Last season I said it was the most exciting season ever and this one might not have been as nail-biting at the top but there were again some great stories. Here is my review of the season and how I think the teams got on.
The Final Table
Saracens managed to win back to back titles as well as the European Rugby Champions Cup but here is how the table finished.
1 Saracens 2 Exeter Chiefs 3 Wasps 4 Leicester Tigers 5 Northampton Saints 6 Sale Sharks 7 Harlequins 8 Gloucester Rugby 9 Bath Rugby 10 Worcester Warriors 11 Newcastle Falcons 12 London Irish
So how did you predict the table would turn out?
1 Bath Rugby 2 Saracens 3 Northampton Saints 4 Exeter Chiefs 5 Leicester Tigers 6 Wasps 7 Gloucester Rugby 8 Harlequins 9 Sale Sharks 10 London Irish 11 Newcastle Falcons 12 Worcester Warriors
I really did not see Bath having the nightmare season that they have had. Otherwise I’m not a million miles off. Tigers, Wasps and Sale did better than expected and Saints will be disappointed by their season. Finally the bottom 3 were as expected but Irish had a poor start and never managed to recover.
Prem - 1st and Champions Champions Cup - Champions
Saracens had a great season, they went un-defeated for a long time until Wasps eventually ended that run. They still topped the table and went on to become the first back to back winners since Tigers in 09-10 and 10-11. Having also wonted European Rugby Champions Cup they became the first time since Wasps in 04 to do the domestic and European double. This was all especially sweet as they have been at the latter stages of Europe a few teams now without being able to finish the job. Also contrary to many people’s beliefs this is also a team with a strong home-grown core to it. It was interesting that Saracens tactics to deal with a delayed season and a season where many teams lost players to international duty for long periods was to have very little turnover last year. I’m sure this played a part in their quick start to the season which was a wave they were able to ride for a long time.
Grade – A
Prem - 2nd and Final Champions Cup - QF A-League Champions
Exeter Chiefs had a another statement season in their gradual growth. This is their 6th year in the Premiership and a part from 2 seasons ago each year has been a step up on the last. This season saw them qualify from their European Rugby Champions Cup pool for the first time. It did own to some fortune as it’s the first team a team has qualified with only 3 wins but they did it. Also it’s the first time that they qualified for the Premiership playoffs and the final where they came unstuck to Saracens. It’s taken 6 years but finally the mainstream pundits are admitting that Exeter are here to stay and also to challenge the best teams. Winning the A League for teh second time, showed good squad depth, which has been criticised in the past. Also it shows the strength of Exeter’s academy and the 2013 class was not a one-off.
Grade – A
Prem - 3rd and SF Champions Cup - SF
This was another outstanding season for Wasps as they cemented their move to Coventry and challenged on all fronts. I personally though that their squad would be too thin to cope with both the Aviva Premiership and Champions Cup especially without the LV=Cup “rest” weekends. I was proved totally wrong and making the semi-finals of both the Champions Cup and Premiership was a great setup from last year. The only word of caution is that they are losing two of their best players in Piatau and Smith along with Piatau’s brother. Very good replacements are coming in but they will take time to learn the systems and we will have to see how quickly they settle.
Grade – A
Prem - 4th and SF Champions Cup - SF
I found Tigers one of the hardest to grade, if you go by my prediction at the start of the season then they nailed it. If you go by their own high expectations which are higher than just about another club then they came up slightly short. After 9 seasons of making the Premiership final it is now 3 seasons on the trot that they haven’t made it. A lot of people including myself didn’t think that their replacements were going to live up to the quality of the players they lost. What we didn’t take into account was the massive impact Mauger would have as a coach. Tigers’ attacking play i particular has been much improved this season. That’s something that should only improve now that the players have had a season of playing this way and it’s becoming much more natural for them.
Grade – B
Prem - 5th Champions Cup - QF
After appearing in back to back finals and then topping the table last season Saints dropped out of the playoff spots. In the Champions Cup they came second in their group to the eventual losing finalists before being knocked out by the champions in the quarter finals. For a season where their play was being so roundly criticised they were always there abouts in the league. This side though isn’t put together to be there abouts it’s put together for finals and this year they came up short. It will be interesting to see if they can get back up there in a season that’s not so disrupted by internationals. However they do have a couple of key players that have concussion problems that will need to be handled carefully.
Grade – C
Prem - 6th Challenge Cup - QF
Sale got themselves back into the top half of the table and into the Champions Cup for next season. When you look at the investment they are able to make compared to some of the teams below them this is a very good achievement. They did this off the back of a fantastic home record that saw them nearly stay undefeated at home all season. Their away form was totally lacking and something that Diamond needs to find an answer for. The loss of Cipriani and the additional strain of Champions Cup rugby is going to be a real test next season. There have been good additions that shouldn’t get called away too much for international rugby so it’s going to be really interesting if they can continue to outperform better funded clubs.
Grade – A
Prem - 7th Challenge Cup - Final
Quins recruited well going into this season getting big names in to fill the gaps in their squad well. For a side that losses a lot of its key leaders to the England squad they start the season very well. The players reintegrated fine and they were challenging towards the right end of the table. Then the wheels seemed to come off during the 6 Nations when they again lost their leaders to England. Was it the injury to Evans though that was more influential? This is probably the only top team who don’t have 2 quality flyhalves on their books. It’ll be interesting if Jackson’s move from Wasps is that last missing link to get them back into a top 4 team. I’ve gone for a C as this is a club that expects to be in the top half of the table and missing out on Champions Cup rugby 2 seasons on the trot must hurt.
Grade – C
Prem - 8th Challenge Cup - SF
Gloucester finished 1 place higher than last season but it was only by 1 point. 2 TBPs was the lowest of the non-religation group teams. With 36 tries over 22 games they scored the same amount as London Irish and 11 less than Worcester. Last season was the rebuilding season with new coaches and big name signings, this season was supposed to bear the fruit of that time together. It didn’t happen and being up for sale couldn’t have helped from an off-field point of view. That is now sorted and the coaches are being given another year to build on another good european cup campaign where they lost to teh eventual winners in the semi-finals.
Grade – C
Prem - 9th Champions Cup - Pool Stage
This was a major fall from grace, the finalists last season finishing one place ahead of the relegation group. Also they were the only English side not to make it out of the pool stages of the Champions Cup. They were never in danger of getting involved with the relegation battle but were clearly the worst of the rest. Ford didn’t manage pre-season well and also with the disruption of Sam Burgess going back to league they never recovered from a poor start. They did have a lot of key players away with England but then so did some other sides so that can’t be the only reason. There have been other stories around the squad that make bad reading such as a player leaving after switching his name to get quick medical treatment and having an altercation with staff. It’s probably these other stories in combination with the results that have led to Ford’s sacking. Bath will look to regroup under a new coach and challenge for the top end of the table but there are 8 to 9 other teams aiming for those slots too.
Grade – D
Prem - 10th Challenge Cup - Pool Stage
Warriors achieved their goal of survival and managed it by a large 15 points. They did get the early results that often are the sign of a successful campaign. Being off the bottom also boosted moral. The signing of Hougaard was inspirational and being able to keep him for next season is a sign that they are keeping their talented players. With Te’o arriving as well they will be hoping to look up rather than down next season.
Grade – A
Prem - 11th Challenge Cup - Pool Stage
Falcons were really looking to kick on in their second season back in the Premiership. But they spent more time looking down and trying to avoid relegation than looking up and wondering how far they could go. They were out performed by the promoted side and were scrapping late into the season to mathematically survive even if for sometime it looked increasingly unlikely that Irish would pickup the points needed. With the big spending Bristol having finally gained promotion next season is already looking like another dog fight.
Grade – C
Prem - 12th and relegated Challenge Cup - QF
This was a really disappointing season for Irish and not only because of the relegation. They had hired a promising Kiwi coach and had a bunch of exciting signings that looked to add real quality to the squad. They were disrupted by the pre-season retirement of Andy Goode who was supposed to be the man in the 10 jersey that was going to pull the strings. Tom Coventry’s style of play didn’t settle straight away and a good start is what you need in a relegation battle. They didn’t get that and were always on the back foot. The Challenge Cup quarter-final seemed more like an extra game that they didn’t need rather than an opportunity to turn things round as well.
Grade – D
It’s been another truly entertaining season and not only for the intensity of the competition but also the style of play. It’s clear to see that the top teams have taken on board the lessons being taught by New Zealand in particular in how to play and win.
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