Premiership Rugby: Five things we learned from round 20 as the race for the semi-finals heats up

Premiership Rugby: Five things we learned from round 20 as the race for the semi-finals heats up

Round 20 was another crucial stop on the road to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby semi-finals, with several sides desperate to get points on the board. 

Northampton Saints got off to the best possible start, beating Bath Rugby 45-26 on Friday night, but Exeter Chiefs ensured they remained in the race for the top four with a 24-5 win against Newcastle Falcons in Saturday's only game. 

Sunday saw Leicester Tigers record their fourth league win in a row against Gloucester Rugby before London Irish impressed with a victory over second-place side Sale Sharks. 

And the action came to a dramatic conclusion as Bristol Bears leapfrogged Harlequins in the table following a 51-26 win over the West London side. 

So after another incredible round of action, here are the main takeaways:

Saints down, not out of it despite record loss against Bears

Northampton Saints fans would be forgiven for panicking after Round 19's record top-flight defeat against Bristol Bears. 

The 62-8 loss was a big blow to their confidence, coming right in the middle of the race for a semi-final spot, with as many as seven sides still chasing after third and fourth. 

However, Phil Dowson's team showed nerves of steel to recover with a 45-26 win against Bah Rugby. 

With both sides evenly matched at 17-14 to Saints at half-time, the game could have swung either way.

But the hosts ran away with it after the break and showed precisely why they are in fourth with four rounds of action still to come. 

Saints have played a game more than most of the teams below them, but this weekend's win was crucial to show that last week's performance was just a blip. 

There is still no telling who will occupy the third and fourth spots come the end of Round 24, but if Saints can avoid a repeat of the performance against Bears then there is no reason why they cannot be there. 

Falcons let crucial chances slip against Chiefs

If there was a match in Round 20 that emphasised the importance of making hay while the sun shines, it was Exeter Chiefs' win over Newcastle Falcons.

The weather was appalling at Sandy Park and the conditions certainly played their part as Falcons struggled to convert their first-half possession and territory into points.

A greasy ball became a bar of soap whenever the visitors neared Chiefs' try-line, and it was a testament to the hosts' defence that they were level at 5-5 by the interval.

Then Chiefs' discipline almost cost them, but two yellow cards to Ian Whitten and Aidon Davis either side of half-time were not punished by Falcons.

They failed to score in that 20-minute period, and almost immediately after the home side regained their full complement, Jack Nowell caught Falcons napping and from then on the result was beyond all doubt.

Only Falcons and Bath are truly out of the race for a semi-final spot, and this lack of ruthlessness in crucial moments is a big reason why. 

However, Chiefs should not celebrate too much, they will need to be much better moving forward if they are going to chase down Saints and Tigers. 

Experience has been key for Leicester Tigers 

Defending Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions Tigers turned to their experienced operators to record a 26-5 win against Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm Stadium. 

Tigers had been inconsistent all season but now have recorded four wins from four. 

Mike Brown, Ben Youngs and Julián Montoya, all of whom have more than 70 international caps to their names, crossed the whitewash for the visitors while South Africa's Rugby World Cup-winning fly-half Handrè Pollard pulled the strings at ten. 

With so many internationals away with for the Six Nations, Tigers' abundance of experienced stars has been a big reason for their outstanding run of form. 

Clubs will return to their full contingent soon, but the damage may already be done, and Leicester may just make it into the semi-finals. 

London Irish have set up epic St. Patrick's Day with Saints

London Irish's fifth win in six games, a 36-18 triumph over second-place side Sale Sharks, has set up an absolute blockbuster for Round 21 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby. 

Saints currently sit in fourth, two points ahead of the Exiles, but the two teams will now collide at Gtech Community Stadium on St. Patrick's Day. 

Irish showed real grit to get over the line, resisting sustained Sharks pressure to stay ahead in the game before late tries from Tarek Haffar and James Stokes wrapped up the win.

The triumph is just the most recent step in a late-season surge for the semi-final spots, and another win at home on St. Patrick's Day could be crucial if Irish are going to leapfrog Saints or Tigers before the end of the season.

Bears turnaround gives them genuine shot at top four 

Four games, four wins. 

19 points from a possible 20. 

It has been quite the turnaround for Pat Lam and Bristol Bears after seeming destined to miss out on the Champions Cup places again yet alone the semi-finals. 

They won just three of their opening 12 matches but have now turned around their season and given themselves a genuine shot at the top four. 

Harry Randall has been on top form at scrum-half, but the most eye-catching reasons for the sudden resurgence have got to be Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau's return to form, with both players once again outstanding at Ashton Gate. 

They even played more than half the game without a recognised fly-half after AJ MacGinty went off injured but were still able to continue scoring and hit the 50-point mark for the second consecutive match after that thumping win over Saints a week ago. 

Their four remaining matches have been described as ‘knockout’ rugby by Lam and it is clear to see why, as they face Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks, Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby to finish the season, four sides also chasing the semi-finals. 

Latest News