Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Who Will Be the Champions?

The Guinness Premiership is rounding the find bend and all the teams at the top are sharpening their spikes for the final run in.

Last week I upset Sale fans when I picked the Sharks as the team most likely to slip into the Championship next season.

Now, I'm going to crane my neck and look at the top of the table to see just who could be Guinness Premiership Champions.

Let's delve into each team's remaining fixtures, do a bit of crappy maths and conjure up a potential winner.

Here are the teams with their current league positions, points and run in:

Leicester Tigers

Points: 58
Position: 1st
Fixtures: Bath (H), Falcons (A), Harlequins (H), Saracens (H)
Playoff tip:  It's not a bad run in for the Tigers with three of their last four games at fortress Welford Road.  Coach Richard Cockerill will expect to pick up five points against both the Falcons and Quins, and I expect Leicester to battle out wins againsts Bath and Sarries.  A top two spot and a home semi-final awaits.

Northampton Saints

Points: 56
Position: 2nd
Fixtures: Leeds (A), Gloucester (H), Bath (A), Saracens (H), London Irish (A)

Playoff tip:  The Saints have a tougher run in than Leicester with tricky away games against Bath and the Exiles.  Leeds could be a potential banana skin as they battle relegation, but Northampton will expect to take the full five points this weekend.  An LV= Cup final rematch against Gloucester could be a humdinger of a grudge match, and whilst Sarries's form has been pretty rubbish, last weekend they put Newcastle to the sword in a seven try demolishion job.  Despite this, Northampton are the form team and in pole position for a home semi final.


Points: 51
Position: 3rd
Fixtures: Gloucester (A), Sale(A), Harlequins (H), Northampton (A), Leicester (A)

Playoff tip:  A very tough run-in for Brendan Venter and chums.  Away trips to Franklins Gardens and Welford Road in the final two rounds are a massive ask for a team with stuttering form.  Gloucester away won't be easy as the cherry and whites are also strong right now.  Sale should be a four or five pointer, but the game against Quins could be tricky.  I think Sarries have peaked too soon and will finish in 5th.

London Irish

Points: 48
Position: 4th
Fixtures: Wasps (A), Worcester (A), Leeds (H), Gloucester (A), Northampton (H)
Playoff tip:  With the exception of Gloucester and Northampton this isn't a bad run in for the Exiles.  But what about Wasps?  Well, to be honest I'm not quite sure how Danny Celebriani and pals have climbed so high up the table, as losses to Leeds, Sale and Saints in recent weeks is hardly championship form.  Therefore I expect Irish to bag a win at Adams Park, take the points from Leeds and Worcester and finish in third or fouth.  I think they'll be happy with a semi-final, even though it won't be at home.


Points: 44
Position: 5th
Fixtures: London Irish(H), Worcester (A), Bath (A), Newcastle Falcons (H)
Playoff tip:  Wasps will finish out of the top four.  They have one game less to play than most of their rivals and can't realistically target the Newcastle or Worcester games as sure things.  The Falcons beat Wasps at home, and Wasps on the road are about as tough to beat as a team of under 7s.  They will finish in 6th.


Points: 42
Position: 6th
Fixtures: Leicester (A), Sale (H), Northampton (H), Wasps (A), Leeds(A)

Playoff tip:  Bath look to be timing their run in rather nicely.  A dreadful first half of the season saw them languishing down at the bottom of the table, but an impressive run of form hsa propelled them to in touching distance of the top four.  Steve Meehan's men are the best team in the league on current form having grabbed 30 of the last 35 available league points.  They're also the best team away from home with 25 points scored on the road.  Bath are coming up on the rails fast and I think they'll pip Wasps to a playoff place.
So, with form and the run-in analysed, I think the semi-finalists will be:

  1. Leicester Tigers
  2. Northampton Saints
  3. London Irish
  4. Bath Rugby 
But which team will be crowned champions?

Gut feeling?  I think it could well be Northampton's year.

Put your hands up for the Saints


I don't know.  As I say it's just a feeling.  Everything coming out of the club at the moment is positive.  They have several international players with plenty more on the fringes.  The Saints have already won their first piece of silverware this year with the LV= Cup and they are the only English team still in the Heineken Cup.  The coaching set up of Jim Mallinder, Dorian West and Paul Grayson has worked wonders.  Everything just seems to be clicking at the right time.

It's not that I'm discounting Leicester, Bath and London Irish - it's just that these teams don't seem to have that extra spark right now.  Leicester are great at home but their away form hasn't been as impressive and their high profile departures are unsettling.  OK, so Soane Tonga'uiha is leaving Northampton for Sarries next season and Neil Best is heading to Worcester - but I hear Tonga'uiha is now trying to stay at Franklins Gardens do the the postive outlook at the club.

I could wheel out some stats about the final league position of teams who have gone on to win the title in previous years, but I won't as I don't think that really matters.

If the top four shapes up as above, I think Northampton will beat London Irish in the semi-final and go on to do a job on Leicester in the final.

Again, don't ask me why, but I just have a feeling....

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