I haven’t seen the highlights of the non-televised games, but I watched all the live games and for me the standard of rugby this year is not great. There are 4 teams playing some seriously good rugby, Saints, Sarries, Exeter and Bristol.
London Irish and Gloucester have also looked good in patches and if the standard stays the same they’ll both be top 6.
The rest have been pretty dour from what I have seen, maybe a little unfair on Worcs but I’ve not seen them play.
I think there are some good reasons for it, but I hope it picks up, however unlikely that may be with the worst weather likely to be ahead of us.
One obvious reason is the unsettled nature of the league with late start and returning internationals, this has clearly affected some clubs more than others.
The other is the situation of the individual clubs.
There are 3 clubs in particular who have big problems, Wasps, Quins and Leics.
I know Dai is very popular and supposedly there are plans to try and produce more talent from within but I have to question some of the recent signings and the lack of a decent defence.
It was sort of acceptable when the you score 3 and we’ll score 5 tactic was viable, now we are in a dog fight every week it is not acceptable at all.
On paper the current team is easily good enough for mid table, but there are so many new combinations it may well run out of time to gel before they are in serious bother.
The 6Ns will be a time when this team needs to make hay as they will lose a couple at most, the issue there is the 6Ns starts when the weather is poor and Wasps are still a fair weather side at present.
They also need to get the likes of Soapy playing the rugby that got him starting games for the All Blacks, because we’ve only seen brief flashes of it at the moment.
Relegation has been good for some sides, with youth in the team to rebuild, that will probably not be the case for Wasps and I think it could be catastrophic, we could see them disappear altogether.
They showed yesterday when they’re up for it at home they can be very prickly and we’ve seen against Sarries in previous years they can raise their game to be more than the sum of their parts.
However, they are not yet able to sustain those performances and there is too much mediocrity in their squad for me. It is difficult to see them going on the winning run they put in last year, but I can see them going on another losing run.
I think they are stronger than Wasps at the moment and will be safe, but they could be in the fight at the bottom at times and they will be affected by the 6Ns, maybe more than they were for the RWC with Sincks, Marler, Dombrandt, Smith and Ibitoye at least possibilities to be called up.
On paper by far the strongest team of these 3 but look rudderless at the moment.
I don’t think we can take final conclusions from Saturday’s performance, as their England players returned en masse and all looked very rusty, but there are definitely reasons for concern.
What are they trying to achieve with their tactics?
Youngs and Ford repeatedly kicked long to Saints back 3, which as a tactic will have its critics, but it can work. However, there was never a decent chase, so it was so easy for Saints to run it back and build again.
In phase play there was no deception whatsoever, one out rugby is great if you’re on the front foot. However, it will rarely get you on the front foot if that is all you do, it is so easy to defend.
Where are the tactics to play to their strengths?
Tuilagi straight from 8 at the base of the scrum, from off the top lineout (when they actually won one).
Kicks to compete for May, one of the best chasers in the game.
When using the one out rugby using Genge, one of the most destructive runners in England.
Why haven’t Youngs and Ford got options, to hold the defence and get to the edge? Again bringing their big centres into the game.
Why are they playing 2 big centres when they have other playmakers?
Just as with Dai at Wasps, it is hard to criticise such a good guy like Murphy and easier at Tiggers to blame other less popular characters, however both need to prove they can fix the obvious issues on the pitch if they are to avoid the scrutiny that will come soon.
Overall I think the rugby will improve as the England boys return and shake off their rustiness, the squads with all the changes with start to gel.
While this happens it will be a topsy turvy league and the 3 clubs above really need to get amongst it.