With nine outings remaining in the first round of the Championship, the 14-point gap between  eight promotion hopefuls and the four teams fighting to avoid relegation, is beginning to look significant, writes Richard Grainger.

For Esher, desperate to avoid bottom spot, their drab weekend began on Friday night at Molesey Road. Coach Mike Schmid felt that referee Llyr ApGeraint Roberts’s inconsistency with his cards cost his side dearly in a home game he saw as winnable. However, Nottingham had secured the bonus point and never looked like relinquishing a 28-0 lead before plucky Esher began to claw their way back into the game. A spirited comeback still left the home side on the wrong end of a 22-34 defeat, but 11th placed Moseley’s home against Doncaster cut them further adrift at the foot of the table. However, the last 30 minutes will encourage Esher – who beat Oxford University 32-20 in their final warm up game before the Varsity Match – when they take on Moseley at home next weekend.

At Billesley Common on Saturday it took a try from skipper Andy Reay in the 76th minute, converted by Brad Davies, to give Moseley victory by 17-15. The Knights had led by 15-10 for most of the second half until Reay finished off a half-break by replacement Ryan de la Harpe to add to Michael Ellery’s classy score from 50 metres in the 10th minute.

It was the second consecutive defeat for new coach Peter Drewett as Plymouth went down to Rotherham at Clifton Lane On Saturday. Rotherham extended their run of home wins to six games and recorded their eighth league win but failed to maintain the pace they set in the opening 20 minutes in which they raced to a 14 point lead. Titans coach Andre Bester felt that they should have secured the bonus point by half time but slowed their pace to that of the visitors.

With Bristol at home next week and the short trip across the Tamar to face the Pirates on Christmas Eve, it might be Christmas Day in the work house for Albion and Drewett, as they struggle to move any closer to the leading eight.

The game of the weekend took place at the Old deer Park where second-placed London Welsh kept Bedford Blues in third slot with a 25-24 win in what Exiles coach Lyn Jones described as a great game by two good sides. However, Welsh allowed Bedford to recover from a 19-7 lead established through tries from Guillermo Roan, Hudson Tonga’uiha, and Joe Ajuna. Alex Davies added two conversions and a penalty. However the Blues examination of the Exiles’ weakness at the scrum resulted in a 33rd minute penalty try to add to James Pritchard’s 18th minute score which he converted. Two second half penalties from the reliable Davies in reply to Josh Bassett converted try was enough to see them home and sent them to the top of the class for a day.

On Sunday Bristol re-claimed top spot by exacting revenge over Leeds, ending their seven match winning run, with a 33-19 reversal at the Memorial Stadium in a game they controlled from the start. Too see the tries, click here: http://www.bristolrugby.co.uk/news/7407/video-bristol-rugby-vs-leeds-carnegie/

Finally, at the Mennaye on Sunday, the Cornish Pirates emphasised the emerging gulf between the top eight and the bottom four, with a comprehensive six try bonus point win over visitors London Scottish. Jamie Sole, son of Scottish legend David (not the singer) made his debut for the Exiles. For match highlights, click here: http://cornish-pirates.com/pirates_tv/eye_player.htm

So, after round 13, click here to see how the Championship table looks: http://clubs.rfu.com/Fixtures/MatchByDivision.aspx?DivID=130433319