Twelve matches featuring 24 teams across two competitions and five countries comprise the final weekend of fixtures in both the Premiership and Pro12. And there is still plenty at stake, even at the end of an exhausting eight months.
The first-place finishers face fourth in the semi-finals, so topping the table is important. Similarly, home advantage is only awarded to the leading two in each league.
Champions Cup spots are up for grabs – some of them via a separate play-off system, just to keep everyone on their toes.
And a lot of results will have repercussions on ever-complicated British and Irish Lions logistics. Take a look.
Here is the table as things stand:
And here are the competition rules on how to separate teams in the case of them finishing on the same amount of points. Rock, paper scissors comes in for 2017/8. Maybe:
So, this is what it means for each fixture. All of them kick off at 4pm on Saturday.
Worcester v Leicester Tigers
A single bonus point will qualify Tigers for the Premiership play-offs in fourth place, unless Bath beat Sale with a try bonus point and overhaul Leicester’s points difference for the season (currently 117 as opposed to Bath’s 49 ).
Worcester can only finish in either 11th or 10th, both of which mean they will play in the European Challenge Cup next season.
Sale v Bath
- To qualify for the play-offs in fourth place, Bath need to beat Sale with a try bonus point and hope Leicester are beaten without any sort of bonus point at Worcester. If Tigers do get a bonus point, Bath have to beat Sale with a try bonus point and overhaul Leicester’s points difference for the season (currently 117 as opposed to Bath’s 49).
- Sale can only finish in either 10th or 11th, both of which mean they will play in the European Challenge Cup next season.
Gloucester v Exeter Chiefs
- This one is a biggie. Exeter will qualify for the play-offs in first place with a home semi-final if they get more match points from Kingsholm than Wasps do against Saracens – i.e if they win with a try bonus point and Wasps win without one.
- Exeter will qualify for the play-offs in second place if they win with the same amount of match points as Wasps – i.e if both they and Wasps win with a try bonus point. This is because the first differential to split teams level on points is matches won over the season. With 14 wins from 21 matches so far, Exeter cannot overhaul Wasps’ total of 16.
- Exeter will qualify for the play-offs in third place, with an away semi-final, if they lose to Gloucester and Saracens leapfrog them by beating Wasps.
- Gloucester will finish eighth if they lose, meaning they will have to win the Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais to win a place in the Champions Cup play-offs (which are explained here) at the expense of the seventh-placed team.
- Gloucester will finish seventh, and qualify for the Champions Cup play-offs regardless of the Challenge Cup final result, if they beat Exeter and leapfrog Northampton. And breathe.
Wasps v Saracens
- On to The Coventry Clash for Home Comforts. What a sell. Wasps will qualify for the play-offs in first place with a home semi-final if they win or draw and end the season with at least the same number of points as Exeter.
- Wasps qualify for the play-offs in second place with a home semi-final if they win or draw and end the season with fewer points than Exeter.
- Wasps qualify for the play-offs in third place with an away semi-final if Saracens beat them and Exeter also overtake them.
- Saracens finish above Exeter if they end up on the same amount of league points by virtue of having more wins over the season, so a win at the Ricoh Arena sees them finish first or second with a home semi-final depending on the Chiefs’ result at Kingsholm.
- Unless they gain two losing bonus points and Exeter lose with no bonus point against Gloucester, Saracens finish third with an away semi-final if they are defeated.
Northampton v Harlequins
- Champions Cup shootout time. Harlequins finish sixth and qualify for the Champions Cup with any sort of win or a draw.
- Northampton must win with a try bonus point or win and deny Harlequins a losing bonus point to leapfrog them into sixth and qualify for the Champions Cup.
- Having won more matches than Northampton over the season, Harlequins would still finish sixth if they register two bonus points and Northampton win with a try bonus point.
- Whoever finishes seventh, which will be the loser of this match unless Gloucester leapfrog Northampton, will play in the Champions Cup play-offs if Gloucester lose the Challenge Cup final.
Bristol v Newcastle Falcons
- Bristol are certain to finish 12th and will be relegated to the Championship regardless of this result unless either Doncaster or Ealing Trailfinders win the Championship play-offs. That last clause seems like an annual copy and paste that will go next season due to the abolition of Championship play-offs.
- Newcastle can still nick seventh and qualify for the Champions Cup play-offs if they win, finishing above both Gloucester and Northampton and Gloucester then lose the Challenge Cup final.
This is how the table looks at the moment:
And, again, the competition criteria on separating teams in the event of an equal points tally. Hopefully a coin toss is not required:
So, here is our match-by-match guide. Each game kicks off at 5.15pm on Saturday.
Scarlets v Ospreys
- Scarlets are guaranteed to qualify for an away play-off semi-final. They will finish third if they win or draw against Ospreys. Even if the Ospreys win, they will still finish third if they get two bonus points.
- Any sort of bonus point will guarantee fourth place for Ospreys. They can leapfrog Scarlets into third by winning and denying their opponents a bonus point. However, if they lose and win no match points, a huge victory for Ulster against Leinster that overhauls the Ospreys’ points difference can see them drop into fifth.
Glasgow Warrrors v Edinburgh
- Neither team can qualify for the end-of-season play-offs, but, whatever the result, Glasgow Warriors will finish sixth and play in the Champions Cup next season.
- Edinburgh could sink below the Dragons into 10th with a monster loss and a huge Dragons win, but will play in the Challenge Cup next season regardless.
Ulster v Leinster
- Already assured of a home semi-final, Leinster will qualify in first place with any sort of win. They can still finish second if Munster beat Connacht and Ulster win here.
- Ulster need three things – a bonus-point win, for the Ospreys to win no match points and to overhaul the Ospreys’ points difference – to qualify for the play-offs with an away semi-final in fourth place. Basically, they have a very long shot.
Newport Gwent Dragons v Cardiff Blues
- Newport Gwent Dragons are assured of either ninth or 10th regardless of the result, meaning they will play in the Challenge Cup next season.
- Regardless of the result, Cardiff Blues will finish in either seventh or eighth – but as the eighth or ninth Pro12 qualifier for the Champions Cup due to the policy of including an Italian side in the tournament – meaning they will qualify for the Champions Cup play-offs.
Munster v Connacht
- Well done for making it this far. Assured of a home semi-final, Munster can qualify in first place if they win, Leinster lose or draw and they finish at least level on league points with the Dublin province. A higher tally of league wins would see them nip into first.
- Regardless of the result, Cardiff Blues will finish in either seventh or eighth – but as the eighth or ninth Pro12 qualifier for the Champions Cup due to the policy of including an Italian side in the tournament – meaning they will qualify for the Champions Cup play-offs. The bullet point so perplexing we wrote it twice.
Zebre v Benetton Treviso
- Though both Italian sides are bottom of the league, this is a straight arm-wrestle for Champions Cup qualification due to the policy of including an Italian side in the tournament....kind of like a band stinking the place out for an entire set and then coming back on for an important encore after everyone has grown disillusioned and gone home. Treviso have more wins across the league season, so will qualify in the event that both sides end on the same amount of points.
What does this mean for the Lions?
At the moment, only Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour of Glasgow Warriors and Ben Te’o of Worcester are certain to be completely finished with club duty by the time the Lions meet up in the week commencing May 15, after the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals. That would make for pretty intense team-building exercises.
Ulster failing to make the Pro12 play-offs would free up Jared Payne, Iain Henderson and Rory Best, while Ospreys not making the top four would allow Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones to join Warren Gatland.
Sam Waburton’s injury probably excuses him from joining Cardiff Blues for all of their preparations for the Champions Cup play-offs, but a total of 11 players from Leinster, Munster and Scarlets have Pro12 semi-finals ahead of them.
With Toulon sitting fourth in the Top 14, they are certain to make the play-offs, which include one more round than in the Premiership and Pro12. It seems Leigh Halfpenny’s availability will be determined by the discretion of Mourad Boudjellal. Although the Wales full-back is hopeful of an early release, this first date will be a stretch.
The Premiership situation is more complicated. Six Saracens players, plus Elliot Daly of Wasps and in-form Exeter Chief Jack Nowell, are sure to feature in the play-offs. If Leicester Tigers qualify, Bath trio Jonathan Joseph, Taulupe Faletau and Anthony Watson become available. Bath getting through would mean Tigers Ben Youngs and Dan Cole are freed up.
Harlequins beating Northampton to finish sixth would allow Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler to join the Lions on May 15. Conversely, Northampton snatching sixth gets George North and Courtney Lawes in. Finally, because of the Champions Cup play-offs, Ross Moriarty might not start Lions camp if Gloucester win the Challenge Cup. Only club disappointment, if Gloucester finish eighth in the Premiership and lose to Stade Francais, sends him to the Lions.
In that event, either the Harlequins or Northampton representatives – depending on who has finished seventh – will be involved in the Champions Cup play-offs.