The GK IPA Championship reaches its conclusion early for the 2016/17 regular season with London Irish leading the way into the playoffs.
Irish have taken The Championship by storm this season, losing only once in the league to Jersey Reds away from home on the 2 April.
It has been a tale of old with the relegated side from the Premiership being well equipped to bounce straight back and dominate the league, Worcester, London Welsh and others have managed this in recent years.
Despite Irish’s dominance, Ealing Trailfinders find themselves in dream situation having qualified for the playoffs after just avoiding relegation last season.
All four sides have already qualified for the last ever playoff system in the Championship, as the RFU have scrapped this format next season, and these sides are London Irish (1st), Yorkshire Carnegie (2nd), Ealing Trailfinders (3rd) and Doncaster Knights (4th).
Ealing currently sit in third, two points ahead of Doncaster, and the sides could swap positions dependant on results. With the final round fixtures we will see a taste of what to expect in the playoffs.
As it stands Irish would play Doncaster at the Madejski Stadium and Yorkshire would host Ealing, however despite playing the league leaders, Doncaster have home advantage to try and jump into third which would see them face Yorkshire rather than Irish in the playoffs.
At the other end of the table due to London Welsh’s liquidation and their fixtures being expunged, Rotherham Titans have already played their 20 fixtures and finish at the bottom of the table, but there is no relegation from the league this season.
Saturday 15 April –
Doncaster Knights vs London Irish (kick-off 3pm)
Cornish Pirates vs Bedford Blues (kick-off 3pm)
Jersey Reds vs Richmond (kick-off 3pm)
London Scottish vs Nottingham (kick-off 3pm)
Yorkshire Carnegie vs Ealing Trailfinders (kick-off 3pm)
Harlequins suffered a 40-19 defeat last time out to Saracens in front of a packed out Wembley crowd which ended a two-match winning run.
Quins have only lost once at home this season with their last defeat at the Stoop being a 27-18 defeat to Leicester Tigers.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last five Aviva Premiership games and are unbeaten in 12 matches but came close to defeat last time out at home to Bristol, two Thomas Waldrom tries spared their blushes at Sandy Park.
Rob Baxter’s side have picked up six try bonus point wins in as many games to level Leicester tigers record in 2012.
The Chiefs have a major advantage over Quins, winning their last five matches against the Londoners. Harlequins’ last league win over Exeter was a 30-29 victory at Sandy Park back in May 2014, however Quins did pick up a 29-15 win when the two sides last met in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in November.
Last time out Exeter avoided a second-half comeback against Harlequins winning the game 36-25 at Sandy Park. Chiefs led 29-13 at the break and were in full control but despite the visitors best efforts, Quins couldn’t overturn the deficit and Luke Cowan-Dickie stole the headlines by scoring a hat-trick to help his side pick up their first win of the season.
Defeat for Harlequins could jeopardise their hopes of finishing in the European places whilst a defeat for Exeter could hamper their chances of securing a home playoff semi-final.
Harlequins | 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchants, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (C); 1 Joe Marler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Charlie Matthews, 5 James Horwill, 6 Chris Robshaw, 7 Luke Wallace, 8 Mat Luamanu
Replacements |16 Joe Gray, 17, Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Dave Ward, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa
Exeter Chiefs |15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Jack Maunder; 1 Carl Rimmer, 2 Jack Yeandle, 3 Greg Holmes, 4 Dave Dennis, 5 Geoff Parling, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Don Armand, 8 Kai Horstmann
Replacements | 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Sam Hill
The Aviva Premiership offered a variety of pulsating games from Round 19 with some sensational scores.
Saracens, Exeter Chiefs and Wasps all guaranteed themselves a place in this season playoffs with wins against Harlequins, Bristol and Northampton Saints respectively. Worcester edged themselves further away from relegation after picking a try bonus-point in their defeat to Sale Sharks last Friday and Bristol remain eight points adrift of safety after just missing out at Sandy Park.
Try Line Talk Rugby Correspondent Thomas Branston picks his ‘Try of the Week’
It’s hard to hand pick the tries from from Round 19 with many more great finishes but from these five tries, all players showed individual prowess and efficiency to score.
For me, it’s an easy winner, it has to be Christian Wade’s against Northampton on Sunday. With Bryon McGuigan’s score following closely behind.
The two tries were very similar in regards to being one on one with the last man. Both chips were weighted perfectly but the blistering pace of Wade made his look so much better. Yes he had some luck with the bounce after it evaded Nic Groom but you can’t take away his initiative and quick thinking in such a tight space after receiving a poor pass out wide, that is why I have picked Wade.
See what you think and vote for your Citizen try of the Week on the link below.
Saracens guaranteed themselves a playoff spot after hammering Harlequins in front of 71,324 at Wembley Stadium. Chris Ashton impressed as he scored his fifth try in three games as Saracens kept the pressure on Wasps and Exeter Chiefs at the top of the table.
Defeat for Quins means they remain five points adrift of the play-off spots in sixth, with fourth-placed Leicester and Bath equal on points.
Bath 27-21 Leicester Tigers
Anthony Watson stole the headlines as he scored two late tries as Bath came from behind to beat Leicester at Twickenham.
In front of almost 62,000 fans, in their ‘home game’, Bath trailed 21-13 with just 14 minutes left but Watson had the final say to help secure victory.
Bath remain fifth, but move level on points with fourth-placed Leicester, with three games left, although the Tigers appear to have the easier run-in.
Wasps 32-30 Northampton Saints
Matt Mullan scored a last-minute try to secure a thrilling victory over Northampton at the Ricoh Arena.
Tries by Ben Foden, Alex Waller and George North put the visitors ahead, and Elliot Daly crossed to keep Wasps in touching distance at half-time. Christian Wade and Joe Simpson went over to give the hosts the lead before Ahsee Tuala and Teimana Harrisson crossed for Saints, but Mullan drove over and Gopperth clinched victory.
Wasps are already assured of a place in the play-offs and remain at the summit of the table. Saints are five points off fourth place but have a difficult run-in.
Exeter Chiefs 38-34 Bristol
Thomas Waldrom scored two second half-tries to ensure that Exeter will play a second consecutive year in the Premiership play-offs with a dramatic victory over relegation-threatened Bristol.
Exeter remain in second-place five points behind Wasps whilst Bristol remain eight points behind Worcester at the bottom of the table.
Newcastle Falcons 16 Gloucester Rugby 14
Newcastle Falcons edged past Gloucester on Friday night with a last-gasp Joel Hodgson penalty kick to secure a dramatic victory.
The sides were tied at 7-7 at half-time after England wing Jonny May cancelled out Juan Pablo Socino’s try. Tom Marshall scored for the visitors in-between two Hodgson penalties, but Hodgson then slotted a third penalty with seconds left to win the game for Newcastle.
Gloucester remain six points adrift of the European rugby places behind Northampton and Harlequins whilst Falcons moved to within a point of Gloucester with the win.
Sale Sharks 36 Worcester Warriors 26
Man of the Match Sam James scored two tries as Sale beat Worcester, who managed to pick up a crucial four-try bonus-point in the battle to avoid Premiership relegation.
James’ brace followed by Mike Haley’s effort just before the break put Sale 21-14 up, with Worcester’s tries coming from Francois Hougaard and Joseph Taufete’e. But second-half Bryon McGuigan and Ben Curry tries ensured victory for Sale.
Worcester move to eight points clear of Bristol in the relegation zone whilst Sale Sharks remain 12 points adrift from the European places.
Wasps retain hopes of a home semi-final as they scored late on in a thriller to beat Northampton Saints 32-30 in the Aviva Premiership on Sunday.
Matt Mullan scored the decisive try at the death after Nathan Hughes’ initial battering run from a quickly-taken penalty.
Tries from Ben Foden, Alex Waller and George North gave Northampton a 18-13 half-time lead with Wasps trailing by five points, the hosts did score with Elliot Daly crossing over and Jimmy Gopperth adding eight points from his boot.
Christian Wade and Joe Simpson added crucial scores which was accompanied by Ahsee Tuala and Teimana Harrison scoring to give Saints a five point lead but Mullan got the decisive try with the clock going dead and Gopperth secured victory from his conversion.
Both sides went into the match with hopes on the line, for the hosts it was threats of losing a home playoff semi-final and for Northampton it was a last ditch attempt of securing a top four finish.
Saints began the game playing efficient rugby putting Wasps under mass amounts of pressure and were rewarded with a penalty but Stephen Myler drifted his effort wide.
Northampton continued to build and forced Wasps to make numerous mistakes and had the chance to take the lead again with Myler converting this time.
Wasps struggled to contain Saints in the early exchanges and with the hosts making mistake upon mistake, it was Northampton who capitalised with Foden racing clear from a Gopperth pass which was intercepted and Myler missed his kick from the touchline.
But the hosts responded quickly as Daly, who was being watched by Eddie Jones, found a gap and raced through to score and Gopperth added his conversion to cut the visitors lead.
However, Saints responded perfectly with Waller going over in the corner to reassemble the Saints’ lead and Myler again missed his conversion.
Gopperth managed to keep Wasps in the game as he slotted his kick through the posts with ease to reduce the score to three.
And the hosts continued to grow into the game with Wade’s thunderous pace and initiative helping the hosts win another penalty soon after and Gopperth converted an identical kick to his last one to tie the score.
Jim Mallinder’s men quickly rallied together to shock the hosts with a third score as North received the ball out wide to touch down in the corner and Myler missed his third conversion of the game.
Northampton took a 18-13 lead into the break and could have been further ahead but Wasps managed to keep them within touching distance.
Dai Young’s team talk proved influential as Wasps looked a different side in the early exchanges of the second period.
Wade scoring in the first three minutes to level the scoring, the wing wizard beautifully kicked a chip over the defensive line and collected to score and Gopperth converted to give Wasps the lead for the first time.
Wasps looked back to their best with Kurtley Beale and Le Roux causing havoc, but it was Simpson who stretched over after some good defensive work from Northampton and Gopperth missed his kick.
Saints responded well and added to the try-fest with Tuala going over from a five-metre scrum to earn Northampton the bonus-point and Myler missed his conversion to level the score.
Impressively Northampton quickly scored another with a turnover from a Wasps scrum in their own half.
Saints broke away down the field offloading at will and Api Ratuniyarawa got his pass off to Harrison who made no mistake in crashing his way through to score untouched and Myler converted.
Much to his blushes of dropping the ball over the line from Wasps’ Champions Cup defeat to Leinster last weekend, Le Roux believed he had scored shortly after Saitns had retaken the lead.
But the TMO had deemed that Joe Launchbury had obstructed Luther Burrell from making his way towards the tackle.
A let off for Saints, but Wasps didn’t take their foot off the pedal, they continued to bombard the Northampton 22.
It took until the 80th minute for Wasps to really assert their authority in the Saints 22, and after winning a second penalty in quick succession Jamie Gibson was shown a yellow.
The clock was dead and with a penalty, Hughes had to tap it and go and the number 8 crashed his way up to a metre of crossing the line.
The ball was recycled by the forwards quickly with Mullan crashing over to score with Referee Maxwell-Keys declaring the try much to a crackling roar of the Ricoh crowd.
Gopperth stepped up just 12 metres out to convert the winning points as Wasps secured the win in emphatic fashion.