07 January 2014

Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership becoming predictable

The 2013/14 rugby season is just at the half-way point and before we turn our attentions to the final pool games of the Heineken Cup and the 6 Nations, it is worth taking a snapshot of the domestic tournaments. Unfortunately there is s certain predictability about the Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership as to who will be in the shake-up to be crowned champions at the end of the season.

This is hardly the ideal scenario with half the season remaining.

The Pro 12 has five teams in contention for the semi-final play-offs. Three Irish teams, Munster, Leinster and Ulster along with the Ospreys and Glasgow.

The nearest contender outside the top five are the Dragons, thirteen points behind Ulster in the fourth play-off spot. They are only nine points behind Glasgow in fifth, but Glasgow have two games in hand.

Apart from an implosion of some description from one of the top five teams it is extremely unlikely any team outside the current top five will make the semi-finals. Without any threat of relegation from the Pro 12 the remaining seven teams in the league are just fulfilling fixtures and playing for pride.

The Aviva Premiership is not too different when it comes to play-off contenders. Saracens and Northampton are burning a trail at the top of the league and even at this early stage are all but certain to make the semi-finals. The remaining two semi-final spots are likely to come from two of the following three teams: Bath, Harlequins or Leicester.

Wasps, who are just one point behind Leicester and Harlequins, will still have designs on a semi-final spot. But having lost six of their twelve games to date, they are in contention based on picking up seven bonus points. Despite their proximity to Leicester and Harlequins, Wasps will need to improve their win rate substantially to force their way into semi-final contention.

Teams near the bottom of the table are pre-occupied with avoiding relegation and teams mid-table may focus on winning a Heineken Cup spot for next season, should the Heineken Cup actually take place.

But like the Pro 12, the business end of the Aviva Premiership season is already pretty predictable. That predictability, half way through any tournament, is far from satisfactory when trying to retain public interest in the tournaments.

On the other hand, the Top 14 remains hugely competitive. At the end of the season there are six play-off places up or grabs in the fourteen-team league. With just ten regular season games remaining eleven of the fourteen teams are still in with a chance of making the play-offs.

Just five points separate Brive in 11th place and Grenoble filling the final play-off spot in 6th place.

Unlike the Pro 12 or the Aviva Premiership, the Top 14 is so competitive it often means French teams tend to prioritise their domestic competition over the Heineken Cup.

The Top 14 is undoubtedly the most competitive domestic league in the northern hemisphere. It is also unfortunate for the game in this part of the world that the Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership cannot replicate the competitiveness of the Top 14.