With eight rounds of Gallagher Premiership Rugby action complete, Leicester Tigers head into the break with a ten-point lead over Saracens in second as the Men in Black make their return to the top flight.
Last season’s table-toppers Bristol Bears are in 11th after a tricky start to the season but have the silver lining of sitting above West Country rivals Bath, who occupy the bottom spot.
Champions Harlequins have got their title defence off to a positive start having won five of their seven games, while London Irish have drawn more games than they have won as the Gallagher Premiership Rugby continues to throw up surprises.
BT Sport pundit and Gallagher ambassador Ugo Monye has been enthralled with the season so far. “It’s been entertaining, it’s been unpredictable as well. There are a couple of teams who finished strongly last year in Gallagher Premiership Rugby or have been consistently high performers in the league who have struggled.
“Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs haven’t hit their straps like we’re used to seeing but then seeing teams like Leicester Tigers completely rejuvenated is great and I believe that the league is better when historic teams like Leicester play so well.
“It’s been competitive. Worcester Warriors, who haven’t performed as well as they would hope at some points in this Premiership campaign, then go to Sale Sharks and beat them so I do love that the league has shown so much quality but has given us a fair amount of jeopardy considering we’re in the first week of November.
On the topic of Harlequins’ title defence, his former club Ugo says: “It’s never easy to defend your title, it’s an incredible challenge of course it is. Where last year they perhaps shocked people after losing Paul Gustard mid-season to bounce back and get the momentum they did to end the season in truly dramatic fashion was unbelievable.
“This year they are going about their business… I wouldn’t say quietly because when you wear the Harlequins shirt with those colours and play the brand of rugby they do, it’s hard to go about your business under the radar but to a certain extent, they are.
“That is taking nothing away from Harlequins. It’s a testament to how well Leicester have been doing and how well supported they have been - it’s one of the most atmospheric stadiums to play at and I don’t think has been over the last couple of years.
“Leicester Tigers haven’t previously had the performances perhaps to invoke that level of response but they are getting it this year and that is great to see.”
Saracens returned with a bang as they triumphed 26-9 over Bristol in the opening game of the 2021-22 season before the Tigers announced their intentions at an 11th title tilt with a bonus-point win over Exeter Chiefs.
Worcester Warriors looked to put last season’s woes behind them as they defeated Irish 36-24 as the first round showed last year’s finish guaranteed nothing.
London Irish then got their first point of the season in a Round Two encounter with Sale Sharks as they fought back from 31-14 down at half-time to draw 31-31 by the final whistle, a recurring theme for the Exiles.
In Round 6, they would hold Gloucester to a 25-25 draw, but it was the Cherry and Whites who fought back this time.
Irish were back to their never-say-die best just last weekend, recovering from 34-8 and a man down to ensure the points were shared between them and Saracens.
Before that, the Men in Black had been on a four-match unbeaten run, including a huge 71-17 win over Bath backed up by a victory over fierce rivals Quins.
That mammoth triumph over Bath sees them sit above Quins in the table on points difference with Harlequins winning their opening two matches by a margin of six points each before big wins over Bath and Bristol came either side of a narrow Sale defeat.
The Sharks are one of three teams on 17 points alongside Irish and Newcastle Falcons who have edged low-scoring affairs against Wasps and Bristol Bears on their way to four wins out of seven.
Midlands rivals Leicester and Northampton put on 114 points collectively against Worcester, as Northampton sit in fifth, one place behind Exeter on points difference.
Warriors responded well to those two drubbings to defeat Sale Sharks 27-14 in Round 7, their second win of the season so far.
Bath are yet to secure a victory but have picked up three losing bonus points in tight losses to Sale, Newcastle and Bristol in the opening three rounds.
Gloucester are up five places from the end of last season as they sit in sixth having come back from narrow defeats to Leicester and Northampton to win against Worcester, Sale and Newcastle.
Ugo’s players of the season so far…
“Player of the Season is interesting because people remember the second half of the season a lot better than they do the start, funnily enough.
“But Leicester Tigers are a top-four team, the one thing no one can forget is how well they have started this season and a lot of that has been down to George Ford.
“I remember the year I won the Premiership in 2012, I think we won our first ten matches and that sets an unbelievable foundation. I think you need 15 wins on average to get into the top four.
“Leicester have played eight matches and they are already way on track. It just allows you breathing space, to rotate the squad, and everything else like that.
“Tigers are guaranteed a place in the top four for me and when that happens people cannot forget how they started this season, they started it with so much consistency and one of their key pillars within that team is George Ford - he’s been phenomenal.
“Another one is Freddie Steward. His start to the season has meant he’s gone on to play for England so he’s been great, I’ve loved what Andre Esterhuizen is doing at Harlequins - I think he is so important. Danny Care for the last year and a half has had some of the best years of his career, he is playing with such freedom, fluidity.
“Max Malins is another player who has stood out with seven tries. There have been so many good performances, Paddy Jackson has been so consistent and important to London Irish.”
Ugo’s standout moments…
“The East Midlands derby was one and Leicester’s last comeback against Saracens. Who would have thought two months on that that was the start for this run?
“Rugby is incredible. What happened in those 60 seconds changed the momentum of that team. They could have easily lost that game against Saracens and the story would have been, ‘where are this Leicester Tigers team at?’
“But no, and it’s not just the win but the emotion of the win, the style of the win in injury time or when the clock went red - they were able to foster and bottle that emotion.
“That’s not the sole reason of course but it really set them off and I think pre-season is so tough the one thing you need is automatic vindication and reward for all the work you’ve put in during the pre-season and they got it - they just had to wait 82 minutes to get it.
“Harlequins’ comeback as well against Bristol Bears. We are so used to using the word ‘comeback’ when talking about Harlequins but their comeback and performance against Bristol… they played rugby from the Gods that day.
“That was one of the most entertaining games of Premiership Rugby I’ve seen in a long time. Two entertaining teams playing a fantastic brand of rugby, I loved that.
“The London Irish result at Chiefs a few weeks ago. It’s hard to win at Sandy Park and Irish, who had been inconsistent, losing games, drawing games, were exceptional. Then their comeback against Saracens at the weekend was another highlight.”