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Premiership finale: what’s at stake for clubs in running for playoff places
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Premiership finale: what’s at stake for clubs in running for playoff places


Whatever happens in the remaining weeks of the season it has been a year to remember for Northampton who pushed Leinster close last weekend and are expected to seal their place in the playoffs on Saturday against Gloucester. A raft of youngsters who emerged under Chris Boyd – who remains an influential presence on the other end of the phone to director of rugby Phil Dowson and head coach Sam Vesty – have peaked while Saints are reaping the rewards of Courtney Lawes’s international retirement and have picked up clever signings in Curtis Langdon and Tom Pearson. All the while Fin Smith continues to look an elite Test fly-half despite only turning 22 on Saturday. It has made Northampton a thrilling side to watch this season with a defensive resilience – after bulking up in preseason – allied to their unmatched attacking game. Defeat by Bath on the final day might just see them knocked off top spot but Northampton won’t care as long as they secure a home semi-final.

Premiership form since restart LWWL. Key player Courtney Lawes. Remaining fixtures Gloucester (H), Bath (A). Predicted finish 2nd.


There has rarely been a dull moment at Saracens but even when Mark McCall’s side were at their lowest ebb – a desperate defeat by Bordeaux in January – you always suspected that they would be in the top-four shake-up come May. McCall has repeatedly talked about the end of an era with Owen Farrell, Billy and Mako Vunipola among a host of stalwarts leaving the club but, as he said this week, they are quietly building momentum and have a decent bill of health. Since the Six Nations, an error-strewn defeat at Northampton increasingly looks an anomaly and players like Farrell have such experience of knockout rugby that they will take some stopping. They run into a Bristol side on Saturday who are in form but Saracens have relished bringing the Bears back down to earth in the past. McCall was adamant that the club have put Billy Vunipola’s arrest in Mallorca behind them but it could just sharpen the focus more in the coming weeks.

Premiership form since restart WLWW. Key player Owen Farrell. Remaining fixtures Bristol (A), Sale (H). Predicted finish 1st.


It is a sign of the optimism at the Rec that Johann van Graan has just been rewarded with a new contract through to 2030. There are echoes of Bristol handing Pat Lam a bumper new deal, only for the Bears to come off the boil, but Bath believe in Van Graan and certainly they are on an upward trajectory under the South African. Finn Russell was the Premiership’s marquee signing this season and he has rarely disappointed for Bath who will hope that the Scotland fly-half is back fit for the playoffs, assuming they qualify. Newcastle away on Friday night may not be the forgone conclusion many will expect given Steve Diamond will be desperate to get a win under the Falcons’ belt this season and this is their last home match, but Bath have a solidity about them this term that Van Graan deserves great credit for that. In attack, clearly having someone of Russell’s calibre helps but so too does having Lee Blackett on the coaching staff. Much is made of how other clubs have benefited from the demise of Wasps, Worcester and London Irish in picking up their players but Blackett’s arrival at the Rec – after a brief stint at the Scarlets – is just as significant.

Premiership form since restart WLWL. Key player Alfie Barbeary. Remaining fixtures Newcastle (A), Northampton (H). Predicted finish 3rd.

Bath’s Alfie Barbeary runs with the ball through the Saracens defenceView image in fullscreen


The form side in the Premiership and the only side to have registered four wins since the Six Nations with Bristol reaping the rewards of going back to what they do best – all-out attack. As a result they broke the 80-point barrier against Newcastle but the pessimistic view is that three of their four wins have been against lower quality opposition and, while sticking 50 points on Northampton is not to be sniffed at, they caught Saints cold after the long break. Still, the Premiership is a richer place when the Bears are on song and it is heartening to see players such as Gabriel Ibitoye, whose career was in danger of petering out after leaving Harlequins, fulfilling their potential. Benhard Janse van Rensburg was one of London Irish’s most consistent performers and he has carried on in the same vein at Ashton Gate. This weekend’s fixture against Saracens may prove a reality check and if it does, everything hinges on their final match at Harlequins.

Premiership form since restart WWWW. Key player Benhard Janse van Rensburg. Remaining fixtures Saracens (H), Harlequins (A). Predicted finish 7th.


A typically bonkers season for Harlequins who have pulled off some remarkable results but struggled to back them up. The most impressive came against Bordeaux in the Champions Cup, and but for some frustrating errors they might have even squeezed past Toulouse last Sunday. Going to Exeter, just six days after that defeat, is a tall order but it is Harlequins’ ability to pick up bonus points – they have 13 so far – that keeps them in the hunt and if they can add to that tally in Devon they will hope their fate is in their own hands when hosting Bristol. The usual suspects – Marcus Smith, André Esterhuizen and Tyrone Green – are coming into form nicely but it is in the set-piece where they have kicked on this season with Fin Baxter enjoying a breakthrough campaign alongside the rock-solid Will Collier. Joe Launchbury’s experience has been invaluable while Chandler Cunningham-South is a future rock star but a special word for Will Evans who puts his head in horrible places time and again for his side.

Premiership form since restart LWLW. Key player Will Evans. Remaining fixtures Exeter (A), Bristol (H). Predicted finish 4th.

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Harlequins’ Will Evans scores their fifth try against Bath in MarchView image in fullscreen


A strange season for Sale, who approached the Premiership final last season with such optimism and determination to be a catalyst for the growth of the game in the north. Injures haven’t helped – Tom Curry has not played all season and was always going to be missed – but the Sharks just haven’t clicked this term. They have managed just seven bonus points – only Newcastle have fewer – and 49 tries after 16 rounds is well down on the 75 (albeit over 20 matches) of last season. For all that, they have strung a bit of form together of late and remain in the hunt for the playoffs. Victory over Leicester on Friday will keep them there but they are likely to need to win big at Saracens on the final day and hope results go their way elsewhere if they are to make the semi-finals again.

Premiership form since restart LWWW. Key player George Ford. Remaining fixtures Leicester (H), Saracens (A). Predicted finish 6th.


Given the number of high-profile departures over the summer, Rob Baxter can be pleased with how his young side have performed this term though perhaps inevitably consistency has been a problem. He can, however, be happy with the transition and in particular how remaining senior figures like Henry Slade have performed around promising youngsters such as Immanuel Feyi-Waboso. It is still a possession game that the Chiefs favour, if not quite so reliant on driving mauls, and Steve Borthwick has often spoken about how Exeter’s blitz defence is the closest the Premiership has to offer to what he is attempting to instil in the national team. Two wins from their remaining matches would take them mighty close to the playoffs but they may just miss out because of Harlequins’ impressive bonus points total.

Premiership form since restart WLLW. Key player Jacques Vermeulen. Remaining fixtures Harlequins (H), Leicester (A). Predicted finish 5th.

Exeter Chiefs’ Jacques Vermeulen eyes the ball against Newcastle FalconsView image in fullscreen


It is still just about possible for the Tigers to reach the playoffs but they need a number of stars to align and realistically, the east Midlands derby defeat by Northampton ended their chances, let alone the home loss to Bristol. It has been a difficult first season for Dan McKellar in charge of a side who have come to look uninspired. Against Northampton they did a lot of things right but what stood out was how clunky they were with ball in hand. Whereas a couple of seasons ago, the kick-heavy approach favoured by Steve Borthwick was successful it now looks dated. Saracens – who they beat in the 2022 final – have moved with the times but on the evidence of this campaign the Tigers have not.

Premiership form since restart LWLL. Key player Tommy Reffell. Remaining fixtures Sale (A), Exeter (H). Predicted finish: 8th.

Source: theguardian.com