This week’s Championship round-up takes a look at the British & Irish Cup as all but two of the division’s sides had a welcome day off, writes Richard Grainger.
The two remaining sides in the competition met west of the Tamar on Sunday as Nottingham made their second visit to Cornwall within two weeks. With Premiership aspirations very much at the forefront of both clubs’ minds, regular players made way for youngsters eager to show what they could do.
Nottingham started the stronger at the Mennaye Field and dominated both possession and territory in the first 15 minutes. However, the Pirates kicked to the corner following a penalty and although the initial drive was repelled, number 8 Ben Maidment scored from the ensuing five metre scrum and Rob Cook converted.
Minutes later Cook made a line break and ran the length of the field before being hauled down by Nottingham fly half James Stokes. Quick ball from the ruck allowed new boy Andy Short to score his debut try which Cook converted. Cook pushed a shot at goal wide after 30 minutes before Kieran Hallett got the Green and Whites on the scoreboard with a penalty towards the end of the first half. The second half was one-way traffic with further tries from Dave Ward, Tom Cooper and Cook.
Nottingham were unable to add to the score and the Pirates’ convincing 33-3 win put them into the semi-finals. For match highlights, click here: http://cornish-pirates.com/pirates_tv/eye_player.htm
On Saturday, Ulster Ravens lost at home to Munster 9-20 and Cross Keys defeated Llanelli 32-8 at Pandy Park. Fly-half Steffan Jones was outstanding for the home side.
On Sunday, Leinster eased into the semis by virtue of brushing aside Pontypridd 32-0.
The Pirates now carry the flag for the Championship and await the draw to be made next Monday.
Off the field, the Championship’s clubs will discover this week if they will receive additional funding for next season and beyond. Despite being in its third season, the second tier of English rugby does not currently have a sponsor and the RFU insist that the search for a benefactor is a key priority.
The 12 clubs presently receive £326,000 each per season – money that comes from the RFU, Premiership Rugby and Sky TV.
All 12 clubs have met the criteria set by the RFU for fielding England-qualified players and many feel that the funding, which has barely increased since the inception of the current Championship should be closer to the £1m mark.
Sophie Goldschmidt, the RFU’s chief commercial officer, was quoted in the Rugby Paper: “We’ve introduced some innovations with Sky to make sure the Championship stands out amid all the other rugby on television.
“Our partners are looking at different opportunities, so we’re working with a couple of agencies and having some very positive discussions.”
With corporate funding so illusive in difficult economic conditions, this will prove a challenge for the RFU but at least it would appear that the needs of the Championship are, at last, on the radar.
This weekend sees a return to Championship league action and round 19 throws up some mouth-watering clashes. On Saturday the Pirates entertain London Welsh at the Mennaye Field. At the Old Deer Park at the end of October, their first meeting produced a scintillating 17-17 draw.
Pick of the weekend’s fixtures is at Headingley on Sunday where Leeds Carnegie play hosts to second placed Bedford Blues. That will be the featured match next week.