Saracens may have confirmed their spot in Premiership Rugby’s end-of-season playoffs with a 38-22 bonus point over Exeter Chiefs, but the implications for the losing side could be monumental.
The Chiefs have featured in each of the last six Twickenham finals but, having failed to pick up a single point at Sarries, that run looks like it could be coming to an end.
They sit in fifth having played 22 games, with Northampton above them and Gloucester below them – both with a game in hand. It may change – the nature of rugby’s results prove that – but it certainly seems like a missed opportunity for Chiefs.
Saracens, however, never really looked like losing among their north London surroundings.
Led magnificently by captain and man of the match Owen Farrell, Sarries crossed the whitewash four times and dominated the breakdown to close out the match comfortably.
Elliot Daly’s beautifully cut line put the home side ahead before Sam Skinner and Olly Woodburn gave the Chiefs a 15-10 half-time lead.
Scot Sean Maitland finished off a brilliant set of phase play ignited by Farrell from deep in his own half before further tries from Ben Earl and Nick Tompkins sealed the win.
Farrell kicked 18 points off the tee to bring his total for the club at home to over 500 and reminded England head coach Eddie Jones of his ability ahead of the tour to Australia this summer.
“We think we’ve been building all year,” Farrell said after the win. “We’ve put ourselves in a spot now where we’re doing alright, but there’s loads more in us and it’s a great place to be.”
The race is on
Saracens joined Leicester Tigers in confirming a playoff spot, and both sides are potentially able to cement a home semi-final this weekend.
As for the battle to be alongside them in the top four, Northampton, Exeter and Gloucester are the ones to watch.
All three sides must face Harlequins between now and the conclusion of the regular season, both Gloucester and Northampton must play Saracens.
Difficult matches remain elsewhere, too, with Gloucester facing Bath on Saturday, and Exeter playing Bristol and Northampton facing off against Newcastle Falcons in the future.
No game is easy in the league and it’s looking like 10 points for any of those three teams might just be enough to put themselves in the mix come the last day of the season.
Their reward? It’s looking likely that the third and fourth placed sides will need to travel to Leicester and Saracens and win if they are to make the final.
Leicester were the early runaway leaders and their expansive game looks near unstoppable, but in Saracens the league have a bullying side who are never out of it.
Either away trip is a daunting one for the chasers, which includes defending champions Harlequins – they’re comfortably in third and look safe to grab one of the spots.
It is testament to the league that it is so close this far into the season. On Friday night Gloucester blew a chance to become clear favourites when they lost 29-28 to strugglers Bristol.
On Saturday it took Bath throwing away a 19-point lead to let Saints back in, and Exeter came undone.
While the race for the top four hots up and takes centre stage for the next three rounds of Premiership Rugby action, it is worth remembering that in their first season back in the topflight after an enforced relegation, Saracens have turned up and performed in a way only Saracens do.
And when it comes to the playoffs, nobody will be able to count them out.