For another year the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect Pro 12 leagues arrive at the final round of games. Dominic Evans previews the conclusion of the rugby season.
The Aviva Premiership is the first to conclude this Saturday. All games kick-off at 15:15. The bottom half of the table is finalised. After a woeful season Worcester Warriors were relegated to the Championship last Saturday. The Warriors head coach Dean Ryan knew the difficult task ahead when he was appointed. Gloucester, Newcastle, Exeter Chiefs and London Irish all experienced a mixed season, but survival is the main priority.
In the top half, Saracens and Northampton dominated from round one. Their expansive squads permitted them to rotate players throughout the season. Both enjoy a home semi-final in the coming weeks. Their opponents are not yet known. Third place Leicester Tigers have secured a place in the play-offs, however a loss could deduct them to fourth. The Tigers might fancy a trip to Northampton rather than Vicarage Road to contest Saracens. Sarries recorded only one loss at their home ground all season.
The main match is Harlequins vs Bath Rugby at the Stoop. The event is billed as a quarter-final. ‘Quins require a five-point win over the West country side to earn a top 4 spot. In recent weeks the home side reignited their winning ability. The Six Nations and injuries dented the 2011 domestic champions throughout 2013/14. Bath could overtake Leicester with a win. Alongside Sale Sharks, Bath surprised everyone by competing at the high end of the table. Some pundits suggest they are rediscovering their glory days of the ‘80s. Both Sale and Bath qualify for next year’s inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup.
The new 7th qualification berth has added extra incentive for next season. London Wasps are guaranteed the new entry and will play Stade Francais home and away in the next fortnight.
RaboDirect Pro 12
After the completion of the English league, the Rabo begins the final round of games at 18:30. High stakes at both ends of the table. At the top, Leinster, Munster and the Glasgow Warriors (in order from 1-3) will battle for the top 3 places. As with the Aviva, the first two places provide home-semi finals.
Leinster on 78 points are unlikely to be beaten by Edinburgh. The Scottish side are fighting for the last European spot in 7th, alongside the Cardiff Blues. Second-placed Glasgow contest Italian outfit Zebre at Scotstoun Stadium. Home semi-final hopefuls Munster face an Ulster side secure in fourth place. However an Irish derby rarely disappoints, bragging rights is also a worthy reward.
On the bottom end, even though the threat of relegation is non-existent the highest-ranked teams from each country qualify for Europe. Italian sides Zebre and Benetton Treviso have an equal amount of points (29). Treviso also endure a tough away fixture to the Newport Gwent Dragons. Unfortunately, Connacht and Newport Gwent Dragons will miss out on the main European competition.
The Rabo, including the other incarnations such as the Celtic League, is often criticised for the lack of relegation. The new revamped European competition qualification adds incentive for teams. On both sides of the Irish Sea the fixtures will be intriguing, with the grounds hardening up expect some exciting, attacking rugby.
Dominic Evans, Pundit Arena.