Saracens lie fifth in the league table, level on points with fourth-placed Exeter following last weekend’s 24-20 defeat to the Devon side at Allianz Park, but trail courtesy of an inferior match points difference.
A bonus point victory for Exeter at home to Sale in the final game of the regular campaign should guarantee their first ever play-off place, although maximum points for Saracens at already-relegated London Welsh and a four-point win for the Chiefs would see Mark McCall’s team progress. The other team in the equation are third-placed Leicester, who are only a point clear of Saracens and Exeter, and host reigning champions and league leaders Northampton.
Saracens, who have already won the LV= Cup, run the risk of finishing outside the top four for the first time since 2009 and Vunipola insists that a last-day scramble to reach the play-offs is unbefitting of a side with such lofty ambitions.
“I think it would be a failure. Every team in England wants to be in the top four and not to be there would be a massive disappointment,” Vunipola told City A.M. at yesterday’s match between a Saracens XI and the Army at the Honourable Artillery Company.
“We want to be one of the main powers in England and to do that you have to win trophies and be involved in the latter stages of competitions and the rugby calendar. Given our standards, we will have let ourselves down if we don’t make the play-offs.
“We know we’ve let ourselves down at certain points this year and as a group of boys we’ve gone away and looked at ourselves. We know what we’ve got to do.”
The situation Saracens find themselves in is a far cry from the previous two campaigns when they finished first in the Premiership, reaching the final last year only to suffer an agonising extra-time defeat to Northampton.
While acknowledging his side would prefer to have their play-off place sewn up already, England fly-half Owen Farrell admits finishing top has not always done Saracens favours in the past.
“We wouldn’t have thought we would be in this position at the beginning of the season or indeed not so long ago. It’s not ideal but it’s what we’ve got,” Farrell told City A.M.
“We’ve finished top of the league twice in the last two years and come away with nothing both times. It shows what can be done. If we get there, we’ll believe in ourselves.”