The end of the regular Guinness Premiership season is heading swiftly towards its climax, and not for years has there been quite so much to play for at both ends of the table. Three of the four playoff spots have been secured by Leicester, Northampton and Saracens but this weekend sees two of the teams vying for that final spot go head to head as Wasps play Bath in a St. Georges Day spectacular at Twickenham.
At the other end of the table Leeds Carnegie host the Worcester Warriors on Sunday in a game that could revive Worcester’s hopes of avoiding playing in the Championship next season or consign them to the realisation that they will need to get used to playing in the second tier of the English game next term.
There are just two points separating Wasps, the current incumbents of fourth place, and sixth place Bath going into the penultimate round of the season this weekend but there is also London Irish to consider in this equation as the meat in the playoff sandwich, sitting just a single point behind Wasps and a single point above Bath in fifth place. The Exiles travel to Gloucester on Saturday in what is a must win game but who will be in pole position on Saturday night?
Bath come into the game at HQ off the back of a run of 9 victories in 10 games, including a win over second placed Northampton on Tuesday night. They will also welcome back South African fly half Butch James into the side, giving them a fully fit squad before the game. Wasps also have a fly half worth talking about in Danny Cipriani. The Melbourne bound Cipriani will be hoping to leave his sting in the Twickenham turf before he leaves at the end of the season and he is certainly in the form to do so. His man of the match performance last weekend saw Wasps over the line in a tight game against Worcester and the relationship that he is building with England elect Dominic Waldouck at inside centre is looking as dangerous as any in the Premiership.
This game has the potential to be an absolute classic between two teams that are peaking at the right time of the season but the game will be won and lost in one area of the field and that is in the midfield. Cipriani and Waldouck against James and Barkley will be key to the success of either team and the winners of that battle could well win the war.
London Irish have a do or die tie at Kingsholm and their current form does not bode well for a successful trip to the West Country. A poor performance and subsequent loss at home to Leeds last weekend is the not the preparation that they will have wanted and I fear that this game will be a bridge to far for last year’s beaten finalists.
If I did have to make a prediction now, I would say that Wasps will remain in fourth with a victory and if they can seal a bonus point whilst Gloucester do them a favour at Kingsholm then the men from Wycombe could well be celebrating a playoff berth on Saturday night.
At the other end of the table, Leeds virtually secured their Premiership survival last weekend with a defiant yet impressive victory over London Irish but Worcester’s tight loss at home to Wasps has left the Warriors fighting for their Premiership lives, five points adrift and staring into the abyss.
If Worcester were to lose on Sunday they will be relegated but if they win, they will need to do so with a bonus point to stand any real chance of staying in the league and hope that other results go their way. They certainly have an uphill task in front of them and this battle is one as that looks as though it is a lost cause. Having scored just 19 tries all season, to score four away from home looks like just too big a hill to climb. This game will come down to kicking at goal and in Willie Walker, the current top scorer in the Premiership, Worcester have the edge in this department but I think that Leeds will be too strong for their rivals and condemn Worcester to the nightmare of relegation.
By Andrew Daniel