England’s Premiership Rugby competition is one week shy of the halfway point. The league contains one winless side, one unbeaten side, and a competitive 11 teams in between. Here are five things we’ve learned from round 12 of action:
Bristol’s game against Exeter Chiefs on Saturday was billed as game of the weekend, but Chiefs’ 19-13 win over fellow West Country rivals was strewn with errors and showed why Pat Lam’s Bristol are lingering towards the wrong end of the table.
Bristol look like a different team to the side that made it to last year’s semi-finals – they look almost timid in comparison.
The Premiership fell in love with Bristol when they’d tap and go from 50m out, when they’d run it from their own line and back themselves, when they’d kick to the corner when a penalty would draw up the game.
Now, though, they look short on confidence – even when they do run it they’re uncharacteristically knocking the ball on.
Pat Lam signed a deal with the club in the summer to keep him at Ashton Gate until 2028, will he last the six years? Who knows.
A rivalry born out of results over geographical location, any encounter between Northampton Saints and Saracens has a real sense of edge about it.
In their 6-30 loss to the London club on Sunday, Northampton showed how they’re able to mix it with the former double European Champions but were unable to take their chances.
On the other hand, Saracens were frustrated by the home side but took each opportunity handed to them by Northampton and scored 24 unanswered points in the second half.
Saints aren’t having a poor season, far from it, but they’re beginning to be found out by opponents. They have a very impressive plan A and B, revolving around an exciting backline of internationals, home grown talent and British and Irish Lions, but they struggle with plan C and beyond.
They’re contenders to snatch the coveted fourth play-off position but they’ll need to figure out how to beat teams when their plan isn’t working otherwise Chris Boyd and his team will be in an uncomfortable place going forward.
Tigers’ rampant rugby
It’s starting to get rather predictable watching Leicester Tigers, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.
The side extended their winning league streak to 11 games with Sunday’s 31-0 win over Newcastle.
Steve Borthwick has revolutionised a side who looked broken just 18 months ago into the dominant force in Europe (as plain results go).
And in their play, it looks as though the squad are enjoying themselves – the forwards are rumbling on and the backs are dancing around the park.
Should they beat Wasps at the weekend, they’ll be unbeaten for half the season, an incredible feat,
Premiership Champions grind win
Harlequins must love playing Gloucester Rugby at the moment. Yesterday’s 17-20 win away from home was their fifth win in a row over the Cherry and Whites.
That said, Gloucester made it supremely difficult for the defending champions with a dominant opening 30 minutes.
From there on, though, and despite the raucous crowd, Harlequins dominated the match and would have wanted a much more comfortable winning margin.
Gloucester remain in the top four, four points behind Harlequins in third, but they’re now within reach of Exeter and Northampton and next week’s away game against Saracens could be their toughest test yet.
Lee Blackett’s tenure as Wasps’ coach couldn’t have got off to a better start – he went on an impressive winning run when the side looked to be in a rut.
This season, he needs to do the same. His side fell to a 26-18 defeat at the hands of Sale Sharks and didn’t look too competitive throughout.
They have a squad full of stars but are lingering in 10th, outside of the Champions Cup spots.
They have a harrowingly long injury list which is no doubt having a huge impact on the squad, but without the lure of Champions Cup rugby, there will be little enticing names with the level of fame they have done so in the past.