latest set of results it looks like fourth place will go to either Bath or Leicester Tigers. Bristol caused an upset in the West Country Derby and Bath missed the chance to pull away from the Tigers. Now it looks like ‘The Clash’ between the two at Twickenham in April will decide fourth place.
Leicester have the momentum, after two big morale-boosting home wins and an unexpected win at Harlequins. Bath have been inconsistent though, and now face Wasps and Saracens next. Losing the likes of Ford and Watson doesn’t help their cause and Baths run-in looks tougher than Leicester’s.
The men in blue and black had a storming start to the season. They have been top on occasions but are in danger of missing out of the play-offs for the second season running. The Tigers may sneak into the play-offs, as they so often do, but in recent years the semi-finals have been a step too far. Whilst they search for a new Director of Rugby, avoiding another play-off battering may be a blessing in disguise.
Round 17 of the Aviva Premiership begins on Friday March 3. All of the above mentioned teams will continue their Aviva Premiership Play-off Race, and fans will be the beneficiary as the competition heats up!
“Main photo credit”