Big Match Previews: Northampton Saints and Harlequins chase fourth spot
The final round of the regular season in Gallagher Premiership Rugby has so much at stake.
Three of the four semi-final berths have been secured – but the fourth and final one is still up for grabs.
Both former league champions, Northampton Saints are in pole position, a point ahead of Harlequins, who for so much of this campaign had been the front-runners.
This weekend therefore, it all comes down to Saints’ trip to Sandy Park to take on Exeter Chiefs while Quins head to Coventry to take on Wasps.
What’s at stake?
Saints are a point clear of Quins in the battle for fourth, so a bonus point win at Sandy Park would be enough to guarantee fourth for Chris Boyd’s men.
The Chiefs themselves are not guaranteed top spot in the table, though – they need something from their clash to hold off Saracens in the battle for first.
Meanwhile, Quins are hoping for Saints to slip up and that they can pounce at the Ricoh Arena.
🚨Quins members – the deadline to renew your seat is Monday.
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) May 11, 2019
But Dai Young’s Wasps side are playing for a top-six finish and will be trying to give themselves every chance.
Currently eighth, Wasps will need both Bath Rugby and Sale Sharks to lose if they are to sneak in but they will go into the weekend with hope still in their hearts.
Form so far
Harlequins looked nailed on for a play-off spot for much of the season but a five-match losing run in March and April derailed their league season.
That allowed Saints to sneak up on them, including an Alex Mitchell last-gasp score in their head-to-head encounter during that run that turned defeat into victory for Northampton.
But Quins righted the ship last time out in beating Leicester Tigers.
Saints meanwhile have found form at the back end of the season – Boyd’s men have won four of their last five in the league and will head to Sandy Park with a spring in their step.
Saints welcomed Exeter to Franklin’s Gardens just after Christmas in the reverse fixture and emerged victorious with a dramatic 31-28 victory.
Piers Francis, Dan Biggar and Fraser Dingwall crossed for the fast-starting Saints to open up a half-time lead and they held on to down the Chiefs.
That same weekend, Quins welcomed Wasps to Twickenham and emerged 20-13 winners thanks to tries from Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant.
Head to heads
Quins and Wasps have met five times in the last two seasons, including last year in the same Champions Cup pool.
During that time, Quins have won three times and Wasps twice, including once each on the road.
Quins’ last victory at the Ricoh came in September 2017, Marland Yarde and Charlie Walker the try-scorers that day.
Northampton and Exeter, meanwhile, are less close in terms of their recent history.
Chiefs have won seven of their last ten meetings with the Saints in all competitions and you have go all the way back to February 2014 for the last time Saints won at Sandy Park.
If Harlequins are to get back into the top four for the first time in five years, they will need their back row to continue their impressive seasons.
Alex Dombrandt and Chris Robshaw scooped the silverware at the club’s end-of-season awards for their form this campaign.
And in the back line, the return to fitness of Joe Marchant and Danny Care could be key to their hopes.
Saints, meanwhile, have had one of the league’s best half-back pairings in Cobus Reinach and Dan Biggar while out wide, Taqele Naiyarvoro will take some stopping.