With just three rounds of action left to play in the Aviva Premiership regular season before the knockout stages, defending champions Exeter Chiefs can wrap up their semi-final berth this weekend, while the other semi-final spots remain up for grabs in a fiercely competitive close to the Premiership campaign.
No English top-flight clubs have European Rugby Champions Cup concerns, but Gloucester Rugby and Newcastle Falcons will have one eye of their Challenge Cup duel next weekend.
Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks
Round 20 of the Aviva Premiership kicks off at Kingston Park on Friday evening as Challenge Cup semi-finalists Newcastle Falcons welcome Sale Sharks up to the North East.
A defeat to Worcester Warriors last weekend was a rare blotch on a somewhat stellar season for the Falcons, who are just two points off the top four in fifth place, but if they are to return to the semi-final reckoning, they will have to overcome a sixth-placed Sale Sharks just one point behind, who had a thrilling one-point win over Wasps last weekend.
Gloucester Rugby v Harlequins
Gloucester Rugby, though, before their European encounter must first lock horns with Harlequins on Saturday, with just five points separating them from the Premiership top four.
Ninth-placed Harlequins have lost their last two Premiership outings and will be looking forward to the end of a woeful campaign, while Gloucester must bounce back from a 46-10 reverse against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park last weekend if they are to rise up the table and carry momentum into their European semi-final.
Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints
When the fixture list is released plenty of fans in the Midlands will look out for the derby clash between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints, but for Matt O’Connor’s Welford Road men, it is not only local bragging rights on the line, but more importantly semi-final pursuits.
Leicester head into the weekend third in the Premiership hierarchy, level on points with fourth-placed Wasps, meaning Tigers are in need a big win to consolidate their place in the top four, but Northampton Saints are a welcome sight for the hosts with the visitors having lost their last four top-flight encounters.
Wasps v Worcester Warriors
Last season’s runners-up Wasps are in danger of sliding out of the Aviva Premiership top four unless they arrest a run of back-to-back defeats when they welcome Worcester Warriors to the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.
Worcester Warriors collected an impressive win over high-flying Newcastle Falcons last weekend and with just two points keeping Wasps in the semi-final places, they must be very wary of a Warriors side who have claimed a number of fine scalps this season.
London Irish v Exeter Chiefs
Sunday’s first offering comes from the Madejski Stadium as bottom welcome top as London Irish welcome Exeter Chiefs, with the reigning champions set to confirm their place in the final four of the competition.
Aviva Premiership status is slowly slipping away from the Exiles, who have just three weeks to rescue their season, but nine points now separate them from safety, but the likelihood is a big win for the Chiefs push them through to yet another semi-final berth.
Saracens v Bath Rugby
Last season’s European Rugby Champions Cup winners Saracens will aim to put their continental disappointment behind them as push on to the Premiership knockout stages as they welcome Bath Rugby to Barnet’s Allianz Park on Sunday afternoon.
Bath Rugby’s mixed season has seen them fall out of contention for the top four, while Saracens are still second, but remain eight points adrift of runaway leaders Exeter, but a third successive Premiership win would bring welcome momentum for Mark McCall’s troops.