The hard work starts now for Exeter Chiefs, as they kick off their promotion play-off campaign on Sunday with a tough trip to Nottingham.
It's the first time the format's been used to decide the promotion race to the Premiership, with all the teams involved back to zero points in their respective pools, and now doing battle against each other for a place in the semis, and ultimately the final (played over two legs at home & away).
The Chiefs start as favourites alongside Bristol to win promotion, with the pair finishing the regular league campaign well clear of their nearest rivals - although the new play-off format by it's very nature makes the competition for promotion more like cup rugby, and could mean some shock results in the process, and as Exeter have seen on a couple of occasions this year already - teams are well capable of raising their game on the day above the level their league standing would suggest, and cause an upset.
Exeter though have seemed to be coming back to form at the right time though over recent weeks, notably with a good cup win over Plymouth and last weekend's 10 try demolition of Birmingham & Solihull. A few players have also been coming back to fitness from injury too.
Nottingham will notoriously provide a stiff test for Exeter's opening play-off fixture. The two teams have had some very close games over recent years - most notably a cup semi-final at a rain-soaked Sandy Park. The Chiefs have tended to enjoy the better of things lately, and Nottingham have had their own notable off-field problems, but will - like every other team involved - be massively fired up for a crack at promotion.
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