Can Anyone Outside the Top 4 Win the Aviva Premiership This Year?

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29:  The Aviva Premiership Trophy sits on the pitch at the Aviva Premiership Season Launch 2013-2014 at Twickenham Stadium on August 29, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images for Aviva)
David Rogers/Getty Images

As much as the current state of affairs might entertain, it’s human nature to always look for the next biggest, the next brightest: the next best thing.

In the Aviva Premiership’s current state, Leicester, Saracens, Harlequins and Northampton Saints have been the division’s big wigs, dominating domestic silverware between them.

However, rugby, like any other major sport, is cyclical and can expect to welcome a new force to the league’s upper echelon at some point, the only question being who and when.

For the last two seasons, the aforementioned quartet have taken up the Premiership’s four playoff places come the end of the campaign, but several outfits have shown the potential to break up that monopoly and pose a threat to the silverware this season.

Considering Rob Baxter took the club into the Premiership for the first time in 2010, Exeter Chiefs’ have done incredibly well not to finish outside of the top eight in their three seasons since gaining promotion.

In their fourth consecutive campaign among the rest of England’s hierarchy, the Devon club will now seek to make the next step in their growth by beating their 2011-12 finish of fifth and gain a top-four spot for the first time.

Last term, Dean Mumm led his side to a sixth-place finish where they ended up just a point behind Gloucester, showing just how fine the margins are at that part of the table.

The Chiefs were the second-most-successful side in attack last season, only losing out to Harlequins in terms of points accrued.

On paper, the club have all the tools necessary to challenge the rest of the top four and have had a decent summer, bringing in Welsh pair Tom James and Ceri Sweeney as well as Fetu’u Vainikolo, Don Armand and Romana Graham.

On the other hand, the loss of Gonzalo Camacho to Leicester may be one of the most effective on the Exeter squad.

Baxter’s main issue now is consistency and developing the attribute within his squad to go out and earn the victories that were barely lost last season, but which ultimately decided the campaign.

Leicester Tigers, Gloucester, London Welsh and Northampton Saints all beat Exeter last season in games that finished with three points or less separating the sides, showing exactly the areas that mean the difference between a playoff spot and otherwise.

Gloucester are another team capable of causing an upset in their Premiership wares and performed admirably against the majority of the top four, even beating Leicester Tigers in October 2012.

Kingsholm become something of a fortress for the Cherry and Whites yet again last season and was the scene of some encouraging wins over Saracens, Harlequins and Exeter.

However, that form couldn’t be maintained on the road, and results suffered slightly when Nigel Davies’ side were in unfamiliar territory.

If Gloucester are to fulfil their potential and improve upon last season’s fifth-place finish, that’s an area the side will need to improve in first and foremost while still falling back on their home form.

The team won’t be too changed from last term following a fairly quiet summer period in terms of playing staff, but those familiar faces will be expected to show more this time around in the pursuit of Premiership greatness.

Should Davies’ side make it to the playoffs, they know they have the ability to overcome even the biggest opposition on their day and can be considered the one other side with the potential to cause disharmony among the top four.

That being said, the squad strength and depth of talent within the likes of Leicester, Northampton, Harlequins and Saracens still appears to be above the level of the rest of the field.