BRISTOL HAVE parted company with Liam Middleton, following their defeat by Moseley at Billesley Common.
The former Westcountry giants’ second consecutive league loss means that making the play-offs is far from guaranteed, as Leeds are breathing down their necks, a point behind with a game in hand.
Both clubs have tricky encounters against sides above them and Middleton’s departure, following an initial review by director of rugby Andy Robinson, leaves the former British & Irish Lion alone at the helm.
Robinson, who has yet to show the Midas touch which catapulted Edinburgh to runners-up behind Munster in the Magners League, will be targeting wins against Plymouth and London Scottish before the long trip to Newcastle on the final day of the regular season.
On Friday 15th, Moseley came back from a 14-point deficit to win 23-14 and deny Bristol even a bonus point.
Despite leading 14-7 at the break, courtesy of tries from Ryan Edwards and Ross Johnston, the visitors were reduced to 13 men in the second half and Moseley took full advantage.
First, Ollie Thomas banged over three penalties before Buster Lawrence powered over a minute from time to seal the win, and give Moseley coach, former Irish International Kevin Maggs, another reason to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
The Robinson era almost got off to the worst possible start with their visit to Jersey on Saturday.
Had referee Mr Ross Campbell allowed James Gethings’ last minute try at St Peter, Bristol’s hopes of making the top four would have all but evaporated.
As it was, Gethings’ teammates were convinced that the Irish prop had grounded the ball and Jersey’s director of rugby, Ben Harvey made it clear that he felt his side had been denied victory by a poor refereeing decision.
Jersey made most of the early running with tries from Nicky Griffiths and Guy Thompson before Bristol hit back with third quarter tries from Fatua Otto and Adrian Jarvis, whose 24 point tally also included both conversions and five penalties.
However, Jersey extended the gap between themselves and bottom placed Doncaster to seven points with a losing bonus point to add to the one they earned from their previous outing on March 16th, at home to second-placed Nottingham.
And it could have been more had the islanders taken advantage of Nottingham’s lack of discipline, which resulted in having two men in the bin before half time.
Jersey, who led 7-3 at the break thanks to a penalty try, have made life hard for visitors to St Peter throughout the season, and have rarely been out-played.
However, Martin Haas men staged a recovery with a brace second half tries from Brent Wilson, converted by James Alridge, who also slotted two penalties to see Nottingham home 13-20.
Jersey’s ability to play fast attacking rugby and to accumulate bonus points should now be enough to guarantee them another season of Championship rugby.
And contrary to what is written in The Rugby Paper, there is no relegation play-off group this season.
Newcastle may be strengthening their squad for an anticipated return to the top flight but they are stuttering towards the play-offs, and were perilously close to losing their unbeaten record to Nottingham at Meadow lane on Friday.
Having tempted the promising 24 year-old Andy Saull to make the long trip north from Saracens last week, it took a last minute kick from Joel Hodgson to secure the points and spare their blushes.
The Green and Whites led 12-5 at the turnaround, thanks to tries from Alex Lewington and Brent Wilson, but Falcons’ head coach Dean Richards felt the result was never in doubt.
Following their 12-14 win, Richards told the Newcastle website: “We probably tried to play too much rugby in the wrong areas of the field, and we have got to learn from that as we might have the same sort of weather come May.”
The Falcons hit back with a Tom Catterick try and two Jimmy Gopperth penalties before Hodgson struck the winner.
Plymouth ended a nine-game losing run with a fine defensive effort at a snowy Athletic Ground, denying London Scottish a try.
Albion, who managed one try from Aaron Carpenter, converted by Declan Cusack who added three penalties, were 16-6 up and the break. James Love could only add one more penalty to his brace in the opening period to leave the Exiles 9-16 behind at the final whistle.
Elsewhere, Leeds’ trip to Moseley was called off by the wintry conditions, as was Doncaster’s journey to Bedford, and the Cornish Pirates will have to re-schedule their trek to Doncaster.
All this action, and inaction, leaves the Championship table looking like this …