What a final month of the season beckons.
Leicester won their first trophy since the departure of Dean Richards in flawed but thrilling style against an Ospreys team that again, started poorly and always played catch up and never quite did. It was not that dissimilar to their loss to Stade Francais in Europe, although the attacking rugby on display was even better.
Well done Leicester, but should they be worried by the space the Ospreys found? I think they should because unless they tighten that defence the Scarlets could cause untold problems in Saturday’s potentially epic Heineken Cup semi-final. The Tigers are undoubtedly good and rugged enough to make a fist of the treble of national, EDF and Heineken Cup titles but at best they are an evens call against the Ospreys’ rivals who are definitely superior Welsh opponents. It could be the game of the season, fingers crossed.
Sunday’s second semi-final between Wasps and the Saints is very much perceived as the bridesmaid of the matches but Northampton put up a valiant fight against an admittedly in and out Wasps team in the Premiership at Adams Park. It was an exciting game of rugby notable for the character of the Saints’ comeback and 15 fine minutes of rugby from Wasps where they looked as good as any side around. Whether the nearness of the result will be counter-productive for a Saints team which will no longer have complacency as an ally is debatable but with a majority of the support the Saints have a right to dream of glory.
But the nightmare took a step nearer with that defeat for them. Worcester, however, let a chance go at London Irish and whilst they have the point advantage and points difference to put them in pole position, they have Saracens to face in the final round and Saracens need that win to qualify for the play-offs and if they qualify they are no forlorn hope. Worcester could not have a harder game whereas Northampton meet London Irish – with nothing to win or lose – at the Gardens. They should be favoured to win that match but relegation (there, I have written it) is out of their hands. Worcester versus Saracens is as big a game as the final round of the Premiership has thrown up since the inception of the play-off system.
Wasps are desperate to make those play-offs and will hold their breath when Leicester face Bristol three days after the Heineken semi-final at Ashton Gate. With Wasps to come at home the Tigers may have to field a relatively weak team and back themselves to win with a fresh side at home against a Wasps team who could miss the cut if Bristol win that game and Saracens win at Worcester. I know about the political problems off the field but this weekend and the thought of the month ahead is a reminder of the leaps the club game has made in the professional era…fantastic stuff.