Premiership semi-finals live up to expectation to set up the Saracens vs Exeter final we all knew would happen

Sam Peters

We got there in the end. Despite all the pre-match bluster, faux intrigue and prevarication about whether Gloucester or Northampton Saints could topple Saracens or Exeter Chiefs respectively, Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership semi-finals delivered precisely the outcome most of us knew they would from day one of this season.

Nine months and 134 matches since the start of the Premiership season, we find ourselves where we fully expected to be come 1 June at Twickenham; with an Exeter vs Saracens final.

The two best teams in the country by a very long way did their respective jobs on Saturday, both chalking up more than 40 points each against opponents who had no answer to their relentless muscularity, organisation and class.

Next season - with the season extended to 10 months by Premier Rugby despite the pleas of players, media and fans - we’ll have to wait an extra three weeks to more than likely reach the same point.

We knew it was coming on Saturday. Some tried to pretend there were serious contests to be had. But those of us who knew, knew.

First Saracens picked Gloucester apart in typical fashion as Ben Morgan’s early try gave the visitors a brief glimmer of hope before Maro Itoje, Liam Williams, Alex Goode and friends brought them crashing back down to reality.

The game had been billed as a showdown between fly halves Owen Farrell and Danny Cipriani but with Gloucester’s pack dominated so completely, Johann Ackermann’s men could have had Superman wearing No 10 and still lost.

Cipriani, so brilliant this season, didn’t stand against the Saracens juggernaut.

By the end, Saracens’ victory was so crushing, former England and Wasps captain Lawrence Dallaglio could hardly watch.

“They’re like a wounded animal seeping blood,” the BT Sport commentator said of Gloucester.

“They just need to be put out of their misery now. It’s just been absolutely relentless.”

Premier Rugby’s press releases promised us “thrilling” semi-finals but in reality we got organisation, professionalism and power as defending champions Saracens crushed Cipriani’s Gloucester 44-19 – scoring 44 unanswered points in the process following Morgan’s opening salvo – before Exeter followed suit with an equally comprehensive 42-12 win over Northampton.

Saracens have been told by boss Mark McCall they must improve to win the Premiership final (Getty)

This column predicted 10 to 15-point home wins on Friday but in the end the league’s top two teams won by 25- and 30-point margins.

This has been an astonishing season in so many ways for England’s top professional league. Never before has so much intrigue been focused on who would go down, with Leicester’s opening day humbling at the hands of Exeter setting off a chain of events which so nearly saw the once mightiest of clubs sent packing to the Championship.

In the end that misery befell on Newcastle Falcons but not before we’d all had to pinch ourselves at the extraordinary permutations at the foot of the table as the season progressed.

But at the top of the table, it has been two-way traffic all season. Last season’s finalists would be this season’s finalists despite what those paid to spin drama, excitement and thrills would have had us believe.

This summer will see the Premiership’s multi-million-pound new investors CVC Capital Partners flex their collective muscle and attempt to leverage the huge sums of money they have invested in the league in a bid to secure a return further down the line.

The Premiership clubs will argue the only way to adequately market, protect past investments and secure future ones is to ringfence the league. They may well be right. Clubs would be more settled in every sense, fewer coaches would be sacked and players would have more certainty. Twelve months ago I was starting to warm to the idea and wrote a column saying so.

But this season has surely swayed the argument against ring fencing once and for all.

Matt Kevic celebrates (Getty)

Imagine if there had been no relegation this season and extend it by another month. The procession to the end of the season would have been unfathomably dull. The thrill of what might be lost would have been, well, lost.

Commercial certainty and long-term financial planning are all well and good but if this season has taught us anything it is that the Premiership must retain at least the threat of relegation each season. At the moment the top two teams in the country are so far in front of the rest there is almost no interest to be had the top of the table until the very final of game of the season.

That game happens next Saturday and close to a full house at Twickenham should be treated to a cracker. Saracens will win by six in my book but if anyone can prevent Mark McCall’s once-in-a-generation team delivering a European and domestic double it is Rob Baxter’s Exeter.

The stage is set for what should genuinely be a thrilling encounter. But let’s not pretend the top of the Premiership table has been anything but predictable this season.

Ringfence the Premiership?