By Richard Grainger
IT’S QUIET, drinking in the last chance saloon. The barman has gone home and told London Welsh to lock up on their way out.
Because, unless someone from the Championship can defeat unbeaten Newcastle; and someone who would also fail the Premiership criteria, the saloon door will swing closed and the Kassam lights will go out for rugby.
And that club could very well be Bedford, who have had a solid, if unspectacular season, never dipping out of the top four. Until this week.
But the Blues have two games left to put this right: Doncaster at Goldington Road on Wednesday followed by Moseley at Billesley Common on Saturday, the final day of stage one. And you would almost bet your house that they will win at least one of those.
And whether Leeds, currently in third slot, defeat Nottingham, a place above them may be immaterial for Bristol unless Andy Robinson’s men become the first side to beat Newcastle this season.
You couldn’t have written a better script; it’s a mouthwatering final week of Championship rugby. A bonus point for Bristol at Kingston Park will not be enough; only a win will leave Bristol in the top four. And unless the Blues slip on Wednesday night, this would be academic.
On Saturday, Bristol helped their play-off cause with a bonus point win against London Scottish at the Richmond Athletic Ground.
Tries from Mariano Sambucetti, James Merriman (2) and Jon Goodridge (2) steered the visitors to a much needed bonus point.
“To get five tries was pleasing,” head coach Andy Robinson told the Bristol website, “particularly the manner in which we scored. We moved them around and, tactically, I thought we played the game well.
Last Wednesday Rotherham proved too strong for a Cornish Pirates outfit fielding virtually a development squad.
After the disappointment of the one point defeat to Munster ‘A’ on their previous outing, a much changed Pirates side were competitive but ultimately outplayed by a strong Rotherham outfit who scored seven of the eleven tries at Clifton Lane to win 41-28.
And four days later the Pirates headed north again to take on Nottingham at Meadow Lane. The Cornishmen pushed the hosts all the way but recorded their second fruitless trip, going down 28-26 to play-off bound Nottingham.
On Saturday Leeds once again enjoyed a trip to Goldington road, rocking the formbook with their 24-33 defeat of Bedford.
Joe Ford was first on the score sheet with a neat chip and chase and then Josh Griffin and David Doherty crossed for Carnegie in the first half. Ford contributed four penalties, finishing the game with a flawless kicking performance.
However, Bedford managed to pick up a bonus-point with scores from Brendan Burke (2) and one apiece for Tom Armes and Neil Cochrane, but poor discipline allowed Ford to punish them.
Doncaster lost 13-10 in Jersey on Saturday, which means that unless they can net 10 points from their last two fixtures, they can look forward to life in National League One next season.
“The fire isn’t out and we will keep believing and keep fighting,” Doncaster director of rugby, Clive Griffiths, told the Doncaster website. “We are disappointed and frustrated, and think this was a game we could have won and deserved to win.
Jersey’s head coach Ben Harvey was delighted that his team has virtually guaranteed themselves a second season of Championship rugby.
“At one stage,” Harvey told the Jersey website, “there were so many mistakes it seemed no-one wanted to win the game. But we hung on and showed great character, and it will be a fantastic achievement to stay up if we can nail it down.”
Jersey made the early running with a try after 5 minutes from Fred Silcock. Guy Thompson scored a second for the islanders, and Mike Le Bourgeois completed the hosts’ scoring with a 31st minute penalty.
Two Jamie Lennard penalties and a catch and drive, finished off by hooker Ben Sowery raised the home spectators’ heart rates but Jersey defended resolutely to deny the visitors anything further.
Newcastle left Bricklands on Saturday with their 21st consecutive league victory, but they were made to work hard with Plymouth still in the hunt at 10-17 going into the last ten.
It took a penalty from Falcons’ fly-half Waisea Luveniyali and a late try from prolific newcomer Adam Powell to finally put some daylight between the teams and send Newcastle home with a slightly flattering 10-25 victory in the bag.
Finally, on Saturday, Rotherham Titans worked hard for a 26-22 victory over a dogged Moseley side at Clifton lane, moving the Yorkshire outfit into seventh place in the table.
To make things difficult for the Titans, flanker Latu Makaafi was red-carded for foul play, leaving them with 14 men for the last 29 minutes.
James McKinney contributed 16 points with the boot for Rotherham, and Eamonn Sheridan touched down for the home side to add to a penalty try.
So this brings us to the last week of the regular season. Without a doubt, the one to watch on Saturday will be Bristol’s trip to Newcastle.
All this leaves things looking like this…
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