EXETER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22: Sam Skinner of Exeter Chiefs and George Kruis of Saracens compete at the lineout during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Exeter Chiefs and Saracens at Sandy Park on December 22, 2018 in Exeter, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

As the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership reaches its halfway point, we are not much closer to answering any of the questions we had at the start of the season. There is the relative separation of Saracens and Exeter at the top. As well as the beginnings of Worcester and Newcastle falling away at the bottom.

However other than this the rest of the Premiership is still right in the balance. Just five points separate 4th from 9th place, making this one of the most exciting seasons in years. With all this in mind here, at Last Word on Rugby, we are providing a report on all 12 teams.

Our status report will assess and analyze teams’ first half of the season. Part one will cover the top half of the table, and part two the bottom six teams [at time of publishing].

Exeter Chiefs – Top of the Tree

The first two months of the Premiership season saw the Exeter juggernaut roll through all that was before them. Rob Baxter’s men were imperious without being exciting but still looked a class above all except for Saracens.

However, as time has gone on vulnerabilities have begun to show. They are still clearly one of the favourites for the title but they are definitely vulnerable. Performances against Harlequins and Northampton have shown that when they are not quite on their game, they are beatable. Much of this has occurred whilst they have been plagued with injuries.

Considering that, in 2019 teams will be much less fearful of the Devon-based side than they would have been six weeks ago.

Saracens – Champions in Waiting?

Similar to Exeter, at times Mark McCall’s men have looked unplayable at times. They have lost just one game this season and that was against Exeter at Sandy Park. In Europe Saracens have also looked commanding with four wins from four. Yet, something is missing from this side that won that Premiership last season and dominated Europe the previous year.

Like others, they have been plagued with major injuries to the likes of the Vunipola brothers and Itoje. Despite this, the recent defeat the Exeter and their performance at home to Worcester have left much to be desired. These performances will have eroded some of the aura that they had built up.

Having said that, this Saracens side still finds themselves ‘sitting pretty’ as the favourites for the title come May.

Gloucester – Is it ‘Their Year’ finally

Almost every season when speaking to cherry and whites the phrase used is ‘next year will be their year’. However this time round Gloucester are mounting a genuine title challenge. At their free-flowing best Gloucester are almost unplayable. The signing of mercurial talent Danny Cipriani has been key to their success. However, in his recent injury absence their reliance (and perhaps over-reliance) has been noticeable.

Moreover, for Gloucester to reach the heights of the likes of Exeter and Saracens they need to find more consistency. Defeats to Harlequins and Sale at home demonstrate their need for this. However, all in all, Johan Ackermann confirmed in December he was pleased with their start to the season.

Johan Ackermann pleased with win, praises future role for Ollie Thorley

Gloucester are very likely play-off candidates and on their day they could spring a real surprise to one of the big boys.

Harlequins – Top four candidate

Harlequins were one of the favourites to be relegated at the start of the season. They now find themselves in the top four, albeit in only by a point. This is still a far cry from last season’s Harlequins who were plagued by chronic inconsistency and a lack of a hard edge up front. Paul Gustard has managed to help install a defensive edge whilst keeping their attacking flair.

Like many of the teams on this list achieving a consistent level of performance is key to their improvement. However with so many sides at a similar level it is hard to predict who will emerge from the pack. Gustard is clearly building something special at Harlequins but perhaps this season is just too early to see big results.

Bath – Missing spark in 2018, can they rise higher in 2019

Just a few weeks ago, people were talking about Bath as relegation candidates. Now they find themselves in a Champions Cup qualification position. Bath have become a difficult side to play against, especially in tricky conditions. This has made them all the more effective over the last month.

However, there is still something missing. It seems that they need more of a ‘creative spark’ in the backline outside ten. The injury enforced absence of Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson may be behind this. Perhaps their they might allow Bath to find a new level of performance that can catapult them up the ladder, and help them rise to the expectations of supporters.

With all that being said, Bath are still a bit shy of being viewed as one of the best sides in the league but, they should have more than enough intestinal fortitude, to avoid dropping into the mid-table scrap.

Northampton Saints – Building slowly but surely

Northampton may have started a bit slowly to this Premiership season. Mind you, they have really come into their own in the past few weeks. There are still questions regarding the overall quality of their squad though, especially up front.

Despite this based on the evidence of the last few weeks we could be seeing the resurgence of Northampton as a genuine Premiership contender.

This season Northampton have flown somewhat under the radar until recently. Their win over Exeter could be the defining moment of their season. It may be too early to say but Northampton could make a real run at the top four and could just cause an upset come play-off time.

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Stay tuned for positions seven through to 12, which will look closely at the mid-table and the looming battle in the ‘relegation zone’.

All teams were assessed on standings up until Round 11, and do not include results after that. LWOR wish all the teams the best, and encourage readers to follow us on Twitter and visit our Facebook page.

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