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Leicester versus Wasps on Saturday should be one of those matches fixture planners and television executives dream of.

The 22nd and last weekend of the Zurich Premiership. Second versus first. The two teams who have dominated the professional era, winning the last six championships and three of the last four Heineken European Cups between them. Level on 73 points, 16 clear of their nearest pursuers. One could not script it better.

Yet because of the play-off system, no match matters less. Both have already qualified for the finale between the top-three teams. Both are already guaranteed a place in next season's Heineken. The only issue at stake at Welford Road will be which team goes directly to Twickenham for the play-off final, while the other entertains whichever of Bath, Sale and Saracens emerges for third place.

Left to themselves, the Premiership clubs would also destroy meaningful competition at the other end of the league, by ending relegation. Happily they have so far failed, and this season's battle against the drop offers so many possibilities that the neutering of the top-two clash will scarcely be noticed.

Five teams are embroiled, covered by only two points. They and fans are condemned to an afternoon of hideous tension, desperately trying to focus on their own matches while also needing to know the news from elsewhere. Somebody else's last-minute penalty, snatching a bonus point from defeat, may easily be the means by which your team is dispatched to play at Penzance and Otley next season.

Harlequins are favourites to fall in two senses. The only Premiership club who play in London start bottom on 37 points and with fewer wins - the first tie-breaker for teams level on points - than anybody else, while reactions to their demise would enlighten anyone anxious to know how Schadenfreude looks and sounds.

The role of Charles Jillings, Quins chairman, as spokesman for the Premiership's self-serving whingeing about the existence of promotion and relegation, has done nothing for the popularity of a club already widely regarded as silver-spooned under-achievers. For all Quins' heritage and history, National One champions Bristol are an upgrade in both categories - anyone who remembers the Londoners being the best team in England is too old to vote in papal elections.

At least Quins are at home but visitors Sale need the points themselves as they pursue a play-off place. Tension will be greatest at Worcester (38 points) who entertain Northampton (39) in a match whose loser must rely on failure elsewhere in order to survive. London Irish (39) will hope their experience of the last final-day scramble two seasons ago, plus the recent poor form of opponents Newcastle and a fine record at Kingston Park will help them remain in the Premiership.

No team has more to lose than Leeds (39). They risk losing not only Premiership status but the Heineken Cup place they won along with the Powergen Cup a fortnight ago. An ironic twist of the fixture list sends them to Bath, their Powergen final victims, whose collective mind will be less on revenge than the play-off place - and accompanying guarantee of Heineken action next season - that they occupy.

Uncertainty. Tension. Teams rising, falling and winning trophies on their playing merits over full seasons. All these, as this afternoon's sell-out crowds will show, are the stuff of which proper sport is made, rather than audits of promotion hopefuls' facilities and spurious play-offs. Too bad that the people who run the Premiership do not seem to appreciate it.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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