Premiership builds to dramatic climax
April 22, 2012
Final Play: Mark Durden-Smith, Rory Lawson, Austin Healey and Ben Kay discuss the latest action%]
The battle at both end of the Aviva Premiership table is set to go down to the wire after a thrilling weekend of action across the country.
Saracens kicked things off by booking their place in this season's play-offs with a narrow 9-3 victory over basement side Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park on Friday night. The win lifted them into second place in the table - that would be rewarded with a home semi-final in the play-offs - while a dogged performance from the Falcons was rewarded with a valuable losing bonus point.
That result ensured fellow strugglers Worcester Warriors were assured of their Premiership status but the same could not be said for London Wasps who were just four points clear of the Falcons heading into their clash with Bath at The Rec. And the four-time Premiership champions maintained that breathing room by escaping with a losing bonus point of their own at the end of a 17-12 defeat.
The two sides meet at Adams Park on May 5 in a game that will decide who finishes bottom of the table. Newcastle must they must deny Wasps a bonus point and win by at least 24 points to remain in the top flight. Wasps' on-going financial woe and possible administration penalty and the possibility of this season's Championship winners failing to meet the Premiership entry requirements are intriguing sub-plots and other possible escape routes for the Falcons.
At the other end of the table, leaders Harlequins slipped to a thrilling 43-33 defeat to title rivals Leicester. The result means that, like the relegation issue, the line-up for the semi-finals will not be decided until the last weekend of the regular season with Quins, the Tigers and Saracens all in the hunt for a home tie in the final four.
Northampton complete the current top four thanks to their 18-15 victory over fellow play-off hopefuls Exeter. Tries from Chris Ashton and Paul Diggin proved just enough to pip the hosts and leap-frog them into the play-off picture. The Chiefs, whose tries came from Gonzalo Camacho and Richard Baxter, celebrating his 350th appearance for the club, must now beat Saracens in their last game and hope Saints fail to do the same at home to Worcester.
Sale Sharks kept their Heineken Cup qualification hopes alive by ending those of Gloucester with a 24-19 victory in their clash at Kingsholm. Both sides needed to win the crucial match to stand any chance of finishing sixth in the Premiership and, with it, land a lucrative Heineken Cup spot for next term. But two tries from Sale fullback Rob Miller - along with 14 points from the boot of fly-half Nick Macleod - was enough for them to see off Gloucester, whose points came through a try from wing Charlie Sharples and four penalties and a conversion from No.10 Freddie Burns.
London Irish snapped a seven-game losing streak to record a 25-16 victory over an out-of-sorts Worcester Warriors at Sixways. Exiles fullback Tom Homer was the hero with 15 points and he helped ensure that there was no fairytale Sixways farewell for departing favourites Marcel Garvey, Miles Benjamin, Kai Horstmann and Dale Rasmussen as Worcester produced one of their worst performances of the season.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter