Gallagher Premiership: Final day permutations
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 17/05/19 1:52pm
Ahead of the final round of regular Gallagher Premiership fixtures in 2018/19 on Saturday, we go through all the permutations for playoff positions and European qualification.
The battle for the top four
With Newcastle Falcons' relegation already confirmed at one end of the Premiership table, and Exeter Chiefs and Saracens confirmed of home semi-final places at the other, the main issue to sort out on Saturday is the one remaining playoff place.
Gloucester are guaranteed third spot and an away semi-final, but behind them, Northampton Saints and Harlequins are in a two-way tussle to finish fourth.
Chris Boyd's Saints are currently in pole position, sitting in the final playoff spot on 56 points, with Quins a single point behind on 55 in fifth.
Both sides face difficult end-of-season encounters though, with Northampton away at league leaders Exeter and Quins away to Wasps in Coventry.
Paul Gustard's team must win at the Ricoh Arena and hope Northampton slip up to leapfrog them and take fourth.
If Northampton win (without a bonus point), even a Quins win - with or without a bonus point - would not be enough to overtake Saints, due to their better win-record in the competition (11 to Quins' 10).
The reward - if you can call it that - for either would be an away semi-final trip to either Exeter or Saracens.
Champions Cup qualification
Owing to Saracens' Champions Cup final triumph over Leinster on Saturday, the Premiership has all but gained an extra qualification place for Europe's premier competition in 2019/20.
As a result, there are seven teams in the Premiership which will likely seal Champions Cup qualification.
Exeter, Saracens, Gloucester and Northampton are already assured of a place at Europe's top table, while Harlequins are virtually guaranteed qualification too, but four more teams will battle it out for the remaining two places - and it's a little complicated.
The Champions Cup's 20 qualification places are allocated as such: Premiership top six, Top 14 top six, PRO14 top seven and one final spot.
That final place is reserved for the Champions Cup winners (Saracens) - if not already qualified, which Saracens are - then the Challenge Cup winners (Clermont) - if not already qualified, which Clermont are - then the Challenge Cup runners-up (La Rochelle) - if not already qualified, which La Rochelle, sitting fourth in the Top 14, are highly likely to be - and then a playoff between the losing Challenge Cup semi-finalists, if not already qualified.
This year's beaten Challenge Cup semi-finalists were Harlequins (all but qualified) and Sale Sharks (not already qualified) - with Sale currently perched in seventh in the Premiership on 50 points.
Provided La Rochelle qualify via league position in France as expected - seventh place in the Premiership table would yield Champions Cup qualification (due to the fact Saracens won the Champions Cup).
Bath are currently sat in sixth position on 51 points, and if they win at the Leicester Tigers on Saturday, they will qualify for next season's Champions Cup.
Wasps and Bristol - both locked on 47 points - are also in the hunt for a Champions Cup place, and if Bath and Sale (who host Gloucester) were to both slip up then that would open the door for the former two to nick sixth. Wasps host Harlequins while Bristol travel to Newcastle.
If Wasps and Bristol were both to win with bonus points, and Bath and Sale lose, Wasps would clinch sixth owing to the fact Pat Lam's Bears have a worse win-record in the competition (eight to Wasps' nine). But, if Bath, Sale and Wasps were all to lose and Bristol were to win with a bonus point, they would steal in to take sixth - provided Bath don't earn a losing bonus point.
Bath and Sale are well-placed to clinch European places, but Wasps and Bristol will be hoping for slip ups and an unlikely turn of events to nip in.
The one remaining issue to sort out on the final day - and the one which is of least importance - is who will finish top of the pile at the end of the regular campaign: Exeter or Saracens?
The Chiefs sit four points above Saracens and so would need to pick up nothing at home to Northampton, and Sarries win at Worcester, to be overtaken.
But either way, both are assured of home semi-finals in the quest to book a place at Twickenham for the final on June 1.
Top (Exeter as it stands) will host Gloucester, while second-place will host either Northampton or Harlequins.
This weekend, Saints have far more to play for than the Chiefs when they meet at Sandy Park as the former attempt to clinch that playoff place, while Saracens are facing a Worcester side with nothing to play for.
It matters little, but momentum could come into the thinking of Rob Baxter and Mark McCall ahead of the semi-finals. Will things stay as they are at the top?