Can Saints make the play-offs? We predict the Premiership run-in

So, this is it: the final five.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 12:19 pm
Saints will hope there are plenty more scenes of celebration ahead this season

Saints have a quintet of matches left as they bid to make the Gallagher Premiership play-offs this season.

It would be the second time in three years they had achieved a top-four finish under the stewardship of Chris Boyd, who arrived at Franklin's Gardens in the summer of 2018.

And it would be an even greater achievement than the last time they did it.

Why?

Because Saints endured an alarming slump in 2020, dropping from second at the start of the year to eighth as they finished the 2019/20 Covid-affected season in sobering fashion.

The current campaign didn't start well, either, and by the time they hosted Worcester Warriors on Boxing Day, Saints were staring down the barrel.

But since then, things have started to come together again.

The attacking swagger has returned, so much so that Saints have now racked up close to 200 points across their past five matches.

And defensively they are much more resilient, particularly on the road.

They lost their final seven away matches of 2020 but have won six of their first seven in 2021.

The most recent away-day success came at Leicester Tigers, where Saints gritted their teeth to claim a crucial win.

It came on a day when Harlequins and Sale Sharks also garnered dramatic victories on their travels to keep them ahead of Boyd's side.

But not by much.

With five games to play, Sale are third, on 55 points, Quins are fourth, on 54, and Saints are fifth, on 50.

Each side has a run-in that will test them to the limit.

Here are the fixtures that each team faces, including our analysis on what lies in wait for Saints as they bid to book that prized play-off place.

Sale Sharks

Friday, May 7: Leicester Tigers (h)

May 14/15/16: Bath (a)

Friday, May 28: Bristol Bears (h)

Friday, June 4: Harlequins (h)

Saturday, June 12: Exeter Chiefs (a)

Harlequins

Sunday, May 9: Wasps (h)

May 14/15/16: Leicester Tigers (a)

Saturday, May 29: Bath (h)

Friday, June 4: Sale Sharks (a)

Saturday, June 12: Newcastle Falcons (h)

Saints

Saturday, May 8: Gloucester (h)

Gloucester come to the Gardens this weekend in what it's fair to say has been a mixed season for the Cherry and Whites. Saints were worthy winners against them at Kingsholm back in January, and Chris Boyd's side will be expected to put on a repeat performance at home this weekend. Gloucester, who are currently 10th in the table, have plenty of attacking threats, including the likes of Mark Atkinson and Louis Rees-Zammit, who will be ready to pounce if given any time or space. But Saints should get the job done to keep their season on track. Prediction: Bonus-point win.

Monday, May 17: Newcastle Falcons (a)

It doesn't matter where they sit in the table (they are currently 11th) or what their form is like, Newcastle will always give anyone a game, especially at Kingston Park. They possess former Saints centre Luther Burrell, who would love to have his say in this encounter, and with fans set to return to back the Falcons, this will be a really tough task for Saints. They have won there under pressure before, and they can do it again. Prediction: Four points for Saints - just!

Saturday, May 29: Wasps (h)

Wasps will be a real threat here as they are likely to take the pressure off themselves and play some tidy attacking rugby. They are ninth in the standings and recently lost key lock Joe Launchbury to injury so they may give chances to a fringe player or two. But either way, Saints will have to be on their guard if they are to get the win they want. Some fans should be back at the Gardens for this, and they can inspire a home victory. Prediction: Bonus-point win.

Sunday, June 6: Exeter Chiefs (h)

This will very much depend on how Exeter view the game as they may already have secured second spot by this time and they could be using it as preparation for the play-offs. Saints should again have fans behind them for this and they can repeat the win they claimed at Sandy Park back in February to take another step towards the play-offs. Prediction: Four points for Saints.

Saturday, June 12: Bath (a)

A final-day trip to Bath, a place where Saints don't have the best recent history, is really tough and this shouldn't be any different. You could see the hosts making life really tough for the black, green and gold, who will be desperate to get the points they need. You feel Saints may slip up here, but edge into the play-offs thanks to what they have done previously. Prediction: Losing bonus point for Saints.

Conclusion

Saints have the belief and the fixtures to make the play-offs this season but they will still need favours from elsewhere. They need to hit the ground running against Gloucester this weekend and then maintain that momentum all the way until the end of the season. If they can do that, which is obviously easier said than done, who knows where they can go at the end of another roller coaster campaign.