Gallagher Premiership: Top four and Champions Cup places permutations | Rugby Union News

Noble Horvath

The Premiership playoff race has gone down to the final day and could hardly be closer… With top spot and relegation in the Premiership already decided before the final day, two areas standout: the playoffs and European qualification. Gallagher Premiership’s final-day fixtures: Gloucester vs Northampton (Sunday, 3pm) Leicester Tigers vs […]

The Premiership playoff race has gone down to the final day and could hardly be closer...

The Premiership playoff race has gone down to the final day and could hardly be closer…

With top spot and relegation in the Premiership already decided before the final day, two areas standout: the playoffs and European qualification.

Gallagher Premiership’s final-day fixtures:

  • Gloucester vs Northampton (Sunday, 3pm)
  • Leicester Tigers vs Harlequins (Sunday, 3pm)
  • London Irish vs Bristol Bears (Sunday, 3pm)
  • Sale Sharks vs Worcester (Sunday, 3pm)
  • Saracens vs Bath (Sunday, 3pm)
  • Wasps vs Exeter (Sunday, 3pm)

With four teams battling for the remaining three playoff places – Exeter are already assured of a home semi-final – one of Wasps, Bath, Sale or Bristol will fall short, with just two points separating the teams in the table before Sunday’s final round of fixtures.

The Playoffs – Who will miss out?

Up to the restart and for a good while afterwards, it looked likely that second in the table would go to one of Bristol or Sale.

Both clubs had recruited extremely well and were playing some superb rugby. Yet, ahead of the final day, they sit fourth (Sale, 64 points) and fifth (Bristol, 64 points) in the standings.

Tom Curry's Sale and Charles Piutau's Bristol looked likely to vie for second in the table, but are now scrapping to make the playoffs

Tom Curry’s Sale and Charles Piutau’s Bristol looked likely to vie for second in the table, but are now scrapping to make the playoffs

Such a turnaround is due to an upturn in form and performances from Wasps (sat second, 66 points) and Bath (sat third, 65 points).

Since the restart back in August, Wasps have won an incredible seven games from eight – including victories over Bristol and at Bath. They also have more try bonus-points than anyone in the division, with 11.

Bath, meanwhile, have also won seven games from eight since the restart – a run which included victory over Sale at the AJ Bell, while their only defeat was to Wasps.

The performances of Malakai Fekitoa's Wasps and Josh Matavesi's Bath since the restart have been fantastic: both have seven wins from eight

The performances of Malakai Fekitoa’s Wasps and Josh Matavesi’s Bath since the restart have been fantastic: both have seven wins from eight

Over the same time, Bristol won five and lost three games – crucial defeats to Exeter, Sale and Wasps, each time seeing them lose ground on their rivals – while Sale also won five and lost three. Like the Bears, the Sharks lost exceptionally important contests, to Exeter and Bath, while also losing a game to Quins.

The net result has seen the Bears and Sharks slide down the playoff standings, and Wasps and Bath nudge above them. But can they stay there?

Looking to the final day fixtures, Wasps are perhaps in the strongest position, despite having to play leaders Exeter in Coventry. That is because the Chiefs have nothing to play for, are already guaranteed top spot and a home semi-final, and have the small matter of a European Cup final with Racing 92 in a fortnight’s time to look forward to.

Indeed, Exeter heavily rested and rotated their squad for last weekend’s clash with London Irish – one they lost at home. As such, with Wasps at home and with huge motivation to secure a result, they would be heavy favourites to bank four or five points.

A win of any nature will be enough for Wasps to secure their playoff place, and with it a home semi-final.

Bath, on the other hand, would appear to be in a far tougher scenario, even though they travel to face a Saracens side certain of relegation and nothing to play for, on paper.

Saracens and their squad will be featuring in their final Premiership game before relegation

Saracens and their squad will be featuring in their final Premiership game before relegation

Had Saracens hung on to win their Champions Cup semi-final with Racing 92 the week before last, perhaps Stuart Hooper’s men would have a different proposition on their hands, but with Sunday now the final occasion this Saracens squad will get to play Premiership rugby at Allianz Park, expect Mark McCall’s men to be fully loaded.

Can Bath travel to London and defeat a Saracens side looking for one last hurrah? A tough ask, but one Bath will need to accomplish if they want to avoid leaving themselves exposed.

Bath need a win of any sort to secure a playoff spot, while should Wasps lose, Bath would claim a home semi-final with a win at Saracens. If they were to pull off an unlikely bonus-point success, and Wasps were to win without one, they could, in theory, overtake Wasps into second – though they would have to makeup a points differential of some 61 points.

Sunday will be the likes of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje's last Premierships appearance for at least a season

Sunday will be the likes of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje’s last Premierships appearance for at least a season

Sale host Worcester on Sunday, and though on paper it’s a game they should certainly win, the Warriors will travel to Salford with Europe on the line for them – more on that in a moment.

The Sharks must beat Worcester to ensure a top-four finish, with losses for Bath and or Wasps enough to see them potentially move up into third or even second.

If Bath were to win and Sale were to win with a bonus-point, the Sharks would overtake Bath in the table due to their far superior points difference, while if Wasps were to draw in their game and Sale were to win without a bonus-point – leaving the sides level on 68 points – Sale would move into second due to their points difference of +191: the highest in the league.

Ben Spencer has been transformative for Bath since he joined from Saracens

Ben Spencer has been transformative for Bath since he joined from Saracens

And finally Bristol, who travel to London Irish. Though the Bears are level on points with Sale in fourth, their points difference is 116 worse off – effectively another point.

Bristol are the only side who must win and hope for a favour elsewhere. Their opponents London Irish have nothing to play for, and so could be there for the taking, but fingers will be crossed for a Bath slip up in particular.

Bristol can only overtake the sides above them if they lose, or if Sale win without a bonus-point and Bristol win with one.

For his magnificent performances, Bristol need a result to go their way elsewhere to have a chance of making the top four

For his magnificent performances, Bristol need a result to go their way elsewhere to have a chance of making the top four

With Wasps, Sale and Bristol likely to win therefore, and Bath perhaps up against it, the men from the Rec could miss out. But there is a lot of rugby to be played yet.

Europe on the agenda for Northampton, Gloucester and Worcester

The only other thing to rubberstamp is which Premiership sides will qualify for next season’s expanded Champions Cup.

Due to the effects of Covid-19 on Europe’s top leagues, the European Cup will take on an expanded format in 2020/21 to include 24 teams as a one-off.

The Champions Cup will expand to 24 teams for the 2020/21 campaign as a one off, allowing the top eight in the Premiership to qualify

The Champions Cup will expand to 24 teams for the 2020/21 campaign as a one off, allowing the top eight in the Premiership to qualify

Consequently, the top eight in the Premiership as opposed to the top six will qualify.

With Exeter, Wasps, Bath, Sale, Bristol and Harlequins (sixth) already assured of qualification, there are still two slots to play for, with three teams in situ.

Northampton currently sit seventh on 42 points, Gloucester are eighth on 41 points and Worcester are now ninth on 37 points after their home bonus-point win over a much-changed Saracens.

Worcester's bonus-point victory over Saracens last weekend gives them an outside hope of creating history and qualifying for the Champions Cup

Worcester’s bonus-point victory over Saracens last weekend gives them an outside hope of creating history and qualifying for the Champions Cup

And it gets more interesting than that, as Gloucester and Northampton will face each other on the final day at Kingsholm, meaning one of them will drop points.

Worcester travel to face Sale, which is no easy task, but if they can win with a bonus-point and Gloucester were to lose at home to Saints without picking up a losing bonus-point, then the Warriors will be playing in the Champions Cup next season for the first time in their history.

A win on its own will not be enough for Worcester regardless of the result of other game, as their points difference of -200 is too damaging, while a bonus-point Warriors win but win for Gloucester would not be good enough either for the same reason – should Worcester finish level on points with Saints or Gloucester they would not overtake them.

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