MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – With a break in Six Nations action, the Aviva Premiership returns to the fore of English attention. RugbyWrapUp has you covered with a preview of the vital fourteenth round of matches, as teams jockey for playoff positioning. Vitally, it appears as though BT Sport and Sky Sports are close to agreeing upon a deal concerning the television rights of European rugby, bringing an end to the year-long saga which has consumed England, France, Wales, Ireland, and even Italy in the past week. Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the RFU, who has stonewalled many negotiations in the past, has played a key role. Given the meetings taking place in Dublin for the past week, which have involved the Pro12 nations attempting to hammer out an agreement, European rugby is looking good for the first time in a long time. The next week could make or break the competition that moves forward, but finally there seems to be momentum in a positive direction.
Lancaster Releases Reserves for Duty
Premiership clubs have often complained about the imbalance of power between the national side and club setups. Stuart Lancaster appears to be doing his best to keep Premiership managers happy, by releasing all players who were not a part of the starting fifteen against Scotland. In the past, England managers have kept reserves or the entire squad on hold, and Aviva Premiership matches held during the Six Nations have become glorified skirmishes between B sides. Fans will be happy to see the likes of Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, and Ben Morgan running out this weekend, giving gravitas to the competition and trying to stake their claim on a starting role, given a legitimate chance.
Northampton Rises to the Top
Northampton is trying to make their stay in first place a lengthy one, following impressive victories over potential playoff foes Harlequins and Exeter. However, as Saracens showed last season, ending the “regular season” in first place does not always correlate to playoff success. The Saints will be trying to finally banish the demons of the past ten years, which saw them drop down to the RFU Championship while derby rivals Leicester have thrived. The acquisition of George North was a huge statement of intent, and a first championship in the season of his arrival would put down a marker for the rest of the Premiership to see.
Relegation Dogfight Intensifies
Worcester almost pulled off the shock of the season against Leicester, gaining a losing bonus point in a brave effort. However, the honor likely goes to the London Irish, who did manage to comprehensively defeat Saracens at Allianz Park. In fairness to both sides, Sarries were missing of their best players on England duty, but a victory is a victory, especially in the table, and it leaves the Warriors 10 points adrift of their closest rival, the Newcastle Falcons. The Irish likely secured their top flight status for at least another year, giving the new ownership a selling point for the likes of Tom Court, who will be arriving at the beginning of the next campaign.
Leicester versus Gloucester is normally a glamorous affair, but this year it will see two sides trying to get their seasons back on track. The Tigers have been lackluster all term, and Richard Cockerill was noticeably displeased with his team’s effort at the Sixways. Gloucester fly-half Freddy Burns will be trying to impress his new teammates, while the Cherry and Whites have always had too much talent to languish in the bottom third of the table. There is a certain temptation to call this a lost season, but truly talented players should be able to muster their spirits for a match at Welford Road, one of the best venues in European club rugby.
Comments? Questions? Thoughts? We love to read ‘em. Please comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd,Jamie Wall and Declan Yeats, respectively.