Dave Ewers is eyeing up an Aviva Premiership Rugby final after Exeter Chiefs put themselves in pole position to grab the second home semi-final, with a dominant 24-3 win over Wasps at Sandy Park.
The Chiefs leapfrogged Wasps into second place after a phenomenal defensive effort denied Dai Young’s side.
England Winger Jack Nowell, Olly Woodburn and Phil Dollman crossed for the hosts, but it was their defence which truly impressed.
And Ewers now believes his teammates have what it takes to go on and clinch a maiden Aviva Premiership Rugby title after what will be their first ever semi-final – with a win against Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop next week enough to seal second place.
“We can look to push on now into the semis and hopefully the final too,” said 25-year-old flanker Ewers.
“It was important we turned the tide. We weren't at our best in the loss at Gloucester but we have had a good two-week break and hopefully we have turned it around now.
“It is always a tough game against Quins but hopefully with so much riding on it we can look to get a result there.
“As you could see from the crowd against Wasps, Sandy Park is an awesome place to play so if we could get a home semi it would be massive for us.”
Mark McCall paid tribute to long-serving flanker Jacques Burger after the former Namibian captain retired with a 23-14 win against Newcastle Falcons at Allianz Park, to ensure Saracens’ excellent form this season would be rewarded with a top-of-the-table finish.
A Maro Itoje score, plus two more from Jackson Wray, were enough to clinch victory as they came from 14-3 down at half-time after Marcus Watson’s first-half brace to put Dean Richards’ side to the sword.
“I sent Jacques a text during the week that said that words can’t portray the value that he has brought and they don’t really,” McCall said.
“Because you just see the Jacques Burger who is inspirational on the pitch, and everyone agrees that he is the toughest and bravest rugby player that there is.
“I think we showed our experience in the second half to be able to turn the situation around that’s the most important thing, not where we were at half time but where we were at the end of the match.”
Mathew Tait is now looking forward to a semi-final at Allianz Park against Saracens after Leicester Tigers secured a 12th consecutive top-four finish as they racked up four tries for a bonus point win against Dean Ryan’s Worcester Warriors.
Niki Goneva, Opeti Fonua, Telusa Veainu and teenage replacement Will Evans all crossed for the hosts at Welford Road, as Richard Cockerill’s side bounced back from last weekend’s Champions Cup disappointment against Racing 92.
Meanwhile Conor O’Shea is upbeat of ending his Aviva Premiership Rugby career with a top-six finish, after Kyle Sinckler’s solo score gave Harlequins a 32-25 win over London Irish and moved O’Shea’s men into the Champions Cup places.
Harlequins had raced into a 19-3 lead through a Charlie Walker double and Ross Chisholm’s score, but Irish fought back to lead 25-22 with 15 minutes remaining, before Sinckler’s score ended their resistance and ensured they would finish bottom of this year’s Aviva Premiership Rugby table.
Quins must beat title-chasing Exeter at the Stoop, but O’Shea is confident the occasion will be the perfect incentive for his men.
He said: "It's now in our control and destiny and it's going to be tough but the players are always fresher when they have something to play for.
"It's far better than being involved in a dead rubber."
On Friday, Greig Laidlaw dented Sale Sharks’ Champions Cup hopes with a masterful display out of position at fly-half – his four penalties guided the Cherry and Whites to a 12-11 win at the AJ Bell Stadium that was their first away to Sale since 2001.
Two Danny Cipriani penalties and a Johnny Leota try looked to have secured victory for Steve Diamond’s side, but instead Laidlaw stepped up to clinch victory for Gloucester and commit Sale to a first home Aviva Premiership Rugby loss of the season.
Meanwhile match-winner Stephen Myler knows Northampton Saints must improve before they travel to Kingsholm to face Gloucester, after Teimana Harrison turned in another superb shift to help overturn a 14-0 half-time deficit against Bath Rugby.
Jim Mallinder admitted he almost pulled Myler from the field in the second-half as Saints struggled back from two Jeff Williams breakaway tries at Franklin’s Gardens, but the fly-half instead kicked the winning points after scores from Harrison and hooker Mike Haywood.
Saints now sit in fifth – two points ahead of Sale and one ahead of Harlequins – and must beat a resurgent Gloucester to be sure of a Champions Cup spot, something which Myler knows will not be easy.
“We’re fighting to get into the top six and we needed to win. And we need to win this week," the 31-year-old fly-half said.
“It was very pleasing to get the win after a shoddy performance in patches.
“Kingsholm is a tough place to go and we have to go and play well – but it is in our hands.”
Sale Sharks 11 Gloucester Rugby 12
Penalties: Cipriani 2
Penalties: Laidlaw 4
Referee: Thomas Foley
Leicester Tigers 31 Worcester Warriors 17
Tries: Goneva, Fonua, Veainu, Evans
Conversions: Williams 4
Tries: Heem, Symons
Conversions: Heathcote 2
Referee: Greg Garner
Northampton Saints 15 Bath Rugby 14
Tries: Harrison, Haywood
Tries: Williams 2
Conversions: Priestland 2
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Exeter Chiefs 24 Wasps 3
Tries: Woodburn, Dollman, Nowell
Conversions: Steenson 3
Referee: Matthew Carley
London Irish 25 Harlequins 32
Tries: Narraway, Tikoirotuma, Paice
Penalties: Brophy Clews 2
Conversions: Brophy Clews 2
Tries: Walker 2, Chisholm, Sinckler
Penalties: Botica, Evans
Conversions: Botica 2, Evans
Referee: JP Doyle
Saracens 23 Newcastle Falcons 14
Tries: Wray 2, Itoje
Penalties: Hodgson 2
Tries: Watson 2
Conversions: Willis 2
Referee: Ian Tempest
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