The Gallagher Premiership is now over a third of way through, and the standings are starting to take shape. As Last Word on Rugby and this reporter predicted back in August, the battle at the bottom would be a competitive battleground this term. This is certainly proving the case.
Last season’s play-off qualifiers Newcastle Falcons currently occupy the dreaded 12th place despite winning on Friday night. Both Sale Sharks and Bristol Bears also found themselves bottom over the course of the weekend at certain points. There is no doubt that the Gallagher Premiership relegation battle is a drama that is only just beginning.
The regression of Sale and Newcastle
The most notable names in the current bottom four are the two northern clubs, Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons. Despite both winning in round eight, they are both unexpectedly looking over their shoulders rather than pushing for a top six space.
Sale have been hit by injuries to key players such as fly-half AJ MacGinty and wing Marland Yarde, which has exposed their small squad. The loss of MacGinty in particular has cost them points, with no other frontline goalkickers being available for previous matches. Loan signing Robert Du Preez has filled this gap in recent weeks and it is surely no coincidence that consequently Sale have run Saracens close and overcome Northampton.
With Bath and Bristol up next for the Mancunians, they will have greater confidence that they can pull away from the danger zone. However their attacking threat from last season seems to have diminished, with no try bonus points registered so far this season.
Newcastle’s fortunes have changed dramatically from season, although they did begin with three home games against last year’s top three. The Falcons also haven’t had any hugely embarrassing or shock defeats. They are just losing games that last year they won. They face close rivals Northampton Saints and Bristol Bears in the coming weeks. Defeats there and alarm bells will ring loudly for Dean Richards. Newcastle cannot afford to fall behind the pack by the new year, with Champions Cup distractions possibly extending to the knockout phase.
Worcester Warriors defying expectations
The main spanners in the Gallagher Premiership relegation works have been Worcester Warriors, who sit in a relatively lofty seventh place with three wins. A thumping 52-7 win over Bristol in round six suggested they were not in the mood for another nervy relegation battle this season. They have backed this up with a good Cup competition break and a win over Harlequins in round eight. The Warriors certainly have momentum at the moment.
📊 STAT ATTACK | No side has made more tackles or won more turnovers in @premrugby this season.
— Worcester Warriors ⚔️ (@WorcsWarriors) November 25, 2018
They will be fired up for the local derby against Gloucester in round nine and will fancy taking down Northampton Saints and Bath in their next home matches. Come 2019 it is very possible they can look upwards towards a Champions Cup place if this momentum continues.
Troubles in the East Midlands
With the bottom of the table so tight, no club can afford to be complacent. Whilst Northampton have recently enjoyed a thumping win over Wasps, they are still struggling to put a string of consistent performances together to climb up the table. Even so, a few more bonus points would have them in the top six. The round nine clash against Newcastle Falcons will give a good indication of the Saints’ prospects.
It might seem ludicrous but Leicester Tigers also need a mention here. A late rally against 13 men Saracens saw them rescue a losing bonus point from a seemingly bad situation. At 21-3 down at half time and with Saracens running in tries with ominous ease, it could have been another heavy defeat for the Tigers. It is still unthinkable that Leicester will be in real danger, but as with any side from sixth down, complacency could be deadly.
Gallagher Premiership Relegation battle hotting up
The fact that we are discussing so many teams aside from the promoted club already shows the relegation fight will be tougher than most recent years. Bristol Bears are by no means clear, but since their mauling at Worcester they have run Exeter and Wasps very close; arguably they should have beaten the league leaders.
A number of fixtures between the teams concerned in the coming weeks will enlighten us further. With no clear contender for relegation yet, every point will be vital.
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