Wasps can end their 12-year wait for a Premiership title after they beat Bristol Bears 47-24 to reach the final, but they will go up against an Exeter Chiefs side in the showpiece for a fifth straight season.

In the day's first semi-final, Bristol only managed to put five points on the board in the opening 40 minutes, though it was not as one-sided as Wasps' 23-5 lead suggested at the interval.

Wasps just happened to be utterly ruthless, seizing on the majority of Bristol's infringements and turning them into points, with tries from Malakai Fekitoa and Jack Willis added to by reliable kicking courtesy of Jimmy Gopperth.

A brilliant 15-minute spell from Wasps blew Bristol away in the second half and ended the match as a contest, as they claimed 24 points in a 15-minute flurry to seal a first final spot since 2017.

Exeter were their conquerors on that occasion and once again await Wasps after they crushed Bath 35-6 in the second semi-final.

Much like Wasps in the earlier game, Exeter were clinical and produced a thoroughly professional display – tries from Jonny Hill and Luke Cowan-Dickie put them in control in the first period, before the visitors were swept aside without registering a point in the second.

It will be Exeter's fifth final on the trot, though the only one they emerged victorious from was the 2017 showdown with Wasps – Saracens beat them in the other three.

Sale Sharks have been forced to forfeit their decisive Premiership clash with Worcester Warriors after six more players and two members of staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The cancellation means the Sharks cannot bridge the three-point gap to Bath and therefore miss out on the play-offs, with the Warriors awarded a 20-0 victory.

The contest, the sides' final match of the regular season, was originally scheduled to take place last Sunday but was rearranged to Wednesday after 19 confirmed cases of coronavirus at Sale.

Premiership Rugby then confirmed eight further positives, which led to Wednesday's announcement.

"This is devastating for Sale Sharks, the players and staff with COVID-19 denying the club the chance to challenge for the Premiership title at the final hurdle," read a Sale statement.

"Sale Sharks and all involved with the club are determined to come back stronger than ever in time for next season."

In the play-offs, Exeter Chiefs will host Bath, while Bristol Bears head to Wasps.

James Haskell thinks the Premiership should be "ring-fenced" and follow an NFL-style format, while he warned sports in the United Kingdom may be damaged beyond repair if crowds are not brought back to stadiums.

England's top-tier rugby union competition is, as are so many other sporting leagues, facing financial challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2019-20 season was able to resume but a spike in COVID-19 infections saw prime minister Boris Johnson put a halt to trials on safely bringing fans back to sporting events.

With so many teams facing money worries, Haskell believes one solution could be to follow the example of the NFL, which uses a franchise system without promotion or relegation, including hosting an annual draft to select top academy prospects.

"I think the problem is where we are at in the world, lots of sports teams are going to fail sadly," Haskell told Stats Perform as part of a promotion for his autobiography 'What a Flanker'.

"The best thing about rugby is the grass roots teaches you so much as a young player, positivity, fun, playing as a team, characters, every local rugby club has characters. 

"Without their enjoyment putting five or six teams out people wouldn't have the love for the sport because it's not a national sport. Without club rugby or glass roots rugby it would disappear because it's not played in enough schools, well it's played in a lot of schools but not enough nationally.

"People in rugby love rugby, people outside don't know anything about it. They always talk about the All Blacks the team that does the dancing, that's about the extent of their knowledge. 

"I think you have two issues here; you're going to lose some Premiership clubs. You need to ring-fence the Premiership and stop thinking the Premiership has anything to do with grass roots because it doesn't - it's an entity, it's a professional body - almost a bit like the NFL in terms of that you have to do what's best for it.

"Even if you lose a couple of teams, make it a 10-team tournament, make it a global season, maybe shorten it. Maybe play one game home and away each, so Saracens away this season, Saracens at home next season - but you would lose some of the revenue with the big derbies so maybe you want to keep it as it is. 

"I'd put a draft system in with the academy, because the team that finished bottom gets the best pick of the academy players so I think that could be fun."

The Premiership was among the leagues to trial bringing fans back to games. Haskell was keen to stress he recognises the challenges caused by the global health situation but believes at some point fans must be allowed to attend otherwise the long-term consequences could be fatal for sport.  

"With grassroots stuff there's no easy solution, the world we're in a massive hole until we get back to normal," he added. 

"What's really frustrating is infection rates are up, death rates are down, more people die now from other stuff. 

"I obviously haven't lost anyone so it's easy for me to say in my ivory tower what's right and what's wrong. 

"But to be completely honest with you we have to take a view on some of this stuff and if death rates are down and pressure on the NHS is diminished I think we have to just crack on because you lose 30 or 40 thousand people to obesity - so I think it's just something to consider. 

"We're sort of clutching at straws and I find it a bit frustrating that we're trying to be all things to all men, government's are trying to do that and it's especially true around.

"I think sport isn't going to survive without crowds. I know Jack Nowell tweeted something about if you want to go to a game go to a game if you don't want to go to a game [then don't], then someone pointed out she was young and susceptible so if everyone went to a game it would increase her chances of her getting it. 

"So, you have to consider people's lives, but the world is going to fall apart, or is falling apart, or has fallen apart and at some point we have to be sensible and in sport if you don't have crowds there's going to be loads of people falling apart."

James Haskell’s autobiography What a Flanker! is now available through HarperCollins.

Bristol Bears sealed a Premiership play-off place with a 36-7 drubbing of London Irish but Bath face an anxious wait to discover if they will feature in the semi-finals following a draw with Saracens. 

The postponement of Sale Sharks' clash with Worcester Warriors until Wednesday due to "a number" of positive coronavirus at the Lancashire club meant the play-off picture could not be finalised on Sunday. 

Bristol started the last round of fixtures outside the top four, but a demolition of the Exiles ensured they remain in the hunt for the title. 

Semi Radradra, Ben Earl, Harry Thacker and Will Capon crossed, while Bristol were also awarded a penalty try as they moved above Bath into third place. 

Bath's season will be over if Sale beat Worcester in midweek, although whether the game goes ahead depends on the results of COVID-19 testing, after relegated Saracens came back from 14 points down in the second half to draw 17-17 at Allianz Park.

Bath looked set to seal a place in the last four when Rhys Priestland put them 17-3 up early in the second half, following on tries from Beno Obano and former Sarries scrum-half Ben Spencer. 

The defending champions stormed back in their last game in the top flight, a penalty try and Tim Swinson's score - both converted by Manu Vunipola - rocking Bath. 

Wasps sealed second place, and a home semi-final, with a 46-5 rout of Exeter Chiefs - already assured of top spot - and Harlequins beat Leicester Tigers 32-26 in Chris Robshaw's farewell match. 

Gloucester were awarded a 20-0 bonus-point win over Northampton Saints, who had insufficient front-rowers to start the match with a number of their players self-isolating after playing against Sale.

Sale Sharks have confirmed their decisive Premiership clash with Worcester Warriors will go ahead on Sunday despite "a number" of positive coronavirus tests at the club.

Steve Diamond's side occupy the fourth and final play-off spot ahead of the final round of the regular season.

Sale on Friday revealed an unspecified number of positive COVID-19 tests have been returned before the huge game at the AJ Bell Stadium.

But the depleted Sharks will not have to forfeit the match, which would result in a 20-0 defeat.

A club statement said: "Sale Sharks can confirm that their Premiership round 22 match with Worcester Warriors, scheduled for 3pm on Sunday 4th October, will go ahead as planned.

"Although Sale Sharks have been subject to a number of positive COVID-19 tests, after a thorough consultation, the club, its healthcare professionals and rugby management are confident the fixture can be fulfilled safely in accordance with all COVID-19 guidelines.

"As directed by Premiership Rugby earlier today, the Sharks matchday-23 to face Worcester Warriors will be announced at 12:00pm on Saturday 3rd October."

Sale are only ahead of fifth-placed Bristol Bears, who travel to London Irish on Sunday, on points difference.

Bristol Bears boosted their chances of making the Premiership's play-offs with a 40-3 victory over Leicester Tigers on Wednesday.

The Bears ran in six tries at Ashton Gate to claim a bonus-point win that moved them level on points with fourth-placed Sale Sharks ahead of the final round of matches.

Four teams will make the play-offs and just two points separate Wasps in second and Bristol in fifth.

Leaders Exeter are the only team that have confirmed their play-off berth and a much-changed Chiefs team was beaten 22-19 by London Irish, who ended a run of nine successive losses with the win.

Elsewhere, Francois Hougaard crossed twice as Worcester Warriors beat already relegated Saracens 40-27 in an entertaining affair.

Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes were both injured as Sale Sharks boosted their hopes of qualifying for the Premiership play-offs with a comfortable 34-14 win at Northampton Saints. 

The fourth-placed Sharks scored six tries, including two in the first half from Luke James, to seal a routine win that puts them five points ahead of fifth-placed Bristol Bears. 

However, their performance was overshadowed by blows suffered by England internationals Tuilagi and Lawes. 

Northampton's Lawes suffered a knee injury in the eighth minute and four minutes later Tuilagi, playing in his sixth game for Sale since a move from Leicester Tigers, was forced off with an apparent Achilles problem. 

Tuilagi later returned to the stands on crutches, likely making him a doubt for the semi-finals should Sale qualify. 

Bristol face Leicester in their game in hand on Wednesday, then travel to London Irish at the weekend. Sale, meanwhile, finish the regular season by taking on Worcester Warriors on Sunday. 

Wasps produced a late fightback to beat Harlequins 32-23 after Elia Elia was sent off in Chris Robshaw's Stoop farewell on Monday.

Former England captain Robshaw's last home game for Quins before he moves to Major League Rugby side San Diego Legion looked set to end in a victory, but Wasps turned it around to boost their chances of securing a Premiership semi-final spot.

Alex Dombrandt scored a double to give Quins a 15-8 half-time lead after a Tom Willis try put Wasps in front with 12 minutes gone in London.

Marcus Smith crossed early in the second half, having booted five points in the first, but Quins were a man down when Elia saw red for a tip tackle on Dan Robson 54 minutes in.

Gabriel Oghre crossed soon after for Wasps, but Smith's penalty gave the home side an eight-point advantage midway through the second half.

Wasps capitalised on their numerical advantage to win it late on, though, Thomas Young and Jack Willis crossing and Jimmy Gopperth taking his tally with the boot to 12 points as Lee Blackett's side moved level with second-placed Bath with one game of the regular season to play against Exeter Chiefs.

Bath produced a stunning second-half comeback to beat Gloucester 31-20 in the Premiership.

Matt Banahan's try 17 minutes into the second half against his former club gave Gloucester a commanding 20-3 lead at The Recreation Ground.

But Bath, who had hoped to have 1,000 fans in attendance as part of a pilot scheme abandoned by the UK government on Tuesday, stormed back in unbelievable fashion, scoring 28 unanswered points.

Tom Dunn went over twice in the space of five minutes before Lewis Boyce gave Bath the lead and Ben Spencer crossed to secure a bonus point two minutes from time.

Bath move second with a game to play, in which they will face relegated Saracens. They are six points clear of fourth-placed Sale Sharks and fifth-placed Bristol Bears, though both have a game in hand, in the race for the top four.

Harlequins booked a top eight Premiership finish and a European Champions Cup spot with a 28-15 win over Gloucester.

In front of a 1,000-strong crowd at Kinghsolm - just the second game Premiership fans have been allowed to watch since the resumption of action last month - the hosts started sluggishly. 

Marcus Smith plundered three penalties in the opening 10 minutes before Cadan Murley raced away from Stephen Varney for Quins' first try.

Gloucester were punished for a number of squandered chances when Stephan Lewies intercepted a pass on the halfway line and powered forward for the visitors' second try. 

Gloucester improved after the break, reducing the deficit through Jake Polledri's try but Quins restored their advantage when Scott Steele pounced from close range. 

Matias Alemanno went over on his Gloucester debut but it was too little, too late for Gloucester, who need two more points from their remaining two games to guarantee eighth place.

 

 

Saracens thumped title favourites Exeter Chiefs 40-17 in the final Premiership match between the teams for at least a season.

With Saracens heading down to the Championship, punished for breaching salary-cap rules, they will hope to make a swift return and re-establish the rivalry with the Devonians.

A five-try performance from the home side secured the points on this occasion, yet both sides were significantly under-strength, with their focus firmly on next week's European Champions Cup quarter-finals.

Saracens, without suspended England captain Owen Farrell, turned up tries from Rotimi Segun, Dom Morris, Elliott Obatoyinbo, Jaco Venter and Cameron Boon.

Facundo Cordero, Will Witty and Dave Dennis replied for Exeter, whose six-match winning run since the league re-started came to an end.

Next Saturday sees holders Saracens go to Pro14 winners Leinster in the Champions Cup, followed a day later by Exeter's home test against Northampton Saints.

The race to join Exeter in the four-team play-offs intensified as the day ended with the sides in second to fifth position separated by just two points.

Sale Sharks fell from second to fourth place after losing 37-22 at home to Bath, for whom Rhys Priestland booted 17 points.

Bath's tries came from Ruaridh McConnochie, Jonathan Joseph and Ben Spencer, who crossed twice, as they nudged up to third in the table.

Wasps now sit second, after they picked apart Bristol 59-35, knocking the Bears down to fifth spot.

They had eight try-scorers in the bonus-point success, with Jack Willis, Josh Bassett, Tom Cruse, Will Rowlands, Zach Kibirige, Dan Robson, Tom Willis and Gabriel Oghre all going over, as well as a penalty try.

Lowly Leicester Tigers secured a 28-24 win over Northampton Saints, with Ben Youngs marking his 250th appearance for the club by bagging a fifth-minute try.

Worcester Warriors enjoyed a 40-25 win at Twickenham Stoop against fellow strugglers London Irish, with Francois Hougaard and Ollie Lawrence both scoring a pair of tries.

Alfie Barbeary scored a memorable hat-trick as Wasps destroyed Leicester Tigers to keep up their Premiership play-off bid.

Malakai Fekitoa and Tom West scored after Cameron Henderson had put Tigers ahead, giving Wasps a seven-point advantage at half-time at the Ricoh Arena.

The visitors, captained by Ellis Genge for the first time, came unstuck in the second half as they endured the biggest league defeat in their history.

Barbeary's treble came as Jacob Umaga, Sam Spink and Zach Kibirige also went over, while Leicester lost Ben Youngs and Guy Porter to the sin bin in an ill-disciplined display.

Wasps head coach Lee Blackett said of 19-year-old Barbeary, who was making his first Premiership start: "He's a big project and he's nowhere near the finished article.

"There are plenty of areas of his game he needs to keep working on. We're trying to manage him by picking him in the back row."

Wasps are fourth in the table, a point above Bath, who claimed a 40-15 win over Worcester Warriors thanks largely to 15 points from Josh Matavesi.

Leaders Exeter Chiefs made certain of their own play-off spot after downing Gloucester 35-22.

Joe Simmonds converted all five tries, including his brother Sam's, as the leaders made it seven wins in a row despite allowing Gloucester late scores through Matt Banahan and Josh Gray.

Sale Sharks moved into second with a 24-17 win over Saracens, who were without the banned Owen Farrell, while London Irish suffered an eighth straight defeat after surrendering a 15-10 half-time lead to lose 38-15 to Harlequins.

Bristol Bears romped to a 47-10 Premiership win at home to Northampton Saints thanks to four tries in the space of 10 second-half minutes on Tuesday.

The hosts climbed back up to second in the Premiership with a comfortable victory, their second in a row after consecutive defeats last month.

Bristol earned a 21-3 half-time lead after a rush of early scores through Harry Thacker, Alapati Leiua and Andy Uren at Ashton Gate.

Northampton responded with Josh Gillespie crossing just before the hour-mark, but another flurry saw the Bears in complete control.

Luke Morahan followed Chris Vui, Ben Earl and Piers O'Conor over the try line in a big home win.

England captain Owen Farrell was sent off as Saracens were downed 28-18 by high-flying Wasps, while a limited crowd saw Harlequins well beaten by Bath at The Stoop.

Sarries named a stronger side on paper than Saturday's opponents at Allianz Park and the game was poised at 15-15 after tries from ex-Wasps star Elliot Daly and Sean Maitland, plus five points from Farrell's boot, were answered by five penalties from the classy Jimmy Gopperth.

But Farrell saw red after catching Charlie Atkinson in the face with his left shoulder just after the hour and Tom Willis powered over with 10 minutes to go, while Gopperth finished with 23 points on his 100th Wasps appearance.

Around 2,700 fans were in attendance for Quins' home clash with Bath as part of a test event as the United Kingdom aims to get spectators back at sporting events amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But having fans back did little to inspire Quins as Bath earned a 41-27 bonus-point win that moved them fifth, with Ruaridh McConnochie scoring in each half and Rhys Priestland kicking 21 points.

Sale Sharks regained second spot in the table as Manu Tuilagi scored against his former club Leicester Tigers in a 40-31 triumph at Welford Road.

There were seven tries in total in a high-scoring game, in which AJ MacGinty, Jono Ross and Denny Solomona also registered for Sale.

Rounding out the action, Gloucester picked up a bonus point with a 36-23 victory over London Irish.

Premiership leaders Exeter Chiefs extended their winning run to six matches on Friday, while Bristol Bears climbed to second.

Exeter are comfortably clear at the top of the table and have won every game they have played since the season restarted last month.

They were made to work for this latest triumph, though, edging past Northampton Saints 22-19.

The Chiefs made a fast start with tries from Sean Lonsdale and Jannes Kirsten in the first 12 minutes but trailed heading into the closing stages.

David Ribbans' double either side of a Henry Taylor score had Northampton in front, only for Tom O'Flaherty to force his way over and clinch the points.

Bristol were rather more comfortable in their 36-13 win over Worcester Warriors, their first at Sixways for more than 14 years.

A four-try second-half display eased the Bears to a big victory, which saw Worcester finish with 14 men after Andrew Kitchener was sent off for a punch in a last-minute melee.

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