Ollie Phillips: All to play for at the halfway point of a tight and unpredictable Premiership season

Ollie Phillips
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Gloucester Rugby v Exeter Chiefs - Heineken Champions Cup
Gloucester are third but without fly-half Danny Cipriani for another four weeks (Source: Getty)

Saracens and Exeter may be streets ahead at the top of the Premiership, but at the halfway stage of the season every other position is up for grabs.

Although I’m backing last year’s finalists to repeat the trick, there’s plenty of intrigue elsewhere to keep us guessing until May.

There is very little consistency in the middle of the table and, with just 15 points separating third and 12th, eight sides can realistically finish as the best of the rest, while no team has been cut loose at the bottom either.

With the table so tight, the form guide erratic, February’s Six Nations approaching and injuries to bear in mind it’s hard to call how the next 11 game-weeks will pan out.

Cipriani factor

Gloucester, who travel to struggling Leicester on Saturday, currently occupy third place, but they have veered from the sublime to the shambolic this season.

Fly-half Danny Cipriani is expected to be sidelined for a further four weeks with a chest injury and his absence is a huge factor.

His creativity from No10 is vital and Gloucester will need to ride out January as best they can and hope he’s not called up by Eddie Jones for the Six Nations.

Despite their reliance on Cipriani I think Gloucester will have enough to stay in the top four.

Diamond's Sale flying

The in-form team in the Premiership are Sale, who beat Gloucester at Kingsholm last time out to extend their record to just one defeat in their last seven games.

Steve Diamond seems to always overachieve with Sale, helping them punch above their weight in terms of budget and although he’s a fiery character the spate of players signing new contracts recently shows he’s getting things right on the pitch.

Sale don’t have the distraction of a European campaign and won’t lose many to the Six Nations, but I don’t think they have the depth of quality to sustain a run to the top four.

Saints clicking

Harlequins sit in fourth, and although Paul Gustard is doing a good job I can’t see them staying at the forefront as they’ll miss players like Danny Care next month.

Bath have been unlucky to be decimated by injuries, with Sam Underhill joining others on the sidelines, but I like the look of Northampton.

The Saints have settled under Chris Boyd and with Dan Biggar at fly-half they seem to have found the knack of marginally nicking games, so I’m backing them for fourth spot.

Fixtures against Worcester

At the bottom I fancy Pat Lam’s magic to keep Bristol’s heads above water and bottom side Newcastle to arrest their slump once the distraction of the Champions Cup goes.

The Falcons have shown what they can do in Europe, but look fatigued, with the travel and highs and lows taking their toll.

That unfortunately leaves Worcester, who still have to play the current top three at home, looking the most likely to be relegated.

They have talent in the likes of Josh Adams, Bryce Heem and Ben Te’o but really need to beat those around them to stand a chance.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director within the real estate and construction team at PwC. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn

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