It’s been a while since the last Guinness Premiership report, but the author has the excuse of being in Hong Kong, surely understandable amongst the rugby fraternity!?
Since I’ve been away, plenty has been going on in the Premiership. One team regained some pride, another lost all hope, whilst others cemented their respective challenges.
For the first time in months we have a Premiership table where every team has played the same number of games, so it’s time to assess who has been performing in the past few weeks, and what challenges lie ahead for all the teams.
Going from top to bottom in the league, here’s what each club is playing for in their remaining three matches:
Harlequins (57 pts)
Well, who would have thought it!? Having ambled along scoring tight victories while their England stars have been away, the mighty Quins pulled it out of the bag against an abject Worcester side to drastically increase their points difference and find themselves at the top of the table.
With difficult away trips to Bath and Sale, both also chasing the playoffs, it will still be a tough task but they are in a prime position to make the top four.
Fixtures Remaining: Bath (a), Sale (a), Newcastle (h)
Leicester (57 pts)
The Tigers are right where they want to be with enough experience in the squad to know what they need to do to stay in the top four.
After a recent slip-up away to Newcastle, they will have re-focused and will be angling for a home quarterfinal.
Fixtures Remaining: Sale (h), Saracens (a), Bristol (h)
Bath (57 pts)
Having played some scintillating rugby throughout the season, Bath will be many neutral’s favourites to take the title.
Will their brand of fast, 15-man rugby be suited for the knockouts, or will they have a plan B to ensure they take the trophy this year?
Fixtures Remaining: Harlequins (h), Newcastle (a), Saracens (h)
Gloucester (56 pts)
After leading the field for most of the season, Gloucester again seem to be choking when it matters most.
Their recent loss to Worcester will have left a bitter taste in the mouth, but they do have the easiest run in of the top teams.
However, even if they make the knockouts, I can’t see them beating any of the sides currently above them in the table.
Fixtures Remaining: Northampton (a), Worcester (h), Wasps (a)
London Irish (55 pts)
Irish seem to have put their blip in form behind them, with two consecutive victories in recent weeks.
I would love to see them make the playoffs, and with Bath playing Quins this weekend, they have a chance to get back into the top four.
Three wins from three in their remaining fixtures looks likely.
Fixtures Remaining: Bristol (h), Northampton (a), Worcester (h)
Sale (51 pts)
The other top teams have stolen a march on Sale, who are a clear victory away from the top five.
I can’t see Leicester slipping up at home this weekend, and that could well spell the end of Sale’s Premiership challenge.
It’s been a tough season with injuries and international call-ups and Sale have suffered more than most.
They will be anxiously looking below them at a Saracens team with a lot to prove.
Fixtures Remaining: Leicester (h), Harlequins (a), Northampton (h)
Saracens (46 pts)
Defeating Wasps last weekend keeps Saracens in touch with Sale, and the prospect of Heineken Cup rugby next season is a real drive.
However, over the course of the season Sale deserve it more, and will probably do enough to secure one more win and keep Sarries at bay.
Fixtures Remaining: Worcester (a), Leicester (h), Bath (a)
Newcastle (42 pts)
What a storming end to the season for Newcastle, which puts them in great stead to mount a proper challenge in the 2009/2010 season.
In their past three matches, they have beaten Quins and Leicester, and it is just a shame the season isn’t running on for another month, otherwise a Heineken Cup place might well have been theirs.
They’ve just got a bit too much to do to make it this season, but could still affect the playoffs with fixtures against Bath and Quins still to come.
Fixtures Remaining: Wasps (a), Bath (h), Quins (a)
Northampton (39 pts)
A decent first season back in the Premiership with an ultimately limited squad, based on terrific home form until recently.
They will need to keep hold of their top players and recruit well to do any better next season.
Fixtures Remaining: Gloucester (h), L Irish (h), Sale (a)
Wasps (39 pts)
An atrocious season by their own high standards, Wasps may have come to the end of a golden era.
It may take a while to rebuild the squad, but the process seems to have already begun with some astute signings for next season.
Wasps will be targeting three wins from their remaining fixtures to salvage some pride and have something to build on for next season.
Fixtures Remaining: Newcastle (h), Bristol (a), Gloucester (h)
Worcester (26 pts)
Lucky to have a buffer of nine points on Bristol, and failing a miracle will be safe for next season.
They relied heavily on overseas signings for the majority of the season and will struggle again next season.
Fixtures Remaining: Saracens (h), Gloucester (a), London Irish (h)
Bristol (17 pts)
Bristol have shown glimpses of what they are capable of in recent weeks and it has been such a sad season for one of the great clubs in the game with difficulties on and off the field.
They will be a dangerous prospect for their remaining three fixtures, because a team playing for pride can cause some mighty upsets.
Fixtures Remaining: L Irish (a), Wasps (h), Leicester (a)
Of course, all of these predictions are likely to be nonsense with the way the Premiership has been going.
All I know for certain is that whoever makes the playoffs, there will be nothing to choose between them, and with the added carrot of a Lions place up for grabs, we are likely to see some excellent matches for the remainder of the season.
By Jon Hobbs