The 2019-20 Gallagher Premiership regular season reaches a thrilling climax on Sunday with four clubs chasing three play-off places.
Title favourites Exeter are already through to next week’s semi-finals, but Wasps, Bath, Sale Sharks and Bristol also have eyes on the prize.
Here, the PA news agency looks at how the top five shape up ahead of what is certain to be a dramatic afternoon.
Exeter – 74 points
The Chiefs have led this season’s play-off charge for months, booking their semi-final spot with three games to spare and now guaranteed top spot and a home tie. Exeter remain on course for a Premiership and European Cup double, which has been achieved by only three other English clubs – Leicester, Wasps and Saracens – and a fifth successive Premiership final appearance at Twickenham is within touching distance. Rob Baxter’s team, packed with international talent from full-back to number eight, will take some stopping.
Wasps – 66 points
Wasps were outside the play-off zone when Premiership action restarted in August following a five-month absence due to the coronavirus pandemic. But seven wins in eight games mean they hold second place heading into Sunday’s Ricoh Arena finale against Exeter, when victory should be enough for a runners-up finish behind the Chiefs and home advantage in the play-offs. Wins at Bath, when Wasps triumphed despite seeing four forwards go off injured before half-time, Saracens and Harlequins highlighted their progress under head coach Lee Blackett.
Bath – 65 points
Like Wasps, Bath are on a roll, losing once in eight starts and holding third spot ahead of Sunday’s trip to Saracens, where they need a win to secure qualification. A club’s total number of victories – the first tie-breaker when teams are level on points – means Bath hold an advantage over their rivals, and they wind up the 22-game Premiership campaign against a side playing for the final time before relegation to the Championship, which was part of Saracens’ punishment for salary cap breaches. They will want to make a statement before departing, and when Saracens are in the mood, very little stops them.
Sale Sharks – 64 points
England and Sale Sharks centre Manu Tuilagi has been ruled out for six months with a torn Achilles tendon.
Awful news, get well soon Manu 🙏 pic.twitter.com/8VJBK8CEgy
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) October 1, 2020
Sale last won the Premiership 14 years ago when players like Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal were in their pomp, and they are well-placed to make another major title challenge. A bonus point victory at home against Worcester on Sunday should be enough to progress, although the Sharks have entered the Premiership’s final lap without influential England centre Manu Tuilagi, who suffered an Achilles injury three days ago and faces a lengthy lay-off. Sale possess immense forward power, and a scrum-half in Faf De Klerk who can dominate games.
Bristol – 64 points
Bristol have played some scintillating rugby this season, dazzling opposition defences through the skills of players such as centre Semi Radradra, full-back Charles Piutau and wing Luke Morahan. That heady mix should help give them the bonus point win they need at London Irish on Sunday, but the west country club also realistically require Wasps or Bath to lose if top-four ambitions are to be realised. On their day, Bristol are capable of taking any team apart, and a presence in the play-offs would mean no rival could rest easily.