Crunch time in race for play-offs
April 23, 2009
Who will succeed London Wasps as the Premiership champions? © Getty Images
The race for the Guinness Premiership semi-finals will reach a dramatic conclusion this weekend with the final round of the regular season.
Arguably the most competitive season since the formation of the Premiership will culminate with six clubs chasing the four semi-final places with a further four eyeing a prospective place in the Heineken Cup for next season.
Premier Rugby Chief Executive Mark McCafferty said, "This season the league has been closer than ever before and that is saying something considering the finishes we have had in the past.
"The final weekend is always a fascinating one for neutrals and a nerve-wracking one for supporters of the clubs involved. I am sure the final 80 minutes of the season on Saturday will provide a fitting conclusion to a fantastically competitive season of Guinness Premiership rugby."
So who needs what?
Leicester Tigers - The league leaders have already qualified for a fifth successive semi-final spot and they are guaranteed to be at home. One more point against Bristol Rugby will make them number one seeds.
Harlequins - Currently second in the table, a bonus point win against Newcastle Falcons will guarantee Quins a home semi-final. Two match points will ensure a place in the semi-final for the first time. The Stoop-based club have not finished in the top four of the league since 1998-99.
Bath - The west country side, who have not claimed the title since 1995-96, need two points at home to Saracens to guarantee a place in the play-offs for the second year running.
London Irish - The Exiles also need two points against Worcester at Sixways to guarantee a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 2005-06.
Gloucester - The Cherry and Whites have to win against London Wasps at Adams Park, ideally with a try bonus point, to give themselves any chance of making the last four for a third year in a row. That will not be enough if Harlequins, Bath and London Irish all get a minimum of two points.
Sale Sharks - The Sharks must win with a bonus point against Northampton Saints to give themselves any chance of making the play-offs for the first time since they were champions in 2005-06. Even that won't be enough if Harlequins, Bath and London Irish all get a point, or Gloucester also win.
Heineken Cup qualification?
The battle is just as fierce for the remaining Heineken Cup places.
All of the top six clubs have already secured Heineken Cup spots for next season, but Northampton Saints, London Wasps, Saracens and Newcastle Falcons could put themselves in the frame for a seventh place finish and a potential Heineken Cup spot. Seventh place would qualify a club for Europe if Bourgoin go on to win the European Challenge Cup.
Northampton Saints, Saracens and Worcester could yet qualify for the Heineken Cup by winning the European Challenge Cup, with the semi-finals of that competition taking place next weekend. Saracens travel to Franklin's Gardens to play Northampton and Worcester Warriors must travel to France to play Bourgoin.
All six Guinness Premiership matches will kick-off at 3pm on Saturday, with Sky Sports televising the clash at the Recreation Ground between Bath and Saracens. Sky will have cameras and a live feed at each of the other five matches and will provide regular updates on semi-final and European qualification.
This season's semi-finals will tak eplace on May 9, kicking off at 3pm and 5.30pm respectively.