Saturday's unusually busy Aviva Premiership programme threw up some intriguing results, not least Newcastle beating Gloucester 29-20 at Kingsholm to keep their survival hopes alive and Exeter winning 31-26 at Sixways against Worcester to confirm their place in next season's Heineken Cup.
Uncertainty around the perennially fascinating issue of relegation means that Newcastle could very well win their next two games, against Saracens and Wasps, and not survive. They could also lose both and stay up, thanks to the financial vagaries of the professional game. The Falcons trail owner-seeking, administration-haunted Wasps by four points; it is also entirely possible that a club who do not meet the Premiership entry criteria will win the Championship title.
After seeing tries from Ally Hogg and Mark Wilson and Jimmy Gopperth's goal-kicking set up a first win at Gloucester since 1998, Newcastle's coach, Gary Gold, said: "We are in a dire position. We have been eight points adrift at the bottom of the table and we are playing the Premiership champions next. If we start worrying what is going on with other teams and the things we can't control, then we will lose our focus.
"I have always realised the magnitude of this challenge, and it has not got any easier. But this group of players have really responded well."
Exeter have also faced a challenge of reasonable magnitude since arriving in the Premiership in 2010, and their players have really responded... really well. On Saturday Sereli Naqelevuki and Phil Dollman scored tries in the last two minutes to beat Worcester and confirm that Heineken Cup place.
Their coach, Rob Baxter, said: "The boys are elated. It's a fantastic achievement to qualify for the Heineken. We also have Northampton at home next Sunday in what is a virtual winner-takes-all game for a Premiership play-off spot."
In Saturday's other game, Saracens beat London Irish 28-19 in front of a big crowd in Reading. In the RaboDirect Pro12, Munster beat Glasgow 35-29, Connacht edged out Ulster 26-21 and the Ospreys won 33-12 away to the Cardiff Blues. Yesterday afternoon Aironi, the Italian "super club" who have been removed from next year's competition, lost 26-23 at home to the Scarlets.Reuse content