Race for the top eight and Rugby Champions Cup
With two rounds left of the Gallagher Premiership season, six of the twelve Premiership teams remain in contention to try to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup.
You already feel like it’s going all the way with some frantic calculations to do over the next two rounds of games.
Bristol, Exeter, Sale, Harlequins and Northampton have already racked up enough points to secure their place in Europe’s top competition in 2021-2022. Below, we rate each of the remaining contenders and predict how their final matches will go.
Bath has four more match points and Gloucester two more, following their game being called off this weekend due to a Covid-19 outbreak in Gloucester.
* = expected result of the Premiership Rugby panel following the match canceled due to Covid-19
Note: Teams with equal league points are separated by games won, then points difference
Arrangements: Bristol (H), Wasps (A)
Taking on the league leaders is a tricky proposition, especially with Bristol who suffered a loss at Sale and need a win to ensure they finish in first place ahead of Exeter. But it’s really in Leicester’s hands, and their rejuvenation this season after two elevenths has been a welcome sight.
Ellis Genge has been in particularly destructive form over the past few weeks and after this narrow Sixways victory over Worcester the beaten Challenge Cup finalists can put that hangover behind them to qualify for the Champions Cup for the first time. since 2018.
If the Wasps win at London Irish it would set up a very interesting final day between Leicester and Wasps at Ricoh, but Leicester are in a great position here and you would be amazed if others beat them for a place in the Champions Cup, in particular with 10 already wins in the bank.
Planned finish: 6th – 53 points (Loss of bonus point against Bristol, victory against Wasps)
Points: 47 *
Arrangements: Northampton (H)
No need to dress, Bath has been given a real lifeline in his Champions Cup rugby pursuit for next season by scoring (presumably) four match points after his match with Gloucester was called off.
This “technically ends” a four-game losing streak and means that if Bath can beat Northampton – in front of Rec fans for the first time in months – on the last day of the season, then they will certainly qualify. Although given the club’s recent form, a close loss seems more likely.
Danny Cipriani won’t make an appearance at the end of the season, although he now trains at the club, but there is enough offensive verve for Bath fans to enjoy anyway – just watch the youngster Max Ojomoh against the Harlequins last weekend.
Expected arrival: 7th – 48 points (Loss of bonus point against Northampton, more wins (nine) than Gloucester (eight))
8. Irish from London
Arrangements: Wasps (H), Bristol (A)
The Irish haven’t won in the league since defeating Bath in late March, but they have come together powerfully, with losses to the Harlequins and Gloucester after conceding points right after the death.
The Exiles’ defense has been patchy to say the least in recent weeks, but the way their forwards played in Gloucester, knocking out short-range tries, looked promising. Adam Coleman’s return from injury came at the right time and Waisake Naholo could also make a late appearance after a nightmarish campaign.
Wasps are just a must-have match and in the sun, along with Irish’s desire to have the ball wide, it’s a match that should produce many tries. And if Bristol does the trick this weekend at Leicester, there is a chance the Bears will rest a number of front row players for the final round of the season against the Irish with the top spot secured. So while the guide to forms makes it inconceivable, the Irish certainly have a chance of two wins here, although they could end up narrowly missing.
Planned finish: 9th – 48 points (Victory against Wasps, loss against Bristol, fewer wins than Bath (nine) and Gloucester (nine))
Arrangements: London Irish (A), Leicester (H)
As mentioned above, the Wasps’ meeting with the Irish on Saturday at Brentford Community Stadium is a must-have for last season’s Premiership finalists if they want to play Champions Cup rugby in 2021-22.
Wasps played better than the form guide suggests – losing to Harlequins by two in a thriller at The Stoop, beating Bath by 10 – while last weekend’s loss to Northampton Saints was shrouded in controversy . “I thought the TMO was picking when it wanted to come in and when it didn’t,” Wasps head coach Lee Blackett said of some of the decisions made at Franklin’s Gardens.
Blackett will need some of those calls to go his way against a tired Irish London side looking to break their losing streak. The Exiles are the narrow favorites of bookmakers. If Dan Robson and Jacob Umaga put the Wasps in their prime over the next two weeks, despite the absence of two key attackers in Joe Launchbury and Jack Willis, the Wasps stand a chance. But it’s a tricky late schedule against two equally placed teams.
Planned finish: 10th – 46 points (Lose a bonus point and try a bonus point against Irish, lose a bonus point against Leicester)
Points: 43 *
Arrangements: Worcester (A)
What a punch for a Gloucester side that seemed to have turned a corner, with three wins in their last four in the Premiership until a significant number of players were hit by Covid-19 earlier this week, resulting in the cancellation of their game with Bath.
Billy Twelvetrees’ last-minute penalty to beat the London Irish last Friday was a moment of pure joy. Now that has happened, and Gloucester could still be in the top eight if the results show up and they secure a victory at Worcester – which, as Leicester can attest, could be at the bottom of the table but is not easy to climb – to sneak.
It has been a grueling campaign for head coach George Skivington and his team, but the performances of emerging players – Santi Carreras comes to mind, lock Alex Craig too – have been encouraging. You would have backed them to beat Bath at home on Saturday. Now they’re four points behind rivals West Country in the race for a top-eight spot, but could still snatch eighth place ahead of London Irish.
Expected arrival: 8th – 48 points (bonus points gain in Worcester, fewer wins (eight) than Bath (nine))
Arrangements: Worcester (H), Harlequins (A)
Still mathematically in the mix, and you shouldn’t overstate the score at Exeter last weekend given that Newcastle chose to rest a number of starters with Worcester’s visit to Kingston Park in mind this week. .
Dean Richards will be aiming for five points against Worcester and if the Wasps lose to London Irish it could catapult the Falcons to the standings with one round remaining.
This past weekend could see Newcastle find themselves in a similar boat to Leicester, facing a top-four side opting to rest their best players ahead of the Premiership semi-finals next week with nothing to play. If the Harlequins were to take that route, it would give the Falcons a huge boost at the end of the season that they started so strong before disappearing in the middle. But the Harlequins can still prove to be too strong.
Planned finish: 11th – 45 points (bonus points gain against Worcester, point lost against Harlequins)