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Aviva Premiership: The Race For The Playoffs

Exeter, Saracens, Wasps, Newcastle Falcons top the Premiership table

Wasps beat Northampton Saints at home to seal play-off spot with Exeter, Saracens, Newcastle. With two games left in the regular season of the Aviva Premiership, giant teams are competing for the all-important playoff places. While Exeter Chiefs have already clinched a place, and in need of only two more points to be assured of a home semi-final, the other three are still up for grabs. The remaining games should make for some serious entertaining rugby. The Aviva Premiership Rugby Final will be held at Twickenham Stadium in London on Saturday, May 26, 2018. The Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is the showcase of the domestic season. After 22 hard-fought rounds and two semi-finals it will come down to one final game to decide the Aviva Premiership Rugby 2018 Champions.

Premiership: Wasps 36-29 Northampton Saints

Wasps (21) 36
Tries: Wade 2, Daly, De Jongh Cons: Gopperth 2 Pens: Gopperth 4
Northampton (17) 29
Tries: Harrison, Ratuniyarawa, Mitchell, Tuala Cons: Myler 2, Grayson
Pens: Myler

Wasps sealed a play-off place and moved up to 3rd in the Aviva Premiership with a bonus-point win over Northampton. Christian Wade and Elliot Daly scored tries within the first 20 minutes, and forwards Teimana Harrison and Api Ratuniyarawa replied for Saints. Wade's second, while Luther Burrell was sin-binned, and a try by Juan de Jongh saw the home side go 19 points clear. Saints hit back through Alex Mitchell and Ahsee Tuala before Jimmy Gopperth's fourth penalty sealed the win for Wasps. Dai Young's side are now 8 points clear of Leicester in 5th, with an away game against fourth-placed Newcastle rounding off the regular season next Saturday. England wing Daly left the match with a shoulder injury from trying to prevent Tuala's try. It was the result Haskell and team-mates Danny Cipriani and Guy Thompson had hoped for in their final home appearance at the Ricoh Arena before leaving Wasps at the end of the season. Having lost third place to Newcastle on Friday, they began the clash with Northampton, confident from victory at Leicester in their last game. Gopperth's 16 points from his boot helped Wasps secure their victory.

"It was a bit emotional,” said Wasps forward Guy Thompson. “I tried not to think about it too much before kick-off, it was more about the team and making sure we put a performance in and getting to the semi-final. When the final whistle went, it was nice to take a look around and talk to fans, who have said some lovely things. We've kind of made the Ricoh a fortress for two years, so the least we could do was give them a performance for the last home game this year. Northampton are a great side. They've had a bit of an off year, but we knew they were going to be competitive and we had to front up."

Northampton’s interim head coach Alan Dickens voiced his disappointment. "I'm disappointed we lost, but we came away with four tries,” said Dickns to the media. "In the 5 of the last 6 games we've played in the league, we've scored 3 tries early on, but not gone on to put the game away or get that bonus point. We've come away with two bonus points and that moves us up the table. We've talked about our younger players and they came on and put a bit of pace into the game - Lewis Ludlam carrying hard, Alex Mitchell making breaks and James Grayson pulling people out of their defensive line, so there are a lot of positives."

Squads

Wasps
Le Roux; Wade, De Jongh, Gopperth, Daly; Cipriani, Robson; McIntyre, Taylor, Cooper-Woolley, Launchbury (capt), Rowlands, Willism, Young, Thompson. Replacements: Cruse, Mullan, Moore, Myall, Haskell, Simpson, Lovobalavu, Bassett.

Northampton
Tuala; Foden (capt), Burrell, Francis, North; Myler, Reinach; Waller, Haywood, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Craig, Gibson, Harrison, Eadie. Replacements: Clare, Ma'afu, Painter, Moon, Ludlam, Mitchell, Grayson, Collins.

Departing Danny Cipriani inspired the Wasps to a play-off spot in the hard-fought battle with Northampton. Cipriani was key as Wasps booked their playoff berth. The fly-half produced a perfect display in front of the England coach Eddie Jones. Cipriani, 30, who is leaving the club for a second time this summer, along with James Haskell, pulled the strings with skill and style in his final home match. Cipriani was all smiles and hopes to end a three- year wait for a 15th England cap after impressing Jones who was sitting in the Ricoh Arena crowd. Wasps director of rugby Dai Young praised Cipriani. “Danny was outstanding again, but that’s Danny. We know what he can do and there are no better attacking No 10s out there than him. He gives defenses real problems when he has the ball in hand and he got us on the front foot here and helped lay the platform for a very good win. It’s good to make the playoffs but there’s still a long way to go if we are to win the trophy.” Cipriani, linked with both Bath and Racing 92, decided to move on when Wasps signed All Blacks fly-half Lima Sopoaga, He wants to bow out of his second spell at the club that kick-started his career on a real high. “It would be the perfect end for my career here if we could lift the title after 10 years.”

Cipriani set Christian Wade over for the opening try within four minutes of the start. A long looping pass out to the right flank found Wade who accelerated over the line with Jimmy Gopperth converting. Saints responded with flanker Teimana Harrison seeing the England man over the Wasps line for a converted try. Gopperth’s penalty regained the lead, and Cipriani’s pass gave Elliot Daly the opportunity to go over in the left-hand corner. Wasps formidable Fijian lock Api Ratuniyarawa used his strength to ground the ball for a converted try. Gopperth pleased the home fans with two quick penalties. Saints lost center Luther Burrell to the sin bin for a trip on Wade. Next Wade darted over for his second try and Juan de Jongh went over for the bonus point try. Saints surged over the Wasps line twice through replacement Alex Mitchell and full-back Ahsee Tuala to close the gap to 4 points and set up a tense final 10 minutes. Gopperth kicked a penalty and Josh Bassett’s try was ruled out by a high tackle from Haskell, Wasps can now look forward to a play-off semi-final.

Haskell who is leaving the club this summer, was furious about referee Matt Carley’s decision to award a penalty against him for the incident at the end, claiming “rugby is now pathetic,” said Haskell.“There was nothing in the tackle. It was fine. ”Haskell’s side next face a trip to Newcastle Falcons on Saturday to decide the makeups of the semi- final clashes. “I don’t care who we play, Exeter of Sarries. Either will be a very tough challenge. But we would relish that chance,” Young insisted.

Saracens 51-14 London Irish

London Irish (14) 14
Tries: Cokanasiga, Williams Cons: Tonks 2
Saracens (16) 51
Tries: Barritt, Taylor, Rhodes, Bosch, Barrington, Goode, Brits Cons: Farrell 5 Pens: Farrell 2

Saracens won a home semi-final in the Premiership play-offs with a resounding bonus-point victory at already relegated London Irish. The visitors led 16-14 at the break, with Joe Cokanasiga and Johnny Williams responding to Saracens tries from Brad Barritt and Duncan Taylor. Saracens’ Mike Rhodes, Marcelo Bosch, Richard Barrington, Alex Goode and Schalk Brits all crossed. The away side were inspired by the return of Billy Vunipola from injury. The England number 8 came on in the last 20 minutes having been out since January with a broken arm. Sarries dominated prior to 25-year-old Vunipola coming on against the Irish - before 35 unanswered points in the second half added magic to the score. London Irish’s return to the Championship was already confirmed following Worcester Warriors' win over Harlequins on Saturday. It is the second time in three years Irish have been relegated, with just 3 victories from 20 matches this season. However Saracens are guaranteed to finish second behind leaders Exeter Chiefs, with either Wasps, Newcastle Falcons or Leicester Tigers set to be their opponents in the semi-finals.

Vunipola enjoyed his first match in three months as Saracens sealed second place in the Aviva Premiership with their 51-14 victory v London Irish. Fit-again Vunipola came off the bench in Saracens' seven-try victory in Reading, tasting his first action since breaking his arm in a 15-15 Champions Cup draw at Opsreys on January 13. Vunipola has not played Test rugby since March 2017, with knee and shoulder problems contributing to a nightmare 18-month injury run. Vunipola will look to being in form for full match sharpness ahead of both the Saracens' play-off campaign and England's three-Test June tour to South Africa. Saracens easily cruised past a defeated Irish, whose second Premiership relegation in three years had been confirmed on Saturday with Worcester's 44-13 win over Harlequins. Brad Barritt, Duncan Taylor, Michael Rhodes, Marcelo Bosch, Richard Barrington, Alex Goode and Schalk Brits all crossed in Saracen’s bonus-point victory, which secured the north Londoners a home Premiership semi-final, while Owen Farrell kicked 5 conversions and added 2 penalties. The visitors shrugged off a yellow card for Maro Itoje, even though tries from Joe Cokanasiga and Johnny Williams had Irish trailing by only 2 points at half-time. Irish will next begin their rebuilding process in a bid to make another immediate return to the top table, with new coaches Declan Kidney and Les Kiss expected to remain on board in the Championship next term. Irish lock Josh McNally's yellow card sparked Saracens' early try glut, the visitors crossing through Barritt and then Taylor. Irish hit back. Cokanasiga raced in at the right corner after Mako Vunipola's loose pass, before team-mate Johnny Williams crossed on the stroke of half-time. Itoje was unjustly sin-binned for a knock-on, and Irish seized full gain when Johnny Williams went home, and Greig Tonks converted. Saracens led just 16-14 at the break. As soon as the England and Lions lock Itoje returned, Saracens claimed their third try.. Bosch powered home the bonus-point score just ahead of the hour, with the visitors by then in full control. Blair Cowan's yellow card handed Barrington the chance to power home, with Goode and Brits adding to the scoreline at the death.

"Saracens have a lot of power and they certainly took their opportunities during the game in the closing quarters. We have been trying to add value to this squad since we've been here. We obviously didn't manage to add enough value to allow us to stay up, but we now know the lie of the land and we can work on that going forward. We will gather together a group of lads who want to take on that challenge and work towards it. We've fought tooth and nail just to stay in the Premiership, that hasn't worked out. We've had one or two conversations with the coaches, I think that the future is bright on that front. There will be comings and goings with the players, but we want players who want to be there. There's a lot of good things that happen at this club that don't necessarily show on the pitch, but they're things in my experience that you can't just go out and buy. So, we need to build on those and get ourselves ready for next season in what's going to be a very tough Championship," said the London Irish head coach.

"It's good to get Billy Vunipola back on the park. We'll try to give him as much game time as we can next week, start him I'm sure against Gloucester next weekend, all being well. It's a shame it's a fallow weekend after that,” said Saracens boss Mark McCall. “He'll be a bit nervous next week, he's only played three games in total this year. He's done a hell of a lot of rehab, so it's good to get some of the walking wounded back. I don't think anyone sees it, but it was really tough when he broke his arm. He was very emotional straight after that. But he just believes that whatever will be will be, things happen for a reason but now he's back and doing what he likes best. We've got a training week the week after Gloucester and we'll make that week as tough as it needs to be."

Squads

London Irish
Tonks; Cokanasiga, Fowlie, J. Williams, Lewington; Brophy Clews, Van Zyl; Franks, Paice (capt), Hoskins, McNally, Van der Merwe, Schatz, Cowan, Treviranus. Replacements: Porecki, Elrington, Du Plessis, De Chaves, Basham, Steele, McLean, Tokoirotuma.

Saracens
Goode; Williams, Taylor, Barritt (capt), Maitland; Farrell, Spencer; M. Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Kruis, Rhodes, Burger, Wray. Replacements: Brits, Barrington, Figallo, Isiekwe, B. Vunipola, Wigglesworth, Lozowski, Bosch.

Referee: Ian Tempest

Premiership results for this weekend

London Irish 14-51 Saracens - They made it look easy in the end, but Saracens did not have it all their own way.
Wasps 36-29 Northampton Saints - Wasps booked their place in the semi-finals of Aviva Premiership Rugby in a hard-fought battle with Northampton.
Worcester Warriors 44-13 Harlequins - Worcester Warriors secured their Aviva Premiership Rugby status for next season in style.
Gloucester 20-43 Bath - Bath claimed the West Country Derby with a six-try 43-20 success at Kingsholm on Saturday. Tom Homer’s show-stopping solo helped inspire Bath.
Exeter Chiefs 34-19 Sale Sharks - Greg Holmes’ try in the final moments gave top place Exeter Chiefs a 34-19 bonus point win over Sale Sharks.
Leicester Tigers 23-25 Newcastle Falcons - A controversial late try handed Newcastle a stunning victory at the death. With the very last play of the game No 8 Ally Hogg crashed over and, after deliberation from the match official, the try was awarded. That made it 23-23 and the conversion from Sonatane Takulua gave Newcastle a crucial victory and their first win at Welford Road since 1997. They now look likely to achieve their first-ever top-four finish.
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Premiership rugby table

1 Exeter 80
2 Saracens 72
3 Wasps 66
4 Newcastle 63
5 Leicester 58
6 Gloucester 56
7 Sale 54
8 Bath 51
9 Northampton 38
10 Harlequins 36
11 Worcester 36
12 London Irish 22
*(playoff secured)

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