Harlequins earned London bragging rights while Newcastle managed to get their first win on the board since September.
As the league heads into a two week hiatus while the next European fixtures are played, here are the talking points from round 22 of the Premiership.
Premiership champs gonna champ
Yesterday’s showpiece match saw third-placed Harlequins head to Brentford to face London Irish in eighth. With Irish back in the capital, this fixture could become the preferred London derby.
Quins’s 41-14 win put them six points clear of Exeter Chiefs in fourth. They won’t be too far behind fellow Leicester, first, in securing their spot in the playoffs.
The match was the first since January to feature the No 8, 9,10 of Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care and Marcus Smith. And while Care received his fifth yellow card of the season, the axes proved pivotal in allowing the Twickenham-based club to open up the Irish defence.
As for Irish, they’re still in the hunt but need to bank as many points as possible before their final round bye. Their opening try, however, did mean they surpassed their previous try scoring record for any given season.
It was all in their hands heading into Saturday’s Premiership match against Wasps, ninth, but Gloucester’s 27-21 loss dented their top-four hopes.
The Cherry and Whites, seventh, went into the weekend knowing a win over Wasps – plus the five points they’re likely to pick up at a disciplinary hearing this week, following their match cancellation with Worcester Warriors – would put them in third and in a commanding position to qualify.
Alas, the side succumbed to a superb Dan Robson drop goal and they’ll now need to win all of their remaining games and hope others lose. Gloucester are still fighting on three fronts, so all is not lost, but it feels like a dropped opportunity.
Newcastle Falcons, 11th, ended a 147-day wait for a Premiership win as they crushed Worcester Warriors, 12th, 45-10 away from home on Saturday afternoon.
Falcons hooker George McGuigan scored his 13th try and tops the try scoring stats for the league thus far. Were relegation a factor this season, this would have been monumental.
Warriors boss Steve Diamond described his side’s performance as “wholly pathetic” and “embarrassing” after the loss finished off an eight-day period in which Worcester were hindered by injury and illness.
As for the Falcons and where they’ll go now? Well, they’re out of the Champions Cup places and have no relegation to fight so they’ll no doubt target the Challenge Cup, in which they could qualify for the last 16 this weekend.
It was only a few weeks ago that Northampton Saints head coach Chris Boyd declared his side were out of the top four running.
Just a handful of games later, however, and they’re right in the battle as best of the rest. His side sit fifth after a dominant 39-22 win over Bristol Bears, 10th, on Saturday and are motoring towards the semi-finals.
With a run-in that’s slightly easier than those around them – Bath, Harlequins, Saracens and Newcastle – they stand in good stead heading into the final push.
If next season’s Champions Cup format replicates this season’s (rugby’s bigwigs tend to take their time in making decisions) then eight teams from the Premiership will enter the draw.
Just six points separate Saints in fifth and Wasps in ninth, and with the gap to Bristol in 10th now 15 points, it looks like one of those battling teams will miss out by the smallest of margins.
In top flight rugby, every one of the Premiership sides get European action, whether that be Champions or Challenge Cup rugby, but the difference between the two in terms of financial gain, broadcast availability and kindness of kick off times is stark.
London Irish will be desperate to bring the bigger continental sides to Brentford, Wasps will want to do the same in Coventry. For teams who don’t always fill their grounds, these big fixtures against the French and Irish giants offer a marketing tool for struggling clubs to aim for.