Premiership: Home play-offs, fourth place and European spots up for grabs

Maro Itoje George Kruis
Saracens and England pair Maro Itoje and George Kruis have played a key part in Sarries' recent successes
Aviva Premiership final round
Date: Saturday, 6 May Kick-off: 16:00 BST Coverage: Live commentary on BBC local radio and live text, scores and reports on BBC Sport website

After eight months of hard graft, bruises and broken bones, there is still everything to play for as the Premiership enters its final round.

Three teams are battling to finish top of the table, Bath and Leicester will fight it out for the all-important fourth play-off spot and Harlequins and Northampton will aim to secure an automatic European Champions Cup place for next season.

The only certainty is that bottom side Bristol are already relegated.

BBC Sport takes a closer look at how things could shape up once the final whistle blows on Saturday.

Home advantage in the play-offs?

It appears so. Over the past 10 seasons, only Saracens (twice), Northampton, London Irish and Leicester Tigers have tasted victory away from home in the semi-finals.

In 2016, Saracens thumped Tigers 44-17, while Exeter edged to a tense 34-23 win over Wasps at Sandy Park.

Home Advantage Info

So who is going to enjoy the home comforts on 20 May?

In short, if Premiership leaders Wasps beat reigning champions Saracens at the Ricoh Arena and Sarries do not take away two bonus points, Wasps and Exeter will get home ties.

A win for Sarries makes sure their semi-final will be at fortress Allianz Park. However, the omens for Saracens fans are not good - Wasps have won all 10 league matches at home this campaign.

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young said he "thought the game would have a prize on it" when he saw the fixture list at the start of the season. The prize could well be a Premiership final if history is anything to go by.

If Exeter overcome Gloucester at Kingsholm, they will guarantee themselves a play-off match in the south west, but their fate could be decided in Coventry.

Potential semi-finals:

  • Wasps v Leicester
  • Exeter v Saracens
Premiership top six

Finish fourth - no chance?

Since the 2005-06 season when the top four started automatically qualifying for the play-offs, only Saracens, in 2015, have won the trophy after finishing fourth.

In fact, only fourth-placed finishers Leicester, in 2008, and Northampton, in 2013, have made the showpiece event at Twickenham.

On Saturday, 10-time champions Leicester are in prime position to claim the final play-off spot for a third-straight campaign - they effectively need just a losing bonus-point at Worcester.

Bath, runners-up in 2015, must take home all five points at Sale, and hope Warriors do them a favour at Sixways with a big win.

Bath v Leicester
Bath beat Leicester 27-21 at Twickenham last month, but defeat at Worcester a week later dented their play-off chances

All to play for at Franklin's Gardens

The battle for sixth spot is fairly complicated. If Northampton beat Harlequins and Quins take away no points, Saints will finish sixth and qualify for the European Champions Cup in 2017-18.

A losing bonus-point for Quins, and only four points for Saints, means the two teams finish level on points, but Quins will qualify for Europe on virtue of having more wins.

This is where it gets even more confusing. The team that finishes seventh enters a play-off with the seventh-placed Top 14 club in France, and eighth and ninth-placed sides in the Pro12, with the winner earning a Champions Cup spot.

The play-offs and final take place over the last two weekends in May.

After Saturday's results, Gloucester, Saints, Quins and Newcastle could all finish seventh.

However, if the Cherry and Whites finish eighth in the Premiership, which is likely, and win their Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais on 12 May, they will enter the play-offs for the Champions Cup instead of the seventh-placed side.

Make sense? Hopefully it will all become clearer by the end of Saturday.

Fixtures and key dates

Premiership - round 22 (all games kick off at 16:00 BST on Saturday)

Bristol v Newcastle

Gloucester v Exeter

Northampton v Harlequins

Sale v Bath

Wasps v Saracens

Worcester v Leicester

European Challenge Cup final - Murrayfield

Gloucester v Stade Francais - Friday, 12 May (20:00 BST)

European Champions Cup final - Murrayfield

Saracens v Clermont - Saturday, 13 May (17:00 BST)

Premiership play-offs - TBC

Saturday, 20 May (14:45 BST and 17:30 BST)

Premiership final - Twickenham

Saturday, 27 May (14:30 BST)

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