Aviva Premiership Review: 2011/12

The regular season is over for another year and while the final round of games promised plenty of thrills and spills, in reality, little drama appeared, at least not the same manner provided by Leeds Carnegie last time around. For some, the end of the season will come as a relief, for others, the season is just beginning. Here though, is the Premiership 2011/12 Season Review:

Harlequins

Position: 1st

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 4th

Top Try Scorer: Mike Brown (7)

2011/12 couldn’t have gone any better for Quins who ended the regular season on top of the pile, dethroning Leicester at last. With limited personnel involved in World Cup campaigns, Conor O’Shea’s men took full advantage, winning ten games on the bounce to put themselves way out in front. Defeat to Saracens at Wembley didn’t derail them too much and Quins held strong to beat Sale on the final day to finish top. Nick Evans once again provided the direction at fly half, while new England skipper Chris Robshaw lead from the front as expected. With a home semi-final approaching against Northampton, Quins will fancy their chances of reaching the showpiece final at Twickenham. And boy do they deserve it.

Season Rating: 10/10

 

Leicester

Position: 2nd

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 3rd

Top Try Scorer: Alesana Tuilagi (7)

With 11 players on World Cup duty in the autumn, the beginning of the season was always going to be difficult for the Tigers. This proved to be the case as they lost five of the first six games of the season, including a surprise opening day defeat to Exeter. However, with the England contingent back on board, Leicester lost just one game for the rest of the season, wracking up some big wins in the process. Half backs Toby Flood and Ben Youngs may not have been at their game breaking best this year but strong seasons from the likes of Thomas Waldrom and of course Alesana Tuilagi in his final year at Welford Road saw Leicester almost pull off a remarkable turnaround. They will settle for second though and will relish the chance at dishing out a bit of revenge on Saracens in a home semi-final.

Season Rating: 7.5/10

 

Saracens

Position: 3rd

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 1st

Top Try Scorer: Ernst Joubert/James Short (4)

Last season’s champions were expected to dominate this time around, after a couple of cracking summer signings including Charlie Hodgson. It was another England no.10 that caught the eye though as Owen Farrell rose to international prominence thanks to his consistency with the boot. They were there or thereabouts all year, but failure to win a couple of crucial games, losing at home to Leicester and Quins cost them dear. They will now have to win at Welford Road to stand a chance of repeating last year’s heroics, but Sarries have the game plan to execute a surprise win and head to Twickenham later this month.

Season Rating: 7/10

 

Northampton

Position: 4th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 2nd

Top Try Scorer: Ben Foden/Chris Ashton (6)

The Saints were in high spirits after pre-season despite their England superstars being away in New Zealand initially. They lost four of the first five though, finding themselves languishing in the lower half of the table. The return of Foden, Ashton and co. helped the Saints find their form, but the saga over Ashton’s move to Saracens disrupted team spirit and they never quite caught up with the leaders. A win over Worcester ensured they sealed fourth spot and they will hope to capitalise over Quins’ lack of playoff experience. Could a match-up with old rivals Leicester await in the final?

Season Rating: 6.5/10

 

Exeter

Position: 5th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 9th

Top Try Scorer: Richard Baxter (6)

The Chiefs did incredibly well to survive the drop the previous season, surprising everyone with their debut Premiership campaign. A similar struggle was expected this time around even if they weren’t the favourites for relegation, but once again, Rob Baxter’s men failed to read the script. A win over Leicester set the tone on the opening day and a run of four defeats mid season wasn’t enough to knock them off their stride. They also won at Welford Road and a run of four straight victories helped them seal a place in the Heineken Cup next season. The likes of Ignacio Mieres and flanker Tom Johnson made themselves household names in the rugby community and the Chiefs can be proud of their efforts this year.

Season Rating: 10/10

 

Sale

Position: 6th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 10th

Top Try Scorer: Rob Miller (10)

The Sharks endured a miserable 2010/11 campaign prompting questions over the state of northern rugby and this resulted in a huge turnaround in staff. 17 players left, while 25 came in, making the Sharks an unpredictable force for this year. True to the formbook, inconsistency followed, with them losing 12 games and winning just 10. However, this was enough to seal a mid-table position, but coach Tony Hanks still paid the price, with chief executive Steve Diamond looking for more progression next year. The signings of Richie Gray and Danny Cipriani look promising and they will add more quality to a young, talented squad that includes the division’s top scorer in full-back Rob Miller. Expect more from them next year, especially with a change in ground.

Season Rating: 7/10

 

London Irish

Position: 7th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 6th

Top Try Scorer: Jonathan Joseph (6)

A small squad saw London Irish struggle to gain any real momentum throughout the season, although they threatened the Top Four before Christmas, scoring plenty of points in the process. A miserable run of seven straight defeats towards the end of the season though effectively ruined any chances of the playoffs and also cost the side their Heineken Cup place for next season, forcing the club into changes in the coaching setup. Brian Smith will return to the club, though Toby Booth will remain while Mike Catt will leave for England. The squad will also see changes, with the Armitage brothers both heading for warmer climates so Irish will now look to talented youngsters like Jonathan Joseph and Tom Homer to lead the charge next year.

Season Rating: 6/10

Bath

Position: 8th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 5th

Top Try Scorer: Michael Claassens (4)

Some eye-catching signings including New Zealand’s hero Stephen Donald and Springbok Francois Louw had Bath fans dreaming of a return to glory at the Rec. Ian McGeechan’s side just never got going though, winning eight games all season while they were the third lowest scorers in the league. Given the quality of the squad, this represented a terrible return and McGeechan will step aside next year, though the new man is yet to be announced. Whoever is chosen will have a big task on his hands restoring confidence at Bath, especially as a return to Heineken Cup rugby is the minimum requirement. Must do better.

Season Rating: 3/10

 

Gloucester

Position: 9th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 7th

Top Try Scorer: Charlie Sharples (7)

The Cherry and Whites went into the season missing some crucial experience as the likes of Mike Tindall and Jim Hamilton headed off to the World Cup. They didn’t start too badly though and the side occupied fifth position by Christmas. With everyone waxing lyrical over the young English talents in the back division, it was expected that Bryan Redpath’s boys would kick on and push for the playoffs. This never materialised though and in the end, six straight defeats pushed the team well into the lower half of the table. Redpath won’t be at the Shed next year and neither will a few key players from previous years. Luke Narroway and Tindall will move on so the onus will once again fall on the young stars like Charlie Sharples, Jonny May and Henry Trinder to restore the good times.

Season Rating: 2.5/10

Worcester

Position: 10th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 11th

Top Try Scorer: Miles Benjamin (7)

After Richard Hill inspired the Warriors back into the Premiership, the main priority for this year was Premiership survival. With only Tongan hooker Aleki Lutui on World Cup duty, Worcester could rely on a full head count to contribute to the cause. Although it wasn’t pretty at times, the Warriors picked up enough wins, seven exactly, to secure their Premiership status. They never threatened the top half of the table, but neither looked in any real danger either. They have added wisely so far for next season and Hill will be eying events at Sandy Park this year enviously, but also as a pointer for what they could achieve next year. Realistically though, survival will once again be the objective.

Season Rating: 7/10

 

London Wasps

Position: 11th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 4th

Top Try Scorer: Christian Wade (9)

Wasps’ disastrous season is difficult to summarise. Despite finishing 11th by the skin of their teeth and just avoiding liquidation, in reality their mere existence makes the season easier to take. A new owner should be in place for next year and the financial uncertainty of this year shouldn’t be so much of a hindrance. Dai Young is a decent coach and shouldn’t be judged on Wasps’ horrendous year, especially considering the mid-season retirements of Joe Worsley, Tom Rees and Dan Ward-Smith, but he will have to prove his worth next year. Resigning England internationals James Haskell and Tom Palmer should help and the young talents of Elliot Daly and Christian Wade should ensure Wasps will never stare the trapdoor of relegation so bluntly in the face again.

Season Rating: 1/10

 

Newcastle Falcons

Position: 12th

Daily Mail’s August Prediction: 12th

Top Try Scorer: James Fitzpatrick (4)

Newcastle’s long Premiership stint has finally come to an end (dependent on the Championship winners) after threatening to slip into the National League for some years. Consistent 11th placed finishes saw the Falcons struggling to progress as a club and the summer signings reflected that, bringing in a host of what were essentially Championship players. Coach Alan Tait was under no illusions about the task he faced at the beginning of the year and he failed to arrest a slide to the bottom of the table, costing him his job. Gary Gold took over and mounted a mini revival, winning a couple of games late in the day to give them a shot at survival at Wasps. Despite victory, the Falcons relinquished their Premiership status and without the mercurial Jimmy Gopperth, they might not have won a game all year. They will look to recuperate next year and bounce back like others have done before them.

Season Rating: 1/10

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