It is officially 2014, which means we are at the halfway point of this Aviva Premiership season. Tickets went on sale for the final recently, and the usual suspects are all in contention, but I’m more interested in the real business end of the table – the relegation battle.
So as we gear up for another weekend of Aviva Premiership rugby, let’s take a look at the teams in trouble.
Newcastle aren’t the typical newly-promoted ‘easy’ fixture, but have a problem: they can’t score tries. On Friday’s fixture against London Wasps, Noah Cato crossed the whitewash for their first try in two whole months – and their fifth this season.
Despite this, they have fourteen points and are safe from relegation (for now) but Dean Richards’ men won’t survive another two months without scoring a try. At Harlequins Richards proved he can build a newly-promoted side into a winning team, but whether Friday’s game is an aberration or a sign of things to come remains to be seen.
Despite making arguably the biggest off-season acquisition in the form of James O’Connor, London Irish have struggled mightily so far this season. They possess a talented side – despite the loss of Marland Yarde to injury – and don’t suffer from the tryscoring problems that their rivals Newcastle face (they outscored Gloucester three tries to one on Sunday), but they just cannot seem to get over the hill and close out tight games, and once again find themselves in a three-horse relegation race heading into the second half of the season.
A horror start to the season for Dean Ryans’ Warriors has seen them enter 2014 winless, and – more alarmingly – this record means that they have not won at home for two years. Fortunately for them they have an experienced coach in Dean Ryan, and their results recently have been slowly improving: over the last two months they’ve been on the wrong end of some tight games.
Regrettably I still think Worcester are the most likely team to be relegated. Despite the excellent play of fullback Chris Pennell, the Warriors’ squad is short of the talented needed to grind out wins against the other struggling teams, and they are unlikely to upset any of the remaining big names on their schedule.
But for all of Worcester’s flaws, the reality is that their rivals are doing little to guarantee themselves survival and a place in the 2014-2015 Aviva Premiership season; London Irish haven’t won since October, and Newcastle haven’t won since early November.
The team to escape relegation will be the one who can overcome the other two teams in this race – the process of finding out exactly who that’ll be begins next weekend when London Irish face Worcester.