Sarries and Exeter at home in semis
PREMIERSHIP WRAP: Exeter rounded off the regular season in style thumping Northampton 40-21 to ensure a top of the table finish.
Luke Cowan-Dickie rounded off the rout with the Chiefs sixth try.
Saints will not be relishing the rematch back in Exeter in the play-offs next weekend.
Northampton came close to losing out on the play-offs – the top four contest them – as nearest pursuers Harlequins lost but gained a bonus point in their 25-27 loss to Wasps to end on the same total of 56 points.
Quins had a chance to win but James Lang’s last minute penalty from long range just lacked the legs to go over the bar.
Saints progress because they won one more match than Quins.
Champions Saracens – who dethroned Exeter in the final last year – will play Gloucester in the other semifinal.
The Final is at Twickenham on June 1.
Both Saracens and Gloucester ended their league seasons with defeats.
A penalty from Scottish flyhalf Duncan Weir gave Worcester a 31-29 victory over newly-crowned European champions Saracens – who only selected two players who were involved in the win over Leinster last weekend – with the last kick of the match.
Gloucester lost a high-scoring encounter 46-41 to Sale.
That was not good enough to secure Sale the sixth and final European Champions Cup place for next season – Bath denied them by beating Leicester Tigers in the dying seconds of their match.
Jacques van Rooyen touched down in the final minute and Welsh fly-half Rhys Priestland converted to give Bath a 32-31 victory.
The Tigers looked to be ending a turbulent season on a high note when they led Bath by 14 points.
However, in a match that was a reflection of their campaign they imploded and ended the season second from bottom.
Relegated Newcastle – who were the surprise package last term but lost their shape and form completely this season – bowed out with a home defeat to Bristol Bears.
We look at all Saturday’s matches!
Exeter 40 Northampton 21
A six-try victory for Exeter Chiefs against Northampton Saints ensured they topped the Premiership table at the end of the regular season.
Tries from Henry Slade, Ben Moon, Don Armand, Matt Kvesic, Dave Dennis and Luke Cowan-Dickie helped Rob Baxter’s men secure a bonus-point 40-21 triumph at Sandy Park.
Meanwhile, despite losing their final game of the campaign, Saints sealed the last semifinal place, after top four rivals Harlequins were also beaten away at Wasps.
Piers Francis and Rory Hutchinson tries gave the visitors the lead twice in the first half, while Cobus Reinach also dotted down, but Chiefs proved too strong after the restart.
Not that it will matter to Chris Boyd and his troops, who will contest the Premiership semi-finals for the first time since 2015 – with Exeter their opponents once again.
Saints enjoyed a dream start when they took the lead inside five minutes through Francis, before being cancelled out by a Slade score down the other end.
The hosts thought they had the lead when Olly Woodburn capped off a brilliant move, only to see it ruled out for a forward pass, and they found themselves behind moments later.
Hutchinson showed his class by cutting through the Chiefs defence to score, with Dan Biggar converting again, but the visitors’ celebrations did not last long.
Exeter piled on the pressure from a line-out in Northampton’s corner and, after multiple pick and goes at the line, Moon eventually burrowed over the whitewash.
Joe Simmonds converted the extras to tie the scores up again before the Devon outfit forged ahead for the first time with a try from Armand, followed by another successful conversion.
But Saints roared back on the cusp of half-time to go into the break all square, with Reinach intercepting the ball deep in his own half and running the length of the pitch to score.
With Saints beginning the restart with 13 men, following yellow cards for Alex Waller and Courtney Lawes, Exeter kicked off the second half on the front foot.
And they soon restored their lead when Kvesic burst through a rolling maul to score the bonus-point try, before increasing their advantage just before the hour with a Dennis try.
A Cowan-Dickie effort from short range on 73 minutes after relentless pressure from Chiefs made the result safe, with Simmonds once again converting to bring up 40 points.
That proved to be the final points of the game as Exeter coasted to victory, while Saints’ disappointment was soon forgotten after the result at Quins was confirmed.
For Exeter Chiefs:
Tries: Slade, Moon, Armand, Kvesic, Dennis, Cowan-Dickie
Cons: Simmonds 5
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Francis, Hutchinson, Reinach
Cons: Biggar 2, Grayson
Yellow cards: Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 38), Alex Waller (Northampton Saints, 40)
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Jack Nowell, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Sam Hill
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Tom Collins, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Lewis Ludlam, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Reece Marshall, 1 Alex Waller (captain).
Replacements: 16 James Fish, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Ben Franks, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 James Grayson, 23 Luther Burrell
Referee: Karl Dickson (19th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce & Gareth Holsgrove.
TMO: David Rose.
Leicester 31 Bath 32
Todd Blackadder ended his Bath career on a high as his side snatched a dramatic late win at Welford Road to sneak into sixth place in the season’s final minute.
Jacques van Rooyen was the hero as he drove over at the death after an attritional spell of with the Tigers seemingly having done enough to hold out the visitors.
It was a captivating end to a thrilling game of, with seven tries split between the two sides, but Bath going home with Champions Cup in their back pocket and the perfect farewell to Blackadder.
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On his 100th appearance for Bath, it was Anthony Watson who opened the scoring, providing quick support to Ruaridh McConnochie’s break to snatch the ball from the back of a ruck and finish the job from five metres out.
But the hosts didn’t take long to respond, George Ford slotting a lengthy penalty and following it up with a perfect touch-finder deep into Bath territory, with Graham Kitchener gathering the resultant line-out and Will Spencer doing the honours from the driving maul.
In what was quickly becoming a harum-scarum end-of-season affair, it was the explosive Joe Cokanasiga who was next to add his name to the scoresheet, putting Bath back in front with what was his tenth try of the season down in the corner.
Once more the lead changed hands when Ford kicked a routine penalty from in front of the posts, before Brendon O’Connor marked his testimonial appearance with a pick-and-go score to buff the hosts’ lead.
Another penalty from the automatic Ford stretched Tigers’ advantage to 11, with Max Lahiff sent to the bin on the stroke of half-time for repeated Bath infringements, but for Ford to take his tally for the afternoon to 14.
Rhys Priestland grabbed the visitors’ first points since the 12th minute with a penalty of his own, sending Bath into the break on the wrong side of a 26-15 scoreline.
But Bath cut the deficit, hope of a top-six finish returning five minutes into the second 40 when Beno Obano scurried over low after his side had found themselves camped on the Tigers’ line.
Just as in the first half however, the Tigers hit back immediately, Clayton Blommetjies crossing in the corner for his first, and likely last, Leicester try.
Another Priestland penalty left Bath six points adrift, and with the minutes ticking away it looked as though they would run out of time, but for van Rooyen’s late show.
For Leicester Tigers:
Tries: Spencer, O’Connor, Blommetjies
Cons: Ford 2
Pens: Ford 4
Tries: Watson, Cokanasiga, Obano, van Rooyen
Cons: Burns 2, Priestland
Pens: Priestland 2
Yellow cards: Max Lahiff (Bath, 37), Sam Aspland-Robinson (Leicester Tigers, 43)
Leicester Tigers: 15 George Worth, 14 Sam Aspland-Robinson, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Clayton Blommetjies, 10 George Ford, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Will Spencer, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Valentino Mapapalangi, 21 Ben White, 22 Tom Hardwick, 23 Leonardo Sarto
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Wright, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels (captain), 4 Levi Douglas, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Sam Nixon, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Semesa Rokoduguni
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Ian Tempest & Matthew O’Grady.
TMO: Sean Davey.
Newcastle 12 Bristol 19
Charles Piutau ran the show as Bristol Bears downed Newcastle Falcons but it wasn’t enough for Pat Lam’s side to secure a top-six spot in Premiership.
The All Black scored within 10 minutes for the only points of the first half but it was his all-round attacking flare that had the Bears excited at Kingston Park.
Piers O’Conor rocketed through to touch down after the break while Jack Lam crashed over from close range as the Falcons’ time in the Premiership ended in defeat despite a late flourish.
Bristol knew victory would only be enough for a Heineken Champions Cup place if results went their way elsewhere, holding up their side of the bargain when Piutau scored early on.
Visiting patience in the build-up was rewarded with the forwards getting them within a metre, the backs then taking over with switch play to send the full-back over.
The Bears built up a head of steam after the break, centre O’Conor bursting a tackle and using his pace to race to the line after yet more excellent work from Piutau.
Callum Sheedy added the extras and things got better on 52 minutes, replacement Jack Lam crashing over from just a few metres out on his final appearance in Bristol colours.
That put the visitors 19-0 up and within one score of a bonus point heading into the final 20 minutes, with their Heineken Champions Cup ambitions far from out of the water.
But it was Falcons who had the last say, back row Gary Graham touching down after a quick pick and go near the posts following a strong run from wing Adam Radwan.
And there was still more as the hosts finished with a flourish, Johnny Williams latching onto an Alex Tait line break to score.
It therefore wasn’t to be in the Bears’ bid for the top six but they could be far from despondent, their haul of 51 points the highest from a newly-promoted side since 2007.
For Newcastle Falcons:
Tries: Graham, Williams
For Bristol Bears:
Tries: Piutau, O’Conor, Lam
Cons: Sheedy 2
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Adam Radwan, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young (captain), 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 Gary Graham, 6 Callum Chick, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Sam Lockwood.
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Trevor Davison, 18 David Wilson, 19 Evan Olmstead, 20 Jamie Blamire, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Josh Matavesi
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau; 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Luke Daniels; 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Nick Haining, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steve Luatua, 5 Chris Vui, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 John Afoa, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 James Lay
Replacements: 16 George Kloska, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Lewis Thiede, 19 Jack Lam, 20 George Smith, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Mat Protheroe.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Andrew Jackson.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Sale 46 Gloucester 41
Denny Solomona scored an exceptional late winner as Sale Sharks came from behind to down Gloucester in the final round of Premiership.
With an open feel befitting this final-day clash, Sale scored first-half tries through Tom Curry, Rob Webber, Sam James and Chris Ashton, but Gloucester led at the break with Tom Seabrook, Ben Vellacott, Matt Banahan and Lewis Ludlow sealing their bonus point.
In a lung-busting second half Byron McGuigan touched down for the hosts while Dom Coetzer and Vellacott struck back – still time though for AJ MacGinty and Solomona to win it late on.
Sale scored in the first minute of the game, Faf De Klerk’s dart allowing MacGinty and Ben Curry to combine to set his brother Tom up to score.
The visitors responded through Seabrook before the pendulum swung the other way and Webber charged over.
De Klerk and McGuigan broke again down the left-hand side and despite Callum Braley’s best efforts Sam James was set free to score Sale’s third.
Minutes later Gareth Evans countered a Sale attack and his offload found scrum-half Vellacott, who ran the length of the field to score moments after coming off the bench – Banahan going over shortly after.
Ashton got his name on the scoresheet and remarkably the visitors also added a bonus point on the stroke of half-time through Ludlow.
Sale started the second half as quickly as the first, wing McGuigan going over in the corner for the hosts’ fifth score of the afternoon.
Coetzer then made it 31-31 and the visitors then went in front yet again when Jake Polledri broke the Sale line and set Vellacott away for his second try of the game.
Evans slotted home a penalty to put the visitors more than a converted try ahead, but immediately the hosts responded with two tries of their own in quick succession, De Klerk instrumental in setting up first MacGinty and then Solomona.
For Sale Sharks:
Tries: Curry, MacGinty, Webber, James, Ashton, McGuigan, Solomona
Cons: MacGinty 4
Tries: Seabrook, Vellacott, Banahan, Ludlow, Coetzer
Cons: Evans 4
Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples; 14 Tom Seabrook, 13 Henry Purdy, 12 Matt Banahan, 11 Ollie Thorley; 10 Lloyd Evans, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Tom Savage (captain), 3 Gareth Denman, 2 Henry Walker, 1 Kyle Traynor.
Replacements: 16 Todd Gleave, 17 Alex Seville, 18 Paddy McAllister, 19 Alex Craig, 20 Aaron Hinkley, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Dom Coetzer, 23 Tom Marshall
Sale Sharks: 15 Chris Ashton; 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 James O’Connor, 11 Byron McGuigan; 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Tom Curry, 6 Ben Curry, 5 James Phillips, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 Will Griff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Valerey Morozov, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Luke James, 23 Arron Reed.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley & Peter Allan.
TMO: Keith Lewis
Wasps 27 Harlequins 25
Joe Simpson crossed for a fairytale second-half double on his final game in Wasps colours as they held on to down Harlequins in a dramatic clash at the Ricoh Arena.
James Lang’s last-gasp penalty attempt from his own half fell agonisingly short for Quins as they missed out on a semifinal spot to Northampton Saints.
Josh Bassett and Joe Marchant traded first-half tries as Dai Young’s Wasps side went in at the break leading 10-8.
Simpson went over for a trademark snipe soon after to extend Wasps’ lead and soon it got even better.
Elliot Daly – also in his final game for Wasps – produced a searing outside break and found Simpson on the inside for the scrum-half’s second.
Quins’ top-four hopes looked at an end but Paul Gustard’s side have shown real spirit all season long and they came roaring back from 24-8 down.
First Danny Care grounded the ball at the base of the post and then Lang slotted a penalty to make it 24-18 heading into the final ten minutes.
Lima Sopoaga then appeared to have put Wasps clear again but a Quins rolling maul saw Elia Elia go over and it was a two-point gap going into the final moments.
Tries: Bassett, Simpson 2
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 2
Tries: Marchant, Care, Elia
Cons: Lang 2
Pens: Smith, Lang
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Nizaam Carr, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain) 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Simon McIntyre
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Zurabi Zhvania, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Ashley Johnson, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Rob Miller, 23 Juan de Jongh
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Ross Chisholm, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Semi Kunatani, 5 James Horwill, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Alex Dombrandt, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 James Lang, 23 Alofa Alofa.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley & Greg Macdonald.
TMO: Stuart Terheege
Worcester 31 Saracens 29
Duncan Weir’s 83rd-minute penalty proved to be the difference as Worcester edged Saracens in a pulsating final day clash at Sixways.
Trailing by a point in added-time, the Scot kept his nerve to topple a spirited and much-changed Saracens side that had appeared well on course for victory.
In a game that swung back and forth with regularity, tries from Nick Tompkins and Marcelo Bosch, coupled with 19 points from the boot of the impressive Tom Whiteley saw the already-qualified semi-finalists assume an eight-point advantage with just 11 minutes left on the clock.
But Josh Adams brought the hosts back within a point, leaving Weir to seal the deal with a dramatic last-gasp kick from the tee.
In a fast-paced start, hosts Warriors were first to threaten the try-line, hooker Niall Annett driving in vain for the score with just three minutes on the clock.
Only some resolute defending from Saracens helped them survive the early onslaught, and their reward came soon after as Whiteley – a key performer in the Premiership Rugby Shield win at the start of the week – nailed a penalty for the first points of the afternoon.
That lead was to be shortlived, as neat footwork from Ethan Waller sent the surging Michael Fatialofa through for the game’s opening try, but Whiteley added his second penalty of the evening to bring the European champions back within a solitary point.
Another blow followed soon after for Saracens, David Strettle sent to the bin for what was deemed to be a deliberate knock-on as Worcester honed in on the line.
Instead of buckling, though, the visitors showed their resolve to mount an unlikely fightback. Five minutes after Warriors captain GJ Van Velze had been denied by a try-saving tackle close to the line, Tompkins seized on a loose ball in midfield to streak clear.
The game continued to see-saw, with spectators afforded no time to come up for air before Warriors hit back.
Next, Francois Hougaard, Gallagher Premiership Rugby for April, found full-back Chris Pennell, who exchanged passes with the unselfish Adams on the left-wing before dotting down.
That meant the Midlanders had a slender lead for the second time in the match – but Whiteley continued to be an influence, slotting two penalties either side of half-time as Saracens retook the initiative.
Ted Hill and Bosch traded tries, the latter coming after the utility man, leaving at the end of the campaign, collected Whiteley’s clever kick through ahead of Tom Howe to score.
The faultless Whitley extended the lead with another penalty to leave Warriors needing an improbable two scores in the final 10 minutes.
But Adams, a star for Wales during the recent Six Nations, touched down to break the Worcester record for tries in a single season, and Weir did the rest to help Warriors sign off in style.
For Worcester Warriors:
Tries: Fatialofa, Pennell, Hill, Adams
Cons: Weir 4
Tries: Tompkins, Bosch
Cons: Whiteley 2
Pens: Whiteley 5
Yellow cards: David Strettle (Saracens. 25), Ben Earl (Saracens, 75)
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 GJ van Velze (Captain), 7 Cornell du Preez, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Ethan Waller
Replacements: 16 Jack Singleton, 17 Callum Black, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Jonny Arr, 22 Jamie Shillcock, 23 Tom Howe
Saracens: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 David Strettle, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Manu Vunipola, 9 Tom Whiteley, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Calum Clark (captain), 5 Dom Day, 4 Nick Isiekwe, 3 Christian Judge, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Juan Figallo.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Billy Walker, 19 Joel Kpoku, 20 Andy Christie, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Tom Griffiths, 23 Rotimi Segun
Referee: Adam Leal
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Paul Dix.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Sources: AFP & @premrugby