Friday, 31 August 2012

Predictions before the start of Aviva Premiership 2012/2013

Aviva Premiership - arguably the best and the most interesting league in Europe - starts on Saturday (01.09.2012). There are 8 months of excitement ahead. Will Harlequins defend their silverware? How well will London Welsh perform? We’ll soon find out the answers to these questions. Below, you will find my short review of every team and also my forecast. There are two numbers next to every team - first is my predicted position in the table after the full season and the second, in brackets, is the position from the last season. Also, I recommend a very good website http://www.superbru.com to everyone who is interested in making some free predictions and taking part in fun, competitive online rugby leagues.


Leicester Tigers
1 (2)
Leicester Tigers is one of the best teams in England. They have won English Premiership 9 times so far. Their domestic and European targets are always at the highest levels. This season will not be different. The team had to swallow a bitter pill after the defeat in the last final so this season they will have extra motivation to get the title back. A few great players left the team – Julian White, Alesana Tuilagi and Billy Twelvetrees, however the club is well known for producing talented players, so I think that the coaches will have plenty to choose from. In my opinion, Leicester Tigers are a very dangerous opponent for other teams. I see them as the main candidate to win the league in the 2012/2013 season. Will they be good enough to reach for the 10th title? We will soon find out.


Harlequins
2 (1)


The Champions were doing great in the past season and played very good, entertaining rugby. The team’s performance was spot on throughout the entire season and in play-offs. The players and coaches will definitely be hungry for more glory. A very gifted skipper Chris Robshaw, supported by his experienced team-mates, will have much more challenging task this year. Each and every opponent will be extra motivated to get the champions’ scalp. However, in my opinion Harlequins have a great potential to establish themselves as a force once more and finish among the top teams.






Saracens
3 (3)


The team triumphed in 2010/2011 season and lost in the semi-finals in 2011/2012. Saracens definitely belong to the elite of European rugby teams. They are well known for the effective defense. This year’s aim is finishing at least in the top four. Charlie Hodgson and Chris Ashton will surely prove a great investment which will help the scoreboard ticking. The club’s coach Andy Farrell has now left, we will soon see how this will influence the team's performance. My prediction – 3rd place.


Sale Sharks
4 (6)

Sale Sharks saw the biggest changes of all teams. The club attracted attention of many newspaper headlines. First of all, the only North-West team has moved to new grounds. The old Edgeley Park, has been replaced by a beautiful, modern, £26 million Salford City Stadium. Secondly, the team's new chairman and former player Steve Diamond has begun “The Diamond’s revolution”. Its outcome was recruiting a great coach Bryan Redpath and excellent international players such as Riche Gray, Danny Cipriani and Andy Powell. The club’s metamorphosis happened at various levels, starting from the change of kit supplier from Cotton Traders to Canterbury and the move from Stockport to Salford and finishing on personnel changes. Last season, the club finished 6th and qualified to Heineken Cup. This time they aim at finishing among the first four teams and hope to fight for Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup honours. Sharks' supporters and players would like to return to times of glory from 2006. I believe that reaching play-offs is a realistic target.

Northampton Saints
5 (4)


The team from Northampton, 2011/2012 Heineken Cup runner-up, although they finished in the top four in Aviva Premiership in the past three seasons and performed well in Heineken Cup, they may feel they have underachieved. Their last big success was winning Amlin Challenge Cup in 2009. Chris Ashton has now left the team and it will be difficult to replace him. Also, the team will have to deal with losing some of its best players in the upcoming Six Nations. Looking at the last warm-up games which Saints won defeating Leinster 43:0 and Edinburgh 54:3, we may suspect that the team is in a good shape. The fact that they are missing some major players in Six Nations games can mean that the team will struggle to qualify to play-offs.

Exeter Chiefs
6 (5)


Exeter Chiefs are the biggest surprise of the seasons gone.  2 years ago, the newly promoted team, which was deemed to fail, finished on the 8th place. A year later, with the 6th position, they qualified to Heineken Cup. Exeter Chiefs brought in some freshness to Aviva Premiership and gained the deserved respect also among supporters of other teams. Although there are no big names among the players, the team shows incredible work ethic, ambition and team play. This year, Exeter cannot expect that any of the participants will underestimate them as the opponent and the experience gained in the past seasons will surely bring some good results. In my opinion, the team has a high chance of qualifying to Heineken Cup.

Bath
7 (8)

Bath, a club with long history, was established in 1865. In the nineties, Bath was the main force in English premiership and gained the title 6 times. In the past years, we have witnessed its slow decline. Bath tends to take a position in the middle of the table. I see this team as the most unpredictable one. It’s very difficult to comment on its shape, however I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat Leicester or Harlequins and at the same time lose to the weaker opponents. I think that Bath will end up in the middle but they will still attempt to get to the play-off stage.

Gloucester
8 (9)

For Gloucester the past season was not successful as they took the 9th position in the table. The team has recently been strengthened by such players as Billy Twelvetrees and Ben Morgan and the new coach Nigel Davies. Gloucester would definitely like to climb up the table ladder. I think that the 8th place can be within their range but I don’t believe that they will be able to successfully compete in the fight for the first four positions.


London Irish
9 (7)

London Irish saw a great revolution in their ranks. 19 players have left! The new coach Brian Smith as well as talented players such as Tomas O'Leary, Ian Humphreys and Sailosi Tagicakibau joined the team. It makes me think that London Irish will show good and attractive rugby this season. They will fight for the high position however the upcoming season will only be a transitional period. The priority for London Irish is to gel the team.






London Wasps
10 (11)

In the times of Lawrence Dallaglio, London Wasps were the rugby leaders in England and Europe. However, their performance in the past years was far from perfect. The club had to face some problems. In 2011/2012 Wasps had to fight with Newcastle Falcons in the relegation battle rather than compete with the best. The team definitely needs a change and restructure to be back among the top dogs again. The loss of players such as Ricky Flutey and Rob Webber will not make it easier. This season, in my opinion, will not be as dramatic as the last one but I wouldn’t hope for the team’s finish in the top half of the table.

Worcester Warriors
11 (10)

Worcester Warriors are experienced in escaping relegation. Unfortunately, in the past years they were often engaged in the battle for a safe position to avoid relegation. I must admit that the team can cope with difficult situations and after a year in RFU Championship it bounced up to Aviva Premiership straight away. As the team lost its 14 players, I believe that again they will be involved in the fight to survive.





London Welsh
12 (recently promoted)


London Welsh - new boys in Aviva Premiership – have become known for the club's promotion fuss. Although they won the RFU Championship final, they were refused to join the top league as they failed to meet the criteria for the stadium. The club have successfully appealed from the decision. A lot of  people enthusiastically supported London Welsh case and were happy to hear the outcome of the appeal. So, London Welsh won the battle in the courts to face even more difficult task – they need to maintain its position among the best teams in England. The team will definitely want to learn from Exeter’s attitude which helped the Chiefs in smooth transition to the higher league. Copying Exeter’s success won’t be easy, though. The margin for error in Aviva Premiership is very small and the league itself is more and more demanding every year. Stronger teams will not let themselves underestimate the new opponent and drop the points. Although I wish London Welsh all the best, I believe that their romance with Aviva Premiership will be short. In my opinion they are the main candidate to relegation.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Rugby Championship - Round 2

The second round of the Rugby Championship is over. The All Blacks eased to a comfortable win of 22:0 over Australia, they kept visitors scoreless for the first time in 50 years. New Zealand’s dominance was particularly visible in the second half. Despite significant improvement comparing to the previous week's game, the head coach Steve Hansen wasn’t fully satisfied. In the after-game interview, he said that World Champions can produce even better performance and can still improve in certain areas of the game.

The result of the second game this weekend was the first big surprise of the tournament. Argentina took revenge for losing to Springboks a week before. The Pumas outplayed their opponents in a tough, physical battle. They were a dominant force on the pitch. From the beginning of the game, supported by the spontaneous fans, they were on the front foot. South Africa avoided sensational defeat when Frans Steyn charged down a kick, which led to a converted try and levelled the scoreboard (16:16).

 In two weeks' time – on the 8th of September New Zealand will play with Argentina and Australia with South Africa.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Rugby Championship - Round 1

Rugby Championship – the tournament which includes the elite of the world rugby teams – commenced on Saturday (18.08.2012). In the first round, Australia met New Zealand in Sydney. Despite the fact that both teams are at the top of IRB ranking, the game abounded in a number of simple and unforced errors. All in all, All Blacks were more clinical. After the first half, the World Champions were winning 10-18. In the second half, Wallabies reduced All Blacks' advantage to 5 points; however, the visitors did not allow them to take away the victory. Dan Carter kicked the penalty and in the last minute deprived Australia of a bonus point. The game finished with New Zealand winning 27-19.

In the second game of the first round, South Africa played with Argentina. The match, like the first one, did not impress me. Both teams presented a similar style of game and clearly preferred to use their physicality to crash the opponent.  Although Argentina played a really ambitious game, the victory was in the hands of Springboks. The finishing score was 27-16.

Next week, all teams will meet in return fixtures. They will try to eliminate the errors and take advantage of their potential better. Are we going to see All Blacks and Springboks triumphing again? We will soon find out.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Rugby Championship is about to start

Olympic Games which captured attentions of many rugby fans, are nearly over. The oval-ball lovers can’t complain about the lack of excitement. Next weekend (18.08.2012) a history will be made with the start of new tournament – The Rugby Championship – which is going to replace Tri Nations.

The best three rugby teams – New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, will be joined by the eighth in the IRB ranking Argentina. Pumas will face Springboks in their debut. As usual, the favorite to win the tournament is New Zealand which succeeded in winning Tri Nations 10 times. The teams from South Africa and Australia won three times each. We will soon find out if mighty All Blacks will dominate the new competition and how well Argentina will perform in this challenging environment.

Below you can find tournament fixtures.

Saturday 18 August:
Australia v New Zealand
South Africa v Argentina

Saturday 25 August:
New Zealand v Australia
Argentina v South Africa

Saturday 8 September:
Australia v South Africa
New Zealand v Argentina

Saturday 15 September:
Australia v Argentina
New Zealand v South Africa

Saturday 29 September:
South Africa v Australia
Argentina v New Zealand

Saturday 6 October:
South Africa v New Zealand
Argentina v Australia