The business end of the season is upon us in both Aviva Premiership Rugby and Guinness Pro 14.
Two rounds of fixtures remain in England, while the Pro 14 goes into its final weekend of regular season games. But what are the permutations as the season reaches its denouement. Who needs a win? Who can’t afford to lose? Let us make it easy for you.
Let’s start at the top of Premiership Rugby. The two form sides of the last two seasons, Exeter Chiefs and Saracens, have booked their semi-final spots already, with the former already guaranteed a home game in the last four. Saracens can confirm their home semi-final with one more victory.
That victory could come this Saturday at the expense of London Irish. If it does, not only will it leave Saracens sitting pretty, but it will condemn Irish to a return to the Championship after only one season back in the big time. Should they claim a famous win, and Worcester lose to Harlequins, the fight will go to the final day.
There are two spots in the semi-final still up for grabs, and a remarkable five clubs still battling it out to claim them. Wasps are in the strongest position, sitting as they do in third. They play Northampton Saints on Saturday and can confirm their place if they win and Newcastle Falcons beat Leicester Tigers.
The clash between Falcons and Tigers is a mouth-watering one, with the winner in strong position to reach the semi-finals. Defeat for Tigers and it is likely all over for them, but victory will take it to the final day, and bring Sale Sharks and Gloucester into the reckoning assuming both win in Round 21 (they play Exeter and Bath respectively).
Gloucester face a local derby with Bath, knowing a win gives them a chance of making the semi-finals on the last day, while Sale will need to beat Chiefs and Tigers to have a sniff of the last four.
Clear as mud!
Things are a little more straight forward in Guinness Pro 14, albeit it with a slightly more complex system in place.
First of all, there is no relegation, so the likes of the Southern Kings need not worry about heading down a division next term.
From the two conferences of seven teams, the top three teams head in to the knockout stage of the competition. Teams that second and third in the respective conferences then play it out (A2 v B3, A3 v B2) for a semi-final spot against the winners of Conference A or B. So who is in and is striving to make it?
In conference A, Glasgow Warriors and Munster are high and dry. Glasgow, with just four league defeats all season, have guaranteed themselves direct access to the semi-final and can rest up while they find out their opponents. Munster will finish second regardless of results and will get a home game in the first knock-out round.
The battle for third place comes down to two teams – representing South Africa and Wales. The Toyota Cheetahs will go into the final fixtures as firm favourites, currently sitting five points ahead of the Cardiff Blues. Cheetahs face the aforementioned Southern Kings, who boast a solitary win for their efforts this season, although they might enjoy spoiling their countrymen’s party. If the Cheetahs fail to claim a point, it will open the door for the Blues, who also face a local team last, hosting the Ospreys, sitting a place below them (although some 13 points back).
Conference B is tighter, although Leinster have first place sewn up. They currently sit five points ahead of Ospreys, and although they could finish level on the same points total, and have won the same amount of matches, Leinster have what would seem an unassailable lead points difference.
That leaves three teams battling it out for two places. Ulster face the toughest task perhaps, sitting as they do four points off third place and a looming fixture with rivals Munster to come. Should they win that, it puts the pressure on Edinburgh in third and Scarlets in second. Scarlets will secure their path to the knockouts with point against the Dragons, while Edinburgh will need to beat Conference A winners Glasgow, or hope that Ulster fall at the last.
It promises to be a pulsating weekend of rugby. As ever, Gilbert will be there, the #OneConstant of rugby around the world.
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