Exeter Chiefs’ slip up blows the race for the play-offs wide open


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A 15th-minute red card for Exeter Chief’s Tom Hendrickson could prove very costly despite the Chiefs clawing back two bonus points in their 35-31 defeat to the lowly Worcester Warriors.

Hendrickson was sent off for a clash of heads with Sione Vailanu which left Exeter with a mountain to climb as Alex Hearle scored the first of his three tries that afternoon just a minute later to add salt into the wounds of the Chiefs.

Despite having a man disadvantage Exeter were able to stay competitive throughout the 80 minutes and managed to score four tries to gain an attacking bonus point as well as a losers bonus point due to the tight nature of the match.

However, those two points will have done little to soften the blow as the Chiefs lost ground to the three teams above them in the league who all gained the maximum five points over the weekend.

Instead, the two points will have Exeter looking nervously over their shoulders as Gloucester Rugby have a game in hand over the Chiefs and matched Exeter’s result as well as the Sale Sharks and Northampton Saints both gaining maximum points too.

Just eight points separate eighth in the league to fourth position and crucially the last play-off spot.

With only six rounds of fixtures remaining in the normal season, realistically there are five different teams chasing just one remaining position in the play-off spots, so who is best placed to still be competing late in June?

Exeter Chiefs- 4th (56pts)

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Games remaining: Leicester Tigers (H), Bath (H), Saracens (A), No Game, Bristol (A), Harlequins (H).

On paper Exeter Chiefs have the toughest run-in of all the teams in contention for the play-offs.

The Chiefs have to play all three of the teams above them in the league in their remaining fixtures.

If the reverse fixtures were to be repeated Exeter would only win two of their last five matches, however they will hope that being in front of their fans at Sandy Park for three of those will be enough to get them over the line.

Yet unlike some of the other competitors, they have one less fixture remaining this season meaning they will be nervously watching from the sidelines throughout the last weekend of April, hoping their rivals drop points.

Gloucester Rugby- 5th (54pts)

Games remaining: Worcester (H),  Wasps (H), Bristol (A), Bath (A), Harlequins (A), Saracens (A)

In contrast, Gloucester have one of the better run-ins of their competitors and the Cherry and Whites will look to capitalise on their next four matches where they only face teams in ninth position or below.

Kingsholm Stadium will be the venue for four of the last six matches for Gloucester which will give them even more confidence as the Cherry and Whites have only lost to Harlequins this season, out of their remaining fixtures.

Gloucester end the season facing third and second so they will be hoping they can secure a top-four spot before the last two rounds to avoid the added pressure.

London Irish- 6th (53pts)

Games remaining: Northampton (H), Harlequins (H), Newcastle (A), Wasps (H), Bath (A), No game

London Irish’s season ends the week before the rest so the Exiles have five consecutive gameweeks to try and stake their claim for a play-off spot.

A favourable fixture list will aid their chances as they play the bottom two in the league Bath Rugby and Newcastle Falcons as well as eighth placed Northampton Saints and the ninth placed Wasps.

However, the Exiles will need to amend their mistakes from earlier in the season to have a chance of reaching the top four, seeing as they’ve only won against two of their remaining opponents this season.

Controversially, London Irish were handed a defeat to Bath Rugby earlier in the season when their fixture had to be cancelled due to Covid-19 within the teams.

The Exiles were awarded two points in that defeat however will London Irish look back on that match with regret come the last weekend of fixtures as they are forced to watch from the sidelines.

Sale Sharks- 7th (52pts)

Games remaining: Bath (A), Saracens (H), No game, Newcastle (H), Wasps (A), Bristol (H)

Similarly to the Exiles, Sale Sharks were given a defeat to one of their remaining opponents Newcastle Falcons due to a Covid outbreak in their squad, which forced the match to be cancelled.

The extra four win points against the 12th placed Falcons would have seen them sitting in the final play-off spot.

Instead they are four points adrift with five fixtures remaining.

Much like London Irish, the fixtures on paper look very promising for the Sharks, however of their remaining matches the Sale outfit have only recorded victories over their next opponents Bath as well as the Bristol Bears this season.

Should the race for the play-offs remain extremely tight they will be confident they can rectify a 32-15 defeat at the Bears, especially with the support of the 12,000 fans at the AJ Bell Stadium behind them  on the final day of the season.

Northampton Saints- 8th (48pts)

Games remaining: London Irish (A), Bristol (H), Bath (A), Harlequins (A), Saracens (A), Newcastle (H)

Just one month ago it would have seemed crazy to be claiming Northampton Saints are the outsiders for the play-off positions, however a disastrous February has left the Jimmies with an uphill task.

A run of four consecutive defeats was finally put to an end thanks to a 27-22 comeback victory over the Wasps last Sunday.

That win just about kept Northampton in the running for a play-off spot however their chances of reaching the top-four will be clearer after their upcoming fixture against London Irish.

The Jimmies defeated the Exiles 23-21 at Franklin’s Gardens, however their credentials will be thoroughly tested when they travel to the Brentford Community Stadium on the 26th May.

Should Northampton Saints get a positive result there, they have a favourable run-in where they play three of the bottom four and a late surge up the table could well be on the cards.

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