Monday, July 16, 2012

English Premiership 2011/12

Introducing yet another HoR2 columnist...Felix McCabe will be keeping us updated on the Premiership, here he goes over last season

This season the Aviva Premiership delivered as only it knows how; with tantalizing tries, crafty conversions and more precision penalties than Dan Carter on steroids! That’s right, the pinnacle of English rugby was upon us for another year. A new champion would be crowned, a dramatic promotion/relegation saga would unfold in the latter part of the season and the Premiership powers that be would make a shock announcement regarding the Heineken Cup.

We start locally, where Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins were the team to beat this season. Quick hands and physical crash-ups saw a new giant of the English game emerge. A shadow of their 7th place former selves, English skipper Chris Robshaw, has brought this team the glory they truly deserve after a phenomenal season. They fought out a 30-23 victory over Leicester; who were appearing in their eight successive final. Fantastic tries from Tom Williams and Chris Robshaw alongside some smart play from Danny Care on the day and Nick Easter’s excellent kicking, saw Quins claim the Premiership trophy for the first time. Vindication for Conor O'Shea who has sought to re-establish the club's good name after the Bloodgate scandal of 2009. 

Top try scorer in this season's Premiership was Sale Shark's Rob Miller. The England U20s player managed to score ten tries this year for the Sharks, one more than Wasps' Christian Wade. His most memorable of the campaign coming halfway through the season at Edgeley Park, just minutes before time, against a stern Bath opposition. A relieving kick became a loose ball; Miller kicked it on and managed to beat his opposite number, Nick Abendanon , to the ball to score the try.The fly-half-come-fullback has proved invaluable for the Sharks this season, helping them to a 6th place finish; an improvement on the season before's 10th.

One can only expect bigger and better things from the boys at the Salford City Stadium this year with two big incoming stars. Literally in the case of lock, Richie Gray, from Glasgow and figuratively in the form of fly-half Danny Cipriani from the Melbourne Rebels.

Turning to Europe now: the historic victory of Leinster over Ulster in this season’s Heineken Cup final; making it three titles in the past four years, has led the Premiership’s governing body to make moves towards an exit from the northern hemisphere’s premier rugby tournament. This comes alongside the French clubs, who are reportedly also in disagreement with how the tournament is organised and with the qualification structure that exists.

This year only one of the seven English clubs made it out of the group stages (Saracens) and had to settle for quarter-final defeat. This is not good enough as far as the RFU are concerned who, under Stuart Lancaster, are undergoing a revival in English rugby.

Officially, neither of the countries’ clubs can leave the tournament without two years notice; which allows until the 2013-14 season for the matter to be sorted.

The English and French propose that the Heineken Cup should be reduced from 24 teams to 20 and that these teams would be selected in a different manner than that which exists at the moment. This system would now see the top six in the Premiership, Top 14 and Pro12 qualify along side the winners of the previous year’s Heineken and Amlin Cups. That means that the existing seeding system would make way for three league winners and the two cup winners to take top seeds in the pools (reduced to 5 from 6).

Back in Britain, the Championship was won when London Welsh beat the Cornish Pirates 29-20. 

Remarkably, the Dragons were denied promotion to the Premiership on a contradictory technicality. 

According to the RFU, London Welsh failed to reach the minimum standards of a Premiership club; mainly because they did not meet the requirements for primacy of tenure. This states that you cannot share your stadium with another club. And as London Welsh shares Kassam Stadium with Oxford United they do not meet the requirements.

As it stood, the Newcastle Falcons would remain in the Premiership, despite only achieving 6 wins in 22 games this season, and finishing bottom of the table.

London Welsh appealed the decision and had the ruling reversed. This was aided greatly due do the double standards of the RFU which already allowed Premiership clubs London Irish,Wasps and Saracens to cohabit with FA clubs. Newcastles  Falcons were demoted to the Championship and London Welsh promoted to the Premiership. Promises of big signings from this outfit have met fruition when they announced the signing of the prodigal Gavin Henson from Cardiff. He is set to assume first place kicking duties when the season kicks off in early September.

Ups and downs abound in the Premiership this season. Uncertainty exists for the future of English club rugby on the European stage. But the domestic future is bright. One thing is for certain, and that is that next season the Premiership will be back. Over the course of nine months; we will see new giants of the game emerge, new national hopefuls under the revival and most of all, new memories of this beautiful game that will stay with us as long as we chase the odd-shaped ball.

Felix (@lightningrust): Blogger, eternal student of business & law, sunshine rugby player with a passion for music and fitness. Coffee is essential. Leinster fan and Irish proud.

© JL Pagano 2012

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