Saracens did their best to earn a home match against Northampton in the Guinness Premiership semi-finals, winning 32-23 away to the side guaranteed to finish first, Leicester, only for Saints' victory at London Irish to keep them in third place. The two sides will meet at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday. In the meantime, Brendan Venter's men can take satisfaction from being the first Saracens to win at Welford Road.
Chris Wyles and Schalk Brits scored Saracens' tries; Glen Jackson kicked five penalties and a conversion and Derick Hougaard kicked a penalty. Alesana Tuilagi and Marcos Ayerza scored the Tigers' tries and Jeremy Staunton kicked 13 points.
Northampton won 31-7 at the Madejski Stadium against the 2009 finalists, whose season has dwindled to a sixth-placed finish. Chris Ashton's try, Saints' second of the match and his 16th in the Premiership this season (and 23rd altogether), killed the game after the break. The centre Jon Clarke scored two tries and Stephen Myler kicked 16 points. Danie Coetzee scored a try for London Irish; Tom Homer converted it. Mike Catt was named as a rather honorary man of the match after a late appearance for Irish – the 38-year-old World Cup winning England back has now, finally, retired.
Harlequins beat Sale 35-20 at the Twickenham Stoop in a match that served only to confirm the home side in eighth place and the visitors in 11th. Quins scored five tries – through George Lowe, David Strettle, Nick Easter, Jordan Turner-Hall and Tom Williams. Mathew Tait and Sisa Koyamaibole scored tries for Sale.
At Sixways, Worcester lost a match that summed up their season rather well – the relegated team were beating Gloucester 15-13 at half-time but went on to lose 23-22. Chris Pennell, Alex Grove and Chris Latham scored tries for Worcester; Akapusi Qera, Lesley Vainikolo and Scott Lawson touched down for Gloucester. Willie Walker had a chance to win the match for Worcester but predictably, given their luck this season, his drop-goal attempt hit a post.
To rub it in a little more, any lingering hope that the winners of the Championship would not fulfil the Premiership's entry criteria went the way of all things with the final whistle at Sandy Park, the spanking new ground on the M5 where Exeter play. Yesterday the Chiefs beat Bedford, whose Goldington Road home is not good enough for the top flight, 37-8. Exeter advance to a two-legged play-off final against Bristol, starting a week on Wednesday.
In the Super 14 the New South Wales Waratahs beat the Chiefs 46-19 in Hamilton. The Australian side are third and will play team in the semi-final picture, the Hurricanes, in the final round in Sydney next weekend. The ACT Brumbies, who are fourth, beat the Highlanders 31-3 in Canberra and in Johannesburg, in a match with no bearing on the play-offs, the Blues beat the Lions 56-14.