Ollie Phillips: I’d want to avoid Harlequins in the semi-finals at all costs
No matter whether I were Leicester Tigers or Saracens, I would want to stay well clear of Harlequins in the Premiership playoffs.
No disrespect to Gloucester, Northampton Saints or Exeter Chiefs, but Quins have proven that they’re a danger in the knockout stages of the domestic league – even if they went out of Europe last weekend.
Last year they produced two of the best Premiership performances we have seen in a long time to overcome first Bristol Bears in an extra time semi-final and then Exeter at Twickenham. They were on fire.
And when they play like that, they’re almost unbeatable.
They were so close to overturning a 14-point deficit last weekend against Montpellier but fell just short when Marcus Smith missed a kick right at the death.
That loss will focus Harlequins. They’ll be all-in on the Premiership while others are fighting on two or – in Gloucester’s case – three fronts.
These final four weeks are the crunch point for the teams who want to be involved at the business end. There’s up to 20 points available for some teams, 15 for others. It’s make or break.
Harlequins’ May day
Though it is not official yet, I am confident that both Leicester Tigers and Saracens will be the home semi-final sides come May.
Out of the chasing pack for the other two semi-final places, I back Gloucester to be there alongside Quins.
And while I mean no slight on Gloucester, I think both Tigers and Sarries would prefer to play the Cherry and Whites.
They’re a great team and have come on leaps and bounds under head coach George Skivington but I don’t think they’re quite there yet.
Sale Sharks look to be a few years away and Northampton Saints just don’t seem to be able to stay in a game for 80 minutes.
The enigma for me is Exeter. They have been in the last six finals but will admit they’re off the ball this term.
A lot of their lads are leaving and Rob Baxter is being touted as an option for the England role after the 2023 World Cup in France.
This year could be Exeter’s big swansong before the team disbands or it could be a transitional period as they look to adapt to new rules that haven’t yet suited them.
They will be tough to beat if they sneak into the top four but, with only three games left to do so, it will be a really tough battle.
It’s been a huge week in the world of rugby sevens. While the whole concept of the sport needs a rethink, it was amazing to see Argentina lift their first title since 2008, when I played against them.
In Marcos Moneta they have a star. He is so quick and agile – and also just 22. He is going to be one of the best around for a long time.
Speaking of sevens greats, it is a huge shame to see my old England team-mate and World Rugby Sevens Series all-time record try-scorer Dan Norton retiring at 34.
I look back to that try he scored in 2009 at a packed Twickenham to take New Zealand to extra time and help us win in London for the first time.
He had such longevity; you always wondered when he might fade, but he never did.
A proper gentleman of the game.
Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.