Aviva Premiership 2016/17: Race for the Play-Offs

Last weekend’s action in the Premiership confirmed Wasps, Exeter Chiefs and Saracens places in the play-offs. That leaves one more spot to be contended in the remaining league fixtures. Bath, Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints and Harlequins all have a chance of making it. With the prospect of the Premiership title at stake, it means there’s still so much to play for in the final three rounds.

Race for the Play-Offs

So who will seal that elusive fourth place and guaranteed semi-final match? Aaron Tillyer casts an eye over the leading contenders.

Harlequins

Upcoming fixtures:

  • Rd 20 – Exeter Chiefs (H)
  • Rd 21 – Wasps (H)
  • Rd 22 – Northampton Saints (A)

Harlequins sit level on 42 points with Saints – five points adrift of fourth place. Two of Quins’ remaining fixtures feature the top two sides in the competition. Both Exeter and Wasps have looked like title-winning side at times this season. Fortunately for Quins, they are both at home ascertaining a slim advantage. Round 19 saw both Wasps and the Chiefs leak points and at times looked weak in defence. Similarly, Wasps had to come from behind to overcome a tough Saints side.

Quins will need to win both of their home games and pick up points from their final game to have a chance. Exeter are unbeaten in their last five league games, so this weekend’s tie could make or break their fight for fourth place

Bath

Upcoming fixtures:

  • Rd 20 – Worcester (A)
  • Rd 21 – Gloucester (H)
  • Rd 22 – Sale (A)

Bath have one of the better run ins than some of their rivals. They currently occupy fifth place but share the same points as Leicester with 52. However, beating the Tigers in the last round was a huge result for the South West club. It ended a run of three straight defeats and could provide the platform to kick on get the wins they need. Despite starting the season on a high, Bath’s fortunes have been mixed since. A trip to Sixways this weekend will be no easy task. The Warriors have looked good in recent games in spite of only one win in five. Similarly, Gloucester have started to show some promise in their quest for a European spot.

On paper, Bath should win all three games, but Gloucester and Sale could stun Bath with narrow victories.

Northampton Saints

Upcoming fixtures:

  • Rd 20 – Saracens (H)
  • Rd 21 – Exeter Chiefs (A)
  • Rd 22 – Harlequins (H)

Of all the four sides competing for fourth place, Saints have possibly the most difficult route. It doesn’t come more difficult than facing Saracens this weekend. The reigning champions are unbeaten in their last four league games. Followed by a trip to Sandy Park to face the Chiefs, the Saints’ chances may be over before they even welcome Quins in the final game. It’s difficult to see how Saints will pick up wins against two of the top three teams. Wasps exposed Saints’ defensive frailties and with the attacking threat that Saracens possess, could be a long afternoon.

Results elsewhere would need to be hugely favourable. Being five points adrift already means the uphill battle will be near impossible for the Midlands side.

Leicester Tigers

Upcoming fixtures:

  • Rd 20 – Newcastle (H)
  • Rd 21 – Sale (H)
  • Rd 22 – Worcester (A)

A loss to Bath in ‘The Clash’ at Twickenham would have been a bitter blow for the Tigers. A win would have put breathing space between the two and given themselves a much greater advantage. The Tigers, however, look to have a more favourable run in. Two home games in the next two rounds should be enough to confirm a fourth place spot. The Falcons have lost three of their last four games, so confidence will be low. A trip to Welford Road won’t help matters, but chasing the top eight will be motivation for the North East club. Sale’s form has fluctuated during the season, so depending on which team turns up in the penultimate game, could halt the Tigers in their tracks. But being in the position they are, means their fate is in their own hands.

Leicester Tigers are in the driving seat to take fourth place. With the imminent arrival of Matt O’Connor taking over the reign, you’d expect the Tigers to finish the season well and put their mid-season woes behind them. It would set up a blockbuster of a semi-final between Wasps and Leicester.

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