We are very much into the business end of the season, and pretty much every club in the Aviva Premiership has something to play for. With three rounds to go, it’s nervous times at the bottom of the table as teams know they can’t afford to slip up, while those at the top know any dropped points could see a season of hard work go down the pan.
This is an area that has changed fairly dramatically over the past few weeks. A month ago, most people would have said that Harlequins would be nailed for a home quarter final, and yet following a run that has seen them win just two from six since the beginning of February, they are now precariously positioned in third, just two points ahead of fifth-placed Gloucester.
Saracens are all but nailed on for a home quarter final, and the Tigers, with two games to come at Welford Road, should secure the other home berth. That leaves two spots from the three of Quins, Gloucester and Saints (Bath are still mathematically in it, but realistically need the other three to slip up monumentally).
None of them have exclusively easy games left, meaning it is going to be incredibly tight. The Saints possibly have the edge, given that they have both of the bottom two clubs left to play, but with relegation on the agenda they will be scrapping for every inch. Gloucester have got to play Sarries, who are in imperious form, and travel to Exeter – never an easy place to win. It looks like the Quins v Saints game on the final weekend could go a long way to settling this one – what a game that is shaping up to be.
Heineken Cup qualification
With six points separating fifth and sixth, the top five places are more or less sewn up. That leaves Bath, Wasps and Exeter battling it out for the all-important final Heineken Cup qualification spot.
The first thing to note is just how horrible Bath’s run in is. They have all of the top three to come – Harlequins and Saracens away, and the Tigers at the Rec. Their pack, which has looked undercooked quite often this season, will do well to front up to those three, and it is looking unlikely that they will hang onto sixth place.
Exeter, potentially crucially, are the only of the three teams with two home games left. They welcome London Irish and Gloucester to Sandy Park, both games they will be confident of winning, as well as travelling to Adam’s park for what could be a vital clash with Wasps. The men from Wycombe also face away trips to Welford Road and the Salford Stadium.
Exeter and Wasps will be looking to win two from three, while Bath will be lucky to come away with any win. With two points separating the three sides, bonus points could come heavily into play. It looks to be a shoot-out between Wasps and Exeter – and with Wasps currently one point ahead and in fine try-scoring form, they could just pip the Chiefs to sixth.
Sadly, a certain Mike Scott seems to have wrapped this one up a while ago. Sale’s three point draw away at London Irish last round sees them eight points clear of London Welsh, and with only three games left it would take something immensely special from the Exiles to turn that deficit around. The five-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player was a crushing blow to their chances, and one from which they are unlikely to recover.
Worcester and London Irish are somewhat in no-man’s land, having secured safety a while back without ever doing enough to trouble the Heineken-Cup-qualification-chasing pack. Sale look to have survived by the skin of their teeth, but with Newcastle likely to bounce straight back up, they will have to be significantly better next season.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43