A comfortable 65-26 win from Northampton over Newcastle was the final piece of the puzzle needed to lock in Chris Boyd’s side to the Premiership play-offs for the first time since the 2018/19 campaign.
The Saints all but sealed the bonus-point victory in the first half with four tries, two of which came from hooker Sam Matavesi within 22 minutes of kick-off, before the victorious hosts added a further six five-pointers in the second half.
Despite Northampton winning convincingly, an attempted comeback was on the cards at one point for the visiting side after they scored three tries in the space of 10 minutes, with the first being a penalty try leading to the sin-binning of scrum-half Alex Mitchell.
However, the Falcons were ultimately unable to bring home the bacon after diminishing the Saints’ lead to 10 points at the 57-minute mark, as lock Sean Robinson was sent off with 21 minutes left to play leaving the side with 14 men for a quarter of the game.
Dan Biggar kicked an early penalty for Northampton, who then scored their first try in the ninth minute when a loose pass by Matias Orlando fell for Matavesi, who kicked ahead before winning the race to score.
A slick move involving Biggar and Fraser Dingwall then led to Alex Coles being put in the clear before Matavesi broke off a driving maul to score his second, with Biggar’s conversion taking the score to 22-0 after just 24 minutes.
Newcastle then finally fired a shot themselves when their captain, Callum Chick, burst onto Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti’s pass to charge into space before stepping George Furbank for a fine individual score.
Northampton soon had their bonus point in the bag, however, when Api Ratuniyarawa went on a charge down the left before passing inside to Coles, who quickly moved the ball on to give Mitchell an easy finish.
After Newcastle lock Greg Peterson was sin-binned for an uppercut to Saints skipper Lewis Ludlam, Freeman took the score to 36-7 at half-time by rounding off a slick move on the left wing.
The Falcons had the first score of the second half when they were awarded a penalty try for Mitchell tackling George McGuigan into touch from an offside position at a driving maul.
It also cost Mitchell a yellow card and Newcastle threatened an improbable comeback while the hosts were down to 14 men as Jamie Blamire went over off a driving maul before Joel Hodgson’s long pass allowed Adam Radwan to score in the corner.
This reduced the gap to 36-26, but Rory Hutchinson soon settled Northampton by going over in the corner, with Robinson seeing red for a head-on-head collision with Biggar in the build-up.
Freeman then took centre stage, first racing in from halfway after being put into space by Furbank before almost effortlessly gathering his own kick ahead down the right to complete his hat-trick with 12 minutes left.
There was still time for Northampton to score two more tries, as Courtnall Skosan chased down Juarno Augustus’ hack clear before Ludlam, who was making his 100th appearance for the hosts, ran in off the final play.
Gloucester missed out on the Premiership play-offs but they still ended their season with a thumping 54-7 victory over Saracens at Kingsholm.
Saracens, who will host Harlequins in the play-offs next weekend, rested England internationals like Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Billy Vunipola and Elliot Daly, and they fell to their second-heaviest defeat in Premiership history.
Gloucester were outstanding throughout, setting up a comprehensive success through first-half tries from hooker Jack Singleton, flanker Jordy Reid and full-back Santiago Carreras.
Northampton’s emphatic win against Newcastle gave them the final play-off spot, with Gloucester finishing fifth after a season when they have made considerable strides under head coach George Skivington.
Leicester booked a Premiership semi-final against East Midlands rivals Northampton with a stumbling 20-10 win over Wasps.
Steve Borthwick’s side end the regular season where they have remained throughout 26 rounds of action, on top of the standings, as tries from Guy Porter and Freddie Steward completed a clean sweep of home league victories at Welford Road for the first time in 20 years.
Defeat for Wasps, whose only try came from a late Will Porter breakaway, ended their slim hopes of gaining qualification for the Champions Cup as London Irish finished above them in eighth position.
Sale marked the departures of South Africa trio Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager in perfect fashion as they recorded a 42-19 Premiership victory over Bristol at the AJ Bell Stadium.
De Klerk has become a Sale favourite, turning out consistently-excellent performances over the past five years, while De Jager has been a man mountain whenever he has been on the pitch.
Injuries have hampered the Springbok lock’s Sharks career but he – and De Klerk – were at their best as they hammered a forlorn Bristol team.
A record crowd of 14,876 at Sandy Park saw Exeter finish their season in style by beating Harlequins 47-38 in a 13-try thriller.
Despite being guaranteed a finishing spot of third, Quins still fielded a full-strength line-up ahead of next week’s semi-final at Saracens, but on this occasion they just lost out to determined Chiefs.
However, even with the bonus point, Exeter still finished seventh in the Premiership table, the first time they have missed out on a play-off spot since 2015.
Finally, Bath were condemned to a bottom-of-the-table finish as they suffered a 43-27 defeat to Worcester at Sixways in the final round of the Premiership regular season.
Jamie Shillcock led the way with a hat-trick for the hosts, who also saw Kyle Hatherell, Gareth Simpson and Joe Batley cross.
A Will Muir double and Will Stuart’s score put Bath in control in the first half but the Warriors fought back to leapfrog their visitors in the basement battle.