Northampton Saints will take their place in the Premiership play-offs, despite succumbing to Exeter Chiefs 40-21 at Sandy Park on Saturday.
With Harlequins losing to Wasps, the result in Devon was effectively irrelevant, and the teams will now do battle once again when they go head-to-head next weekend.
Against a fully loaded Exeter, who fielded a full-strength side in preparation for the last-four contest, they were remarkably resilient and went into the break level.
Piers Francis, Rory Hutchinson and Cobus Reinach all touched down for the Saints while Henry Slade, Ben Moon and Don Armand responded for the home team.
The match was therefore finely poised going into the second period but Rob Baxter’s men showed their quality to move away and seal top-spot through Matt Kvesic, Dave Dennis and Luke Cowan-Dickie.
It was still a valiant effort on the day from Chris Boyd’s charges, who have become renowned for their ability to move the ball wide and score tries.
They duly displayed that in the early exchanges as a wonderful move saw them break down the right and Francis was on hand to touch down.
That advantage did not last long, however, when Slade crossed the whitewash, but the visitors were a consistent threat with ball in hand and Hutchinson finished another fine attack.
The Chiefs have struggled over recent weeks to find their fluency and they were on the back foot at Sandy Park, but they went back to their trusty driving game.
Twice in quick succession, their close range excellence reaped its rewards as Moon and Armand barged their way over the line for a 21-14 lead.
Northampton also had two players sin-binned when Courtney Lawes and Alex Waller were sent from the field, but they hit back as Reinach brilliantly intercepted and sprinted 95 metres to score.
Boyd’s outfit had the momentum going into the second half but the Devonians wrestled back control and deservedly sealed the victory after the break.
Firstly, Kvesic touched down after a maul saw them charge towards the line before Dennis took a nice line to effectively complete the win.
Hutchinson then had a try ruled out and the victory was rubber-stamped by Cowan-Dickie, but it did not matter as Harlequins’ defeat sealed Northampton’s place in the top-four.
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The Londoners came tantalisingly close to reaching the play-offs, only for James Lang’s penalty to pull up just short.
Wasps were in control for much of the second period with two Joe Simpson tries – on his final appearance for the club – taking them 24-8 ahead, but efforts from Danny Care and Elia Elia set up an exciting finale.
Lang then had the opportunity to win the game for Quins in the final minute but his three-point attempt was agonisingly awry.
Dai Young’s men had plenty to play for, with them looking for Champions Cup qualification, but results elsewhere meant they finished outside the top-six.
That final place was taken by Bath, who for much of the day were losing to Leicester Tigers, but staged a superb second half comeback to claim their position in next season’s top-tier European competition after overcoming the hosts 32-31.
Geordan Murphy’s men were initially dominant, scoring tries via Will Spencer, Brendon O’Connor and Clayton Blommetjies, but the West Countrymen hit back through Anthony Watson, Joe Cokanasiga, Beno Obano and Jacques van Rooyen.
Following Van Rooyen’s late effort, Rhys Priestland stepped up to calmly give Todd Blackadder’s side a crucial triumph.
That meant Sale Sharks remained in seventh, despite beating Gloucester 46-41 in a thrilling game. A second-string Cherry and Whites gave them a mighty scare and were 10 points up at one stage, but tries from AJ MacGinty and Denny Solomona helped the Manchester outfit to a win.
Although Steve Diamond’s men finished outside automatic qualification, they should make it into the main continental tournament for next year with a freak set of results having to go against them in the Top 14 for that not to happen.
In the other games, European champions Saracens went down to a 31-29 loss to Worcester thanks to Duncan Weir’s late penalty, while Bristol emerged 19-12 victorious at relegated Newcastle Falcons.