With an aggregate century of points from the first leg of the GKIPA play-offs, a mere ten separate the four sides vying for admission to the Aviva Premiership. With Rotherham pouring it on to finish just one Juan Pablo Socino penalty behind Bristol, and Leeds taking a seven-point lead to the Kassam next Sunday, an all Yorkshire final is still a possibility.
By Richard Grainger
Bristol butterflies leaves tie in balance
Bristol 17, Rotherham 14
Bristol have twice gone into the Championship play-offs only to fluff their lines and on Saturday’s evidence at the Memorial Stadium a third catastrophe could be on the cards.
A last gasp Jamie Broadley try reduced an eight point lead to just three and leaves Bristol with an awkward return leg in Sheffield on Saturday.
“Credit to Rotherham, they’re a well-coached side and the elements helped them on Saturday,” said head coach Sean Holley. “We were forced into a lot of errors. We had all the territory but we weren’t accurate enough.”
Rotherham have had an outstanding season. But if their motivation on Saturday was no more than to put an end to jibes that they have yet to beat a side above them, it served them well.
The visitors looked by far the better-drilled side, pre-programmed to nullify Bristol’s high-tempo game plan: the first quarter blitz with which they usually put the game beyond lesser opposition. Better still, three Socini penalties gave Rotherham a deserved 0-9 interval lead, making good use of a strong wind at their backs.
While neither side, on this evidence resembled a premiership outfit, Bristol looked utterly hapless. Phases of continuity were rarer than an Andy Robinson smile, and body angles near the try line would have left an under-12 coach’s head shaking. If Bristol’s skill sets were poor under pressure, Nicky Robinson’s goal kicking was even worse, missing three out of four attempts at goal.
But the turning point came after the break when Titans’ lock Josh Thomas-Brown saw yellow for fisty-cuffs with Bristol centre Jack Tovey, who could consider himself lucky not to accompany Thomas-Brown to the bin. But the former Scottish Schools lock’s intolerance of Tovey’s shirt pulling cost the Titans dearly with Gaston Cortes and Luke Eves crossing for the hosts in his absence.
When Ed Williamson became the second Titans’ player to trudge to the bin, Mitch Eadie barged over to make it 17-9 to Bristol.
But Rotherham had the last word when Broadley collected a neat dab to touch down and silence the Memorial faithful.
Bristol travel to Sheffield RUFC’s Abbeydale Park ground on Saturday, kick off 18.05, with a three-point lead and a kicker with one of the worst records in the division head-to-head with the division’s top points scorer.
Unless Bristol can produce something special, it will be third time unlucky.
Lancaster looks on as Leeds seize initiative
Leeds 38, London Welsh 31
Watched by former Leeds Academy and current England head coach Stuart Lancaster, Leeds dominated a high-octane encounter at Headingley on Sunday for all but the final quarter, but could never quite put the Exiles away.
Twice they led by 13 points, only for head coach Justin Burnell’s men to scrabble their way back into contention. For this they had Gordon Ross, the 36 year-old former Scottish international, to thank. Ross’s game management, accuracy of pass and deft breaks belied his years.
But Leeds may well regret squandering three gilt-edged second half chances that could have surely put the tie to bed. The Exiles’ scramble defence was up to the job, but a better final pass on each occasion would have given Carnegie a more significant lead.
“I think we learnt a lot last season about what it takes to win these games over two legs,” commented Carnegie’s outstanding No 8 Ryan Burrows, “and we need to put that into practice this week.”
Carnegie were angered when Mike Myerscough was carded for knocking down a final pass from Welsh on the Leeds line. The Exiles were awarded a penalty try and Ross converted to cut the gap to 16-10. Earlier, Stevie McColl had been dragged down and illegally prevented from getting the ball away, with no further action taken by referee Andrew Small.
Sevens specialist and Lancaster protégé Rob Vickerman scored Carnegie’s first try after Glyn Hughes had struck two penalties in reply to one from Ross to give the hosts a 13-3 lead.
Fred Burden scored Carnegie’s second and Hughes was metronomic with the boot, converting both tries and all seven attempts at goal.
Although Welsh outscored Leeds by two tries to one, with a brace from replacement Alan Awcock to add to the penalty try, Alex Lozowski’s last minute penalty gave Carnegie a significant buffer to take to the Kassam Stadium on Sunday, kick off 12.45.
If Leeds – who beat Bristol 25-30 at the Memorial in the B&I Cup semi-final – win on Sunday, they will have a trip to Donnybrook to face Leinster A in the Cup final on Friday 23rd May before the first leg of the GKIPA Championship final the following Wednesday.
One would imagine that a return to Premiership rugby would be their priority.