Continuing our new regular feature, our rugby columnist Jeff Ball makes his predictions for this weekends final round of league matches that will decide the make up of the play-offs and who is relegated. Matches include Saracens vs. Exeter Chiefs, Leicester Tigers vs. Bath Rugby and London Wasps vs. Newcastle Falcons. Let us know your predictions either in the comments below or on Twitter @Ballintouch
And. Here. We. Go. This is it. The culmination of months of training and playing and we come down to the final crucial weekend of the league season to decide many a story that have been panning out since round 1. Or we would if there werent still play-offs to be decided, but matter not. All that is on offer now for finishing top is the glory, and that will be worth fighting for , with Harlequins, Leicester Tigers and Saracens all within touching distance of top spot.
A top two finish conveys home advantage for the play-off semi-finals against the third and fourth placed teams, while a top six finish means Heineken Cup rugby beckons next season. For everyone else it is Amlin Challenge Cup rugby apart from the team who finish 12th, who will be relegated.
All kick-offs 2pm Saturday
Leicester Tigers v Bath Rugby
Leicesterhave been in devastating form of late, picking up bonus points for fun against some of the top sides. Bath have been less devastating, more inept, at times this season and find themselves needing a bonus point win and Sale to slip up to have any chance of finishing in the top half of the table. It is a glimmer of hope, but the Tigers seem likely to slam the door shut on them and bring to close a season that has disappointed and will see a revamped coaching set up take the reigns next season. Leicesterwill be keen to keep the momentum going and ensure their next match is at Welford Road. Prediction: Leicester by more than 7 points
London Irish v Gloucester Rugby
Pride and league position are the big motivations for this one, both sides stuck firmly in mid-table and undergoing periods of transition both on and off the field. Both have failed to keep to winning ways in recent rounds and this may be one of those games where who plays less-bad could decide it, rather than who wants to win it more. Hopefully both sides decide to try and finish on a high and we get a few tries from what are two very exciting backlines. Prediction: London Irish by less than 7 points
London Wasps v Newcastle Falcons (ESPN)
Probably the biggest match of the day, maybe not in terms of attendance, team status or league position, but this is basically a final day shoot out of the leagues two relegation candidates. And Wasps are holding a couple more bullets. A win is not enough forNewcastle, with either a four try bonus point win or a win by 24 or more points coupled with Wasps not getting a bonus point themselves being the only way they can retain their league position. Given this is a side that has scored only 24 tries this season and hasnt got a try scoring bonus point for almost three years, it may be a step too far. However, the Falcons have the confidence and the weight of their shoulders as they have been written off by everyone outside ofNewcastle.
Wasps on the other hand have the looming threat of disappearing altogether, as the financial rescue package they desperately need is apparently hinged on their league survival. The issue over which side wins the Championship and whether they are allowed to be promoted will mean for an agonising wait for one side, but all attentions will be on what happens on the pitch for now. With nothing to lose, so to speak, Im going for a Falcons win, but not by the required margin. Prediction: Falcons by 10-15 points and/or three tries
Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors (Sky)
Northampton Saints are at risk of becoming perennial nearly men and need to match or better Exeter Chiefs result against Saracens to ensure they dont drop out of the top four and thus the play-offs. Worcester have made nine changes to the side as there is nothing to play for and the more junior members of the side are given some game time. Saints took fourth place from Exeterin their last match and name a strong side, in contrast to the Warriors. Northamptonhave more to play for and that should be reflected in the result. Prediction: Saints by more than 7 points
Sale Sharks v Harlequins
Saleneed a single match point to secure Heineken Cup rugby and will be keen to see their EdgeleyParkground off with a win before they move to a new stadium next year. Harlequins are in pole position to keep first place, a position they have occupied for almost all of the season. Defeat here would put their league position and thus home play-off advantage in the hands of those beneath them. Salename a side with several youngsters while Quins have put out an almost first choice squad. The chance of Bathsurpassing them is slim and Harlequins will be desperate not to slip up at the last fence. Predcition: Harlequins by 7 points or more
Saracens v Exeter Chiefs
Saracens are guaranteed a semi-final place but are dependant on winning and Leicester and harlequins slipping up to overtake them and have named a fairly unchanged and strong side. Their efficient style of play will have to work hard to keep a physical Exeterside in check and will require an improved effort to the one they made at KingstonParkin the last round, a game they came very close to losing. If you had offered Exeterfifth at the start of the season they would have snatched your arm off, but now missing out on the play-offs would be a disappointment to them. However, a win at the reigning champions may be a step to far for them. Prediction: Saracens by less than 7 points