Premiership Half-Term Report

The top flight hits its mid-point over the festive period, with a cracker on Tuesday between season-long leaders Quins and Sarries, the champions. Chris Hewett does the marking and reads the tea leaves ahead of term two

Harlequins: O'Shea's way is scoring tries for fun

Where did it all go right? There are a number of reference points: the vibrant leadership of Conor O'Shea, the craftsmanlike coaching of John Kingston, the industriousness of Chris Robshaw as captain, the brilliance of Nick Evans as playmaker-in-chief.

Quins have lost only once across three competitions, and that was to Toulouse (against whom they retaliated in kind eight days later). They are scoring more heavily than anyone – at least a try a game more than all rivals except Leicester – because they are playing a faster brand of rugby, and a more joyous one too. When it comes to a shared sense of purpose, they are a souped-up version of Saracens. If they lose Robshaw to England, as they should, life will grow more difficult. There again, a nine-point lead is quite a cushion.

Position: 1st

Top scorer: Nick Evans (130pts)

Top try-scorer: Mike Brown (6)

Try strike rate per game: 3.2

Try concession rate per game: 1.6

Saracens: Farrell's men still have champion look

The champions are about to lose Andy Farrell to England for eight weeks, and if they lose the first team coach's son Owen as well – a distinct possibility, given the young man's strikingly mature midfield performances of late – they will be sorely tested, not least because they face big games with Leicester and Northampton during the inter-national window. Yet it is not obvious that Saracens are fazed by anything.

They had their worst day at the office in three years at Franklins Gardens last month, yet recovered to win a tight game against London Irish and register two outstanding Heineken Cup victories over Ospreys.

In Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick, Jacques Burger and Ernst Joubert they have four of the most effective forwards in the tournament. Expect them to be there or thereabouts.

Position: 2nd

Top scorer: Owen Farrell (92pts)

Top try-scorers: Brad Barritt/Ernst Joubert (3)

Try strike rate per game: 1.8

Try concession rate per game: 1.6

Exeter: Strength and joy in workers' revolution

Over in the western reaches, we see a team packed with worker ants rather than queen bees, swarming all over their opponents with the unbridled enthusiasm of those who know they are creating something of lasting value and enjoy nothing better than exposing the many non-believers in Premiership-land to the error of their ways. Cleverly managed by Tony Rowe and brilliantly coached by Rob Baxter, they are aware of their strengths – set-piece, ball retention, strategy – and play to them. They went through a sticky patch during the World Cup, widely assumed to be their one window of opportunity, yet pulled off the "London Irish trick" of taking something from virtually every game. Building from the bottom up, rather than the top down? Who knows? It might even catch on.

Position: 3rd

Top scorer: Ignacio Mieres (99pts)

Top try-scorer: Rich Baxter (3)

Try strike rate per game: 1.7

Try concession rate per game: 1.9

London Irish: Ups and downs of young talent

An odd lot, just at the moment: a well-coached team who frequently give themselves a lift and do themselves a mischief in the same calendar week – occasionally in the space of a single game.

It would be no great surprise to see them finish in the top half of the table and, if they succeed, the England hierarchy will love them for it: they have blooded some terrific talent in Tom Homer, Jonathan Joseph, Matt Garvey and Jamie Gibson, and there are some equally bright young things trucking along behind. If they could just find a little more consistency and work out a means of playing their rugby in a stadium of a sensible size, where their supporters might really make themselves heard, they would be a proper handful.

Position: 4th

Top scorer: Tom Homer (150pts)

Top try-scorers: Jonathan Joseph/ Topsy Ojo (4)

Try strike rate per game: 2.1

Try concession rate per game: 1.9

Sale: Rough Diamond has unexpected polish

Rather impressive, in a quiet kind of way not frequently associated with Steve Diamond, midway through his first full season as master of all he surveys in the Premiership's north-west outpost. Diamond promised a physical approach up front and seems to be delivering: his players have already secured two wins on the road, which is two more than many expected. Dave Seymour is contributing magnificently in the back row, Henry Thomas is improving by the game at tight-head prop and only a couple of sides have a better try-count. One of those is Harlequins, the form team in the country, yet in the points-fest at the Stoop in round five, Sale matched them touchdown for touchdown. They're not scared of anyone, that's for sure. Apart from Diamond, that is.

Position: 5th

Top scorer: Nick Macleod (104pts)

Top try-scorers: Rob Miller/ Dwayne Peel/Dave Seymour (3)

Try strike rate per game: 2.1

Try concession rate per game: 2.3

Northampton: Saints need sinners to stay on

Like their local rivals and fellow pugilists Leicester, the Saints were hurt more than most by proceedings in All-Black country during the autumn. Like their nearest and dearest, they are beginning to recover from the trauma by stringing together some performances. They could do with keeping their best players on the field: England winger Chris Ashton and Phil Dowson have missed games through suspension; Tom Wood was sent off so early in the recent defeat at Welford Road that he might as well have stayed in bed. Still, they look the part again, and if Ryan Lamb continues to develop his game at outside-half and foreign imports as dangerous as Vasily Artemyev and George Pisi grow in stature in the inevitable spate of Six Nations-driven absenteeism, a play-off place is on the cards.

Position: 6th

Top scorer: Ryan Lamb (75pts)

Top try-scorers: Chris Ashton/Phil Dowson/Tom May (3)

Try strike rate per game: 2.1

Try concession rate per game: 1.5

Leicester: Return of the big boys suits Cockerill

Happily for director of rugby Richard Cockerill, who readily accepts he is in "sacking territory" if he fails to take the Tigers to the Premiership final and the knock-out stage of the Heineken Cup, these things are not thrashed out over the mince pies.

No team suffered more grievously from World Cup call-ups and now the big boys are back in the playground, Welford Road is again a place where it is generally safer to hide behind the bike shed. Ben Youngs has rediscovered some of his spark, Toby Flood has a lean and hungry look about him, and the first-choice loose trio of Tom Croft, Julian Salvi and Thomas Waldrom are operating at a formidable level. They will be top four come the spring, for sure.

Position: 7th

Top scorer: Billy Twelvetrees (61pts)

Top try-scorer: Niall Morris (3)

Try strike rate per game: 2.6

Try concession rate per game: 2.9

Gloucester: Life is tweet despite misfiring engine

Blessed with the greatest concentration of back-line talent in the Premiership – Olly Morgan, Charlie Sharples, Jonny May, James Simpson-Daniel, Henry Trinder and Freddie Burns are as exciting as they are English, while the Samoan centre and world-class tweeter Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu is as compelling with a rugby ball in his hands as he is with a smartphone – the Kingsholmites are reminiscent of an Aston Martin with dodgy electrics: seriously classy, but spluttering badly. Should Bryan Redpath stick with the thrill-a-minute merchants, or ask Mike Tindall and Lesley Vainikolo to seek the comfort of contact?

It's a no-brainer, surely. Castle Grim may have been ransacked three times by strong raiding parties just recently, but that does not make it a Wendy house. This is a moment for the Cherry and Whites to hold their nerve.

Position: 8th

Top scorer: Freddie Burns (61pts)

Top try-scorer: Olly Morgan (3)

Try strike rate per game: 1.8

Try concession rate per game: 1.9

Wasps: Cash shortage is the big issue for Young

If the Londoners were blessed with Bath's financial resources, they would be playing a whole lot better than Bath. Unfortunately, they barely have a bean: if they stopped selling match programmes and flogged the Big Issue instead, no one would die of shock.

Quite whether director of rugby Dai Young and attack coach Paul Turner understood the depth of poverty at Adams Park when they signed up for duty is a moot point. If they didn't, there must be a lot of self-interrogation going on.

Christian Wade, the latest in a long line of academy products, has had himself a ball on the wing, but it is difficult to see how Wasps can restore themselves to their former glory in the fore-seeable future. In truth, they are a bottom-half side in dire need of a benefactor.

Position: 9th

Top scorer: Nicky Robinson (64pts)

Top try-scorer: Christian Wade (7)

Try strike rate per game: 1.8

Try concession rate per game: 1.3

Bath: McGeechan facing his toughest challenge

When Bruce Craig became the latest in a long line of Bristol rugby types to put their time and effort – and, in Craig's case, God's amount of money – into that "other place" along the A4, he said he was in for the long haul. Which was just as well, for Bath appear to be going nowhere fast. Indeed, this promises to be the toughest coaching challenge of Sir Ian McGeechan's illustrious career, not least because the man who was marginalised by McGeechan's arrival, Steve Meehan, now looks like a lost genius. The West Countrymen have their issues with injury, but so have plenty of other teams.

Where they can claim uniqueness is in their scoring methods, such as they are. Only they have notched more tries through their forwards than their backs. Which tells you something.

Position: 10th

Top scorer: Sam Vesty (74 points)

Top try-scorer: Dave Attwood (3)

Try strike rate per game: 1.4

Try concession rate per game: 1.1

Worcester: Not Goode enough, must try harder

They are flying beneath the radar, which is how their resourceful head coach Richard Hill generally likes it. Unfortunately, they are also flying below all but one of their rival teams. Heavily dependant on Andy Goode's goal-kicking – alone among the top-flight teams, they have played more games than they have scored tries – they are finding victories terribly hard to come by, even at Sixways.

On the plus side, the former England defence coach Phil Larder is ensuring they are a force to be reckoned with when they don't have the ball, even if they struggle to do anything constructive in possession. Much will depend on their home meeting with Newcastle in March. If the Tynesiders are in close touch after that little shindig, the run-in will be a very neurotic affair indeed.

Position: 11th

Top scorer: Andy Goode (59pts)

Top try-scorer: Miles Benjamin (3)

Try strike rate per game: 0.8

Try concession rate per game: 1.4

Newcastle: Sieve defence gives a sinking feeling

It is precisely a decade since the first Premiership champions finished in the top half of the table, and they sure as hell won't manage it this time round. Yet while they are flirting more dangerously with relegation this season than at any point in recent memory – six points adrift is an unnerving place to be – all is not lost.

They have not lost a league game at Kingston Park since Leicester snuck past them by a point in mid-September and with the outstanding Jimmy Gopperth still banging over his high-pressure three-pointers, more home victories are on the cards. They must, however, do something about their generosity. Some sides use a "drift" defence; others prefer the "blitz" theory. The Tynesiders have opted for the "colander" system, and it isn't working.

Position: 12th

Top scorer: Jimmy Gopperth (104pts)

Top try-scorer: James Fitzpatrick (3)

Try strike rate per game: 1.2

Try concession rate per game: 3.2.

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