Rugby union talking points from the weekend's Premiership action

Guardian sport
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Clockwise from left: Sale Sharks’ Mike Haley is tackled, Saracens celebrate their win over Harlequins, and Christian Wade scores against Northampton.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Composite: Rex Shutterstock, Reuters</span>
Clockwise from left: Sale Sharks’ Mike Haley is tackled, Saracens celebrate their win over Harlequins, and Christian Wade scores against Northampton. Composite: Rex Shutterstock, Reuters

1) Race for fourth is going to the wire

The scramble for fourth place, and with it a trip to one of three clubs who have lost two home matches between them in the league this season, both suffered by Exeter, looks to be going to the final round after Bath’s late rally at Twickenham. Bath’s decision to move a fixture they had only lost once at home in 11 years to London was made for commercial rather than rugby reasons, a desire to expand their fanbase before the Recreation Ground’s redevelopment when the club aim to become self-sufficient and no longer rely on the chairman Bruce Craig’s deep pockets. They have not looked championship material all season, painting a confused picture, if in vivid colours, and for once they came from behind against opponents whose collapses on the road this season extended into a third coach’s reign following the departures of Richard Cockerill and Aaron Mauger. Matt O’Connor sat in the stand before his first full week of training and watched his side blow an eight-point lead in the final 11 minutes. The Tigers look to have the better run-in of the three teams chasing fourth, but the fickle nature of the trio this season, summed up in the 80 minutes at HQ, means only uncertainty is certain. Paul Rees

• Bath 27-21 Leicester
• Robert Kitson: Do big London days out signal health or desperation?

2) Chiefs unbeaten run cannot mask torpid displays

For the second home match in a row, Exeter stumbled over the line to victory. Against Sale the fierce wind was a mitigating factor, and against Bristol they came up against a vastly improved side who are now all but condemned to relegation. The Chiefs have still not lost in the Premiership since October and remain on course for the top-two finish that would seal a home semi-final. Yet they are not playing anywhere near as well as Rob Baxter would like. Their undefeated streak is one thing but if they are to return to Twickenham then they will have to get rid of the torpor that characterises their play at present. Bristol meanwhile, can take some heart from how they have progressed as the season has gone on but the fact that it is too little, too late is further demonstration of why the Championship play-offs should have been done away with a lot earlier. Gerard Meagher

• Exeter 38-34 Bristol

3) Sale’s production line shows its worth

It was after Sale’s thrilling win over Wasps in February that Steve Diamond pointed out that from both sides there were 13 graduates from the Sharks’ academy on show. Denny Solomona’s first-half hat-trick ensured it was a footnote, but an impressive victory over Worcester on Friday was further demonstration of the young English talent Diamond has at his disposal. Sam James scored two tries, Mike Haley one and both can consider themselves unfortunate if they are not on England’s summer tour to Argentina. Mark Jennings is another who has caught the eye this season while up front the Curry twins continue to add to their reputation. It is a production line that does not get the recognition it deserves. GM

• Solomona case puts RFU in line for charge of hypocrisy

<span class="element-image__caption">Ben Curry, left, celebrates his try with team-mates during the Premiership match between Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Jan Kruger/Getty Images</span>
Ben Curry, left, celebrates his try with team-mates during the Premiership match between Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors. Photograph: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

4) Saracens have the intensity of champions again

If they were a person, Saracens would be a nightmare to live with: they’re so bloody intense. It makes them a seriously good rugby team, though. What’s even more annoying is that they appear able to turn it on and off at will. So maybe they wouldn’t be so bad to live with, but you’d be walking on egg shells. We’re at the sharp end of the season so they’ve decided to switch it on. That’s three performances in a row of utter relentlessness since the Six Nations. Quins have as many England players, but not one was allowed so much as a point of view in this one-sided domestic at Wembley. Saracens may be third at the moment, but, let’s face it, they’re going to be champions again. And it probably won’t even be close. Michael Aylwin

• Saracens 40-19 Harlequins
• Billy Vunipola: ‘You build relationships by being vulnerable’

5) Gloucester remain in listless limbo

A 13th bonus point for the season for Gloucester came in their 14-16 defeat at Newcastle on Friday and while it was scarcely deserved, it tells its own story. Gloucester sit eighth and are crippled by inconsistency. They have been for a while and it seems as if they are in limbo, waiting for the proposed takeover by Mohed Altrad to go through, all the while watching their season peter out in front of them. Unlikely to reach the Champions Cup via their league position, Gloucester are still in the Challenge Cup but a semi-final trip to La Rochelle, the Top 14 leaders, is a daunting prospect. Gloucester are in need of something that breathes new life into them. Time will tell if the answer is Altrad’s millions. GM

• Montpellier owner’s interest in Gloucester prompts concern

<span class="element-image__caption">Montpellier’s president Mohed Altrad is attempting to purchase a stake in Gloucester.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Montpellier’s president Mohed Altrad is attempting to purchase a stake in Gloucester. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

6) Where is the logic in Wade’s international exclusion?

Christian Wade. An extraordinary match of nine tries and a last-gasp winner, but Christian Wade. England boast the two best attacking wingers in Europe in Wade and Chris Ashton, and neither can earn a decent break on the international front. George North is supposed to be one of the best wingers in the world, and Wade turned him inside and out, so where’s the logic in the latter’s ongoing exclusion? The club game is different from the international, but it’s not that different. Dai Young repeated again that Wade is an international player, and that any complaints about his defence are about two years out of date. And anyway, who are all these defensively sound wingers? North isn’t one, and he’s done all right. Wingers partake in duels of attack. Ashton and Wade are way out in front on that score. MA

• Wasps 32-30 Northampton

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