The final whistle may have blown on the end of the regular Zurich Premiership Season but there is still plenty to play for amongst the seven clubs involved in the end of season play offs.
Round 22 ensured the regular season finished with a bang with battles up and down the Premiership table for crucial final finishing positions. Despite their defeat at home to NEC Harlequins, Wasps have secured their second place in the table and a home draw against third placed Northampton Saints on Saturday (17th May) in the Zurich Premiership Semi Final. Victory in this match means a trip to Twickenham to meet table toppers Gloucester in the Zurich Premiership Final on Saturday 31st May, where the Premiership champions will be decided.
Further down the table and the finalists in the Zurich Wildcard are now confirmed as Leeds Tykes, Leicester Tigers, NEC Harlequins and Saracens. The first leg of the two legged semi final took place on Wednesday night (14th May) with the reverse legs to be played on played on Sunday 18th May with Leeds / Saracens kicking off at 2pm and Leicester / Quins at 3.45pm.
Sharks' defeat at Vicarage Road means they miss out on a play off position, but by finishing in Premiership Fourth place they have automatically qualified for next season's Heineken Cup.
The two remaining places in Europe are therefore up for grabs by either Bath (by winning the Parker Pen Challenge Cup) or by Premiership Fifth (if London Wasps win the Parker Pen Challenge Cup) and by the winner of the Zurich Wildcard.
The Zurich Wildcard Final venue is confirmed as Franklin's Gardens. This is the preferred neutral venue for all four participating clubs. Kick off for the final is 12.30pm and the match will be broadcast in full on BBC ONE.
Back in September, the regular Zurich Premiership season promised to be the most competitive and exciting yet and it certainly hasn't proved disappointing. Every round was unpredictable with a record six draws, a much closer gap at the top of the table than recent seasons and a much more even competition amongst all 12 clubs.
The focus now turns to the new play-off format with the champion club of England still to be decided on 31st May. Gloucester are already preparing for their final game of the season, whilst Wasps and Northampton face each other on Saturday to decide Gloucester's opponents. Northampton's disappointment following their visit to rugby HQ earlier in the season for the Powergen Cup means that they are more determined than ever to return to Twickenham and amend the previous disappointment for their fans.
Wayne Smith, Director of Rugby at Northampton said, "Making the Zurich Premiership play offs is a reward for the fighting qualities of the players and management. We were the only ones who really believed after Twickenham and Toulouse. We were the only ones who could make it happen. We've fought for everything we've achieved, and we'll keep fighting. I like a play off system, it's something we are used to in New Zealand. If you've shown the consistency needed to make the top 3 after 22 games, then you deserve a crack at the title. And that's what we'll do – have a crack."
Their opponents London Wasps have not been to a Twickenham final for three years but are determined to give Northampton, and Gloucester a run for their money.
Tickets for Saturday's Semi final are available from London Wasps on 01494 769 471 and are priced at just £10.
Tickets for the Zurich Premiership Final are selling fast and have already exceeded last year's Zurich Championship Final crowd of 28,000. In addition to the match, there will be the usual entertainment for all the family including the Zurich Village area with stands from all 12 Premiership clubs, bouncy castles and, at half time, the return of the infamous Mascot Sevens.
Tickets for the final are available now on 0870 902 0000 or from www.ticketmaster.co.uk
The new Zurich Wildcard tournament has given the mid-table clubs something to play for and avoided meaningless games towards the end of the season. The winners of the double legged semi final will be decided on aggregate and will meet on Saturday 31st May at Franklin's Gardens.
Should Wasps win the Parker Pen Challenge Cup on Sunday 25th May then Premiership Fifth (Leeds Tykes) will automatically qualify for the Heineken Cup (as Wasps have already qualified by finishing second, and therefore the Parker Pen route to Europe will become vacant). If Leeds had already qualified for the Zurich Wildcard Final then Saracens, their opposition, would go through to the Final in their place.
Both Finals will be decided by extra time (of ten minutes each way) should the teams be level on scores at full time. If the scores are still equal, the team finishing in the higher position in the Premiership shall, in the case of the Premiership Semi-Final, go forward into the Premiership Final, and, in the case of the Premiership Final, shall be declared the Premiership Champions.
In the second leg of each Wildcard Semi-Final, if after extra time the teams are level on scores, there will be a place kick competition (following the same such competition adopted by the European Rugby Cup Limited) to determine the winner
All seven play off matches will be televised by either Sky Sports or BBC Sport (see below).
Saracens v Leeds(ZW4) v (ZW1)
|Wed 14th MayKO 19.45||Vicarage Road||Live on Sky Sports|
|Harlequins v Leicester(ZW3) v (ZW2)||Wed 14th MayKO 19.45||The Stoop||BBC (highlights)|
|Wasps v NorthamptonZurich Premiership Semi Final||Sat 17th MayKO 18.00||Adams Park||Live on Sky SportsHighlights on BBC2|
|Leeds v Saracens(ZW1) v (ZW4)||Sun 18th MayKO 14.00||Headingley||Live on Sky Sports|
|Leicester v Harlequins(ZW2) v (ZW3)||Sun 18th MayKO 15.45||Welford Road||Live on BBC2|
|Zurich Wildcard Final||Sat 31st MayKO 12.30||Franklin's Gardens||Live on BBC1Highlights on Sky Sports|
|Zurich Premiership Final||Sat 31st MayKO 15.30||Twickenham||Live on Sky Sports 2Highlights on BBC2|