Preview: Premiership, Round 22
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: It’s 21 rounds down and just one to go in Premiership Rugby arguably the most exciting day of the season – as all 12 teams are in action at the same time.
The identity of the four semi-finalists may already be known, as is the fact that London Irish will finish bottom and be relegated to the second tier, but there’s still plenty to play for.
Wasps and Newcastle Falcons will battle it out to decide who faces Saracens and who faces table-toppers Exeter Chiefs in the semi-finals, while there is four-way bunfight for the two remaining European Rugby Champions Cup spots.
To make sure you’re fully up to speed with who needs what, we’ve run you through the permutations for the final day.
Newcastle Falcons and Wasps both confirmed their spots in the top four over the weekend but who they will face in the semi-finals in a little under two weeks’ time is yet to be decided.
Exeter beat Sale Sharks on Saturday to ensure they will finish top of the regular-season table for the first time, while Saracens’ convincing victory over relegated London Irish guaranteed them second place.
That means the equation for Wasps and Falcons is simple – whoever finishes third will head to Allianz Park to take on Saracens, while the Chiefs await at Sandy Park for the fourth-placed side.
Conveniently, Newcastle welcome Wasps – who they currently trail by three points – to Kingston Park on Saturday and a win or draw for Dai Young’s troops would be enough to seal the third spot.
However, a Falcons victory would most likely see them leapfrog their visitors and square off with Sarries a week later unless Wasps secured both a losing and four-try bonus point as Dean Richards’ men scored three tries or fewer.
In terms of Champions Cup spots. The Premiership Rugby’s top six earn a place in next season’s Champions Cup and while the top four is already set in stone, a quartet of teams – Leicester Tigers, Gloucester Rugby, Sale Sharks and Bath Rugby – can still finish fifth or sixth.
Fifth-placed Leicester are currently in pole position and just a single point from their meeting with Sale at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday would guarantee Champions Cup rugby next term.
In fact, even if they leave Greater Manchester point-less, Tigers would only drop into the Challenge Cup if seventh-placed Sharks also clinched a four-try bonus point and Gloucester got at least three points from their trip to Saracens.
It's 👋 to @ChrisWyles after this season, and the @Saracens legend wants to go out on a high with one last #AvivaPrem final at Twickenham— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) May 3, 2018
Interview here 👇https://t.co/09vavs3Krs pic.twitter.com/ZiukNIzrSc
The Cherry & Whites are currently sixth in the table and will remain ahead of Sale providing they either beat Saracens or the Sharks fail to beat Leicester.
Steve Diamond’s men sit seventh and will only crack the top six if they take five points from Leicester while restricting the Tigers to none or they successfully overhaul the two-point deficit they currently have to Gloucester.
Eighth-placed Bath can also still earn Champions Cup rugby next season but must secure a bonus-point win over London Irish at the Rec, have Gloucester pick up no points at Saracens and have Sale earn no more than two points against Leicester.
There is further good news for Gloucester however, as even if they drop out of the top six, they are still guaranteed a spot in the Champions Cup by virtue of reaching this season’s Challenge Cup final.
We look at all the action of Round 22!
Saturday, May 5
Newcastle Falcons v Wasps
(Recreation Ground - Kick-off: 16.00, 16.00 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons have already qualified for their first ever Premiership Rugby semi-final, their previous best finishes since the playoffs were introduced was seventh in 2005 and 2006.
Falcons have lost just twice in Premiership Rugby since November, both away from home, at Saracens in round 14 and at Worcester in round 19.
Newcastle have not been defeated at home in Premiership Rugby since Gloucester were the visitors to Kingston Park in round 9.
Wasps have reached the semi-finals for a third successive year and have won their last two matches, both at home, to Worcester Warriors and Northampton Saints, but have not won three in a row in the tournament since December.
Wasps only away win in Premiership Rugby in 2018 was against Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop in round 14.
Wasps are undefeated in their last nine Premiership Rugby encounters with Newcastle since 2012, a run which includes a 23-all draw at Kingston Park in February 2015.
Newcastle Falcons: tbc
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Andrew Jackson & Paul Burton.
TMO: Geoff Warren.
Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors
(Franklin's Gardens - Kick-off: 16.00, 16.00)
Northampton Saints only victory in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby was at Leicester in round 20.
The Saints have won just two of their last seven home games in Premiership Rugby, against Gloucester and London Irish in rounds 13 and 15.
Worcester Warriors last four matches have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Worcester’s only two away wins in any tournament this season were both in Premiership Rugby, at Leicester in round 9 and at Exeter in round 14.
Worcester beat Northampton 30 -15 at Sixways in round eight and have only once before achieved a season’s double over the Saints – in 2004/05 when Alan Solomons was looking after The Saints for the first part of the season.
Northampton Saints: tbc
Worcester Warriors: tbc
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Simon McConnell & Peter Allan.
TMO: Claire Hodnett.
Bath v Leicester Tigers
(Recreation Ground, Kick-off: 16.00, 16.00)
Bath Rugby’s 43-20 victory at Gloucester on Saturday ended a four-game losing run in Premiership Rugby.
Bath have lost their last two home games in the tournament (one at the Recreation Ground and one at Twickenham Stadium) but have not lost three successive Premiership Rugby home games since season 2010/11.
London Irish have won just three games in Premiership Rugby this season, but two of those have been in the last six rounds.
The Exiles’ 35-5 victory over Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop in their most recent away game ended an unwanted run of 23 successive defeats in Premiership Rugby.
Bath have won their last eight fixtures against London Irish in Premiership Rugby since their defeat at Madejski Stadium in 2012, whilst The Exiles most recent victory at the Recreation Ground was 16-0 in November 2009.
Bath Rugby: tbc
London Irish: tbc
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Greg Macdonald & Paul Dix.
TMO: Keith Lewis.
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs
(Twickenham Stoop, Kick-off: 16.00, 16.00)
Harlequins have slipped to four straight defeats in Premiership Rugby, whilst their only victory in the competition in 2018 was against Bath at Twickenham Stoop on 4 March.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last eight matches in all competitions, since their 7-13 defeat to Wasps in Coventry on 18 February.
The defending champions have reached a third successive Premiership Rugby semi-final, all three being played at Sandy Park.
The Chiefs have won their last seven matches against ‘Quins in Premiership Rugby since the Londoner’s victory by a single point at Sandy Park in May 2014.
Exeter Chiefs: tbc
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant Referees: Nigel Carrick & Robert Warburton.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Sale Sharks v Leicester Tigers
(AJ Bell Stadium, Kick-off: 16.00, 16.00)
The sixth English Champions Cup place is up for grabs and will go to Sale Sharks if Leicester do not secure a league point and the Sharks grab a maximum.
This is the third time that the two clubs have contested what amounts to a European Cup play-off with Tigers qualifying on both previous occasions following a 20-all draw at Heywood Road in 1997 and a victory at Twickenham Stadium in 2004 in the final of the Zurich Wildcard.
Sale have lost their last two Premiership Rugby matches but have not lost three in a row since November.
The Sharks only defeat in their last six Premiership Rugby fixtures at AJ Bell Stadium was 3-13 to Saracens in round 15.
Leicester Tigers have lost their last two Premiership Rugby matches, both at home, to Northampton and Newcastle.
The Tigers have won their last thee away games in the tournament but have not won four in a row on their travels since season 2013/14.
The last four encounters between the two clubs have been won by the home side on the day.
Sale Sharks: tbc
Leicester Tigers: tbc
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle & Tom Foley.
TMO: Sean Davey.
Saracens v Gloucester
(Allianz Park, Kick-off: 16.00, 16.00)
Saracens have already qualified for a ninth successive Premiership Rugby semi-final and a fourth at Allianz Park.
Saracens only two defeats in the last eleven rounds of Premiership Rugby came in successive weeks, at home to Leicester and away to Exeter in February/March.
Gloucester Rugby have won only two of their last seven Premiership Rugby fixtures, at London Irish in round 18 and at home to Harlequins in round 20.
Gloucester have won just once away from home in the tournament since November.
Gloucester have won their last two matches against Saracens, but both games were played at Kingsholm.
Gloucester have lost on all four previous occasions they have played at Allianz Park and have not won on Saracens soil since a 25-21 victory at Vicarage Road in November 2008.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Roy Maybank.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.