Last weekend in the Guinness Premiership saw the top two, Gloucester and Bath, open up some breathing space as two other big guns, Leicester and Wasps, faltered.
On Saturday, a Bath team in fantastic form met a Saracens team deflated and depleted from the previous week’s Heineken cup exploits and the result was never in doubt. Bath ran in nine tries with Barkley scoring 31 points, Bath running out winners by 66 – 21. The manner in which Bath played, rather than the big result will be of great concern to their title rivals but it is yet to be seen whether this crop of players have the “big game mentality” required to win a Premiership final.
In the only match with nothing in particular riding on it Worcester beat Bristol 22 – 21 at what will be the last match for Bristol at the Memorial Stadium for two years as they move to Rodney Gardens in Newport while their stadium is redeveloped.
One of the big benefits of a play-off structure with relegation is that almost every match has significance all the way until the end of the season. However it is strange that one of the clubs with seemingly little left to play for – Newcastle – managed to beat a team needing to fight for every point to qualify for the play-offs – Leicester.
Newcastle resisted a tough late fight back from the tigers to win 28-25 and severely impact on Leicester’s hopes of a playoff place. This will also be further ammunition for any anti-Loffreda elements within and outside the Leicester camp with rumours that a certain Mr White might be keen on a job in the midlands.
Also on Saturday Sale took a big stride towards a playoff berth by defeating Harlequins 23 – 16 at the Stoop. Sale are now third and you would back them to beat London Irish at home to secure a play off place whereas Harlequins must now defeat Leicester at Welford Road to stand a chance of making the Twickenham final.
Gloucester defeated an uncharacteristically sloppy Wasps at Adams Park 25 – 17 to put themselves in a great position for a home semi final in the playoffs. They now just need a bonus point from their match against Bath on Saturday to guarantee a home tie. Wasps on the other hand need to refocus and find the necessary determination to win their remaining two matches, against Newcastle tomorrow and Leeds on Saturday to get themselves back on track.
Just in case anyone should forget about the rugby London Irish are capable of, they scored seven tries to defeat Leeds 43 – 20. There was no Heineken hangover for the Exiles as they walked over the already-relegated northerners.
After Wednesday’s match between Wasps and Newcastle it will be clear what each of Sale, Harlequins, Wasps and Leicester need to do to earn the final two playoff places. I am very excited, I hope you all are too.
By Jon Hobbs