By Rugby World reader, Andrew Hartup
What’s your take on the Guinness Premiership Play-offs? Some are for, others against. After all, why shouldn’t the team with the most points at the end of the regular season lift the cup and spray the champagne? Post your thoughts below. For me, the Play-offs are a great excuse to prolong the Premiership and finish things off with three – usually incredible – games of rugby. And hey, Leicester fans, it could be a lot worse: you could have to sit through a Championship style table/knockout farce (really RFU? Nine games after the regular season to snatch one promotion place?) instead.
This season’s end-game is all set to be the most exciting in years; all four teams involved have hit form just at the right time. No doubt the English clubs would have had a bigger impact on European competitions if they’d performed like this before Christmas…
We’ll start with Northampton – they crushed London Irish (at the Madejski) this weekend to secure second spot and a home tie to Saracens. Not that this means an awful lot, as Sarries travelled to Welford Road and inflicted the first home defeat of the season on table-topping Leicester. Dependant on what stand you were sat in, Leicester were either unlucky with the refereeing (funny, no-one seems to have heard Brian Venter complaining about the adjudication in this game) or were punished by their lack of discipline.
Either way, it provides a bright ray of hope for Bath, who finished fourth by smashing a less-resilient-than-expected Leeds side and will travel to Leicester next week for their play-off semi. The West Country side are playing irresistible rugby – a radical change for the team who, at their lowest ebb, rolled over to a 0 – 16 defeat at home to London Irish in November.
The weekend’s other results, although largely insignificant, were perfect representations of how each club has been playing all year. Sale put in another wonky performance against fellow underachievers Harlequins and lost, while Gloucester (this year’s most inconsistent performers) denied Worcester one last hurrah in the Premiership by pipping them in the last few seconds. Wasps took out their frustrations of the past few weeks on a shaky Newcastle side – one that needs to dig deep next season to avoid the drop.
Next week then? It’s too close to call for both semis. The romantic in me would love to see Bath nick it from Leicester (well, I am a Bath man after all), especially after last year’s near-identical semi-final that was decided by a heart-breaking Julien Dupuy try in the last minute. Bath certainly have the form, but the realist in me can’t quite see them turning over such a dominant Leicester team. As for Northampton/ Sarries? Well, if you can go to Welford Road and come away with a nine point win, surely Franklin’s Gardens will be a walk in the park… Right?