Best of the Aviva Premiership 2017/18 ‘so far’

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: The Aviva Premiership Rugby Trophy during the Premiership Rugby Fixture Launch 2017-2018 at BT Tower on July 7, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

The Aviva Premiership 2017/18 returns this weekend after the distraction of the Six Nations. Whilst it is only for one week before the European quarter finals weekend, there is a lot to look forward to in Round 17 and beyond.

In anticipation, James Barker takes a look back at the highlights of the Aviva Premiership 2017/18 season so far.

Performance of the season: Harlequins v Wasps, Feb 12

Reduced to 14 men very early on after a red card for Kyle Eastmond, Wasps were still able to record a six-try victory away at Harlequins. Wasps were fortunate that international quality players like Danny Cipriani, Dan Robson and Thomas Young were available to them. But after Eastmond’s red card it was expected that Quins’ strong home form would eventually count in their favour.

However Wasps seemed to ignore their disadvantage and stuck to their mantra: “we will score more than you”. They held a 15-10 lead at half time and in the third quarter they blitzed Quins with three further tries to stun the hosts. After Wasps’ slow start to the season, this was a result that confirmed they will be competing for the title again.

Shock Result: Exeter Chiefs v Worcester Warriors, Feb 11

To better their first ever win at Welford Road, Worcester had to go some to pull off an even bigger shock in the Aviva Premiership 2017/18. But at Sandy Park in February they managed it.

Becoming the first team to beat the current champions…. on their own patch mind you,¬†since 2016! As well, this was also Worcester’s first Premiership win over Exeter, so an extra special performance from the West Midlanders.

Restricting the Chiefs to only one try is a special achievement, given the champions have recorded nine try bonus points this season. The Warriors scored all their points in the first half, be it via two penalties from Chris Pennell.

The shock result so far;¬†to frustrate and contain the ‘multi-phase/keep-ball alive at all cost Exeter attack’ was very impressive indeed.

Best Performing Team [so far]: Newcastle Falcons

Just a cursory glance at the Aviva Premiership table will highlight that the Newcastle Falcons are the standout performers this season. After causing a number of upsets in 2016/17, recording their best league finish (8th) since 2005/06.

This season, they currently sit in fourth and look to be ‘the team to beat’.

Director of Rugby Dean Richards’ long-term plan is now bearing fruit for the North-East side and they will play in front of over 25,000 fans at the city’s football stadium again this weekend.

But it is in fact the Falcons’ away form that has propelled them to these heights –¬†with impressive wins away at Bath, Harlequins and Gloucester to name a few – that makes them, the ‘best performing team [so far]’.

Best players: Homegrown talent shines

To try and single out one player in the league is incredibly tough and any individuals stand out for the club for different reasons. This is a by-product of the distinct roles present on a rugby field; one man’s Christian Wade is another man’s John Afoa, both equally valuable.

However the following players have shone and all have been proposed or received international honours due to their form. Don Armand managed to force his way into the England Six Nations squad by the end of the tournament, despite Eddie Jones previously expressing reservations. It will be interesting to see if he can make the starting XV on the summer tour following criticism of the English back-row. There has also been popular support for Dan Robson and Olly Woodburn to be capped. Both players have been scoring tries for fun, and would be assets for a struggling England backline.

Someone who has also been running in the tries is Worcester winger Josh Adams. He tops the league try-scoring charts and started for Wales in an all-Scarlets backline against Scotland. To have scored so many tries in a Worcester side who struggled badly in the first couple of months was very impressive.

One man who didn’t earn the call-up from Warren Gatland is¬†Thomas Young of Wasps.¬†Perhaps he is suffering from Wales’ backrow strength in depth, even despite Sam Warburton’s unavailability. Young does have two caps and if he keeps up his current form he must surely be strong consideration to make the World up squad next year.

Finally Bristol-born Jake Polledri has risen incredibly quickly to international honours in his debut Premiership season. He has been a star for Gloucester as they have resurrected themselves under Johan Ackermann. This culminated in a first Italian cap against Scotland last weekend. He was instrumental in the third Italian try following a trademark barrelling run through the defence.

Aviva Premiership 2017/18 – what to expect?

There are just five matches of the regular season left, and there is still a lot to be decided.

  • Newcastle can take another huge step towards the play-offs with a win in front of a crowd approaching 30,000.
  • London Irish can continue their fight against relegation, if they beat Gloucester¬†to have¬†their own St Patrick’s Day party.
  • Exeter will want to cement first place in a West Country derby against Bath.

Mid-table is as congested as ever, anyone from¬†the Harlequins down in ninth could all still qualify for the Champions Cup 2018/19. Perhaps the upcoming¬†distraction of Europe will prove fatal for some…… or alternatively it will allow teams to build momentum for the final push.

Stay fixed to Last Word on Rugby for all the news, views and analysis on the Aviva Premiership 2017/18, leading up to the playoffs in May.

 

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