By Richard Grainger
Bristol clip the Falcons’ wings
IN A cruel twist of fate, Bristol became the only side to defeat Newcastle this season in any form of competition, only to learn that Leeds had secured the fourth play-off place by beating Nottingham.
The Falcons, who had not lost since Saracens beat them in the penultimate game of last season, were worthy winners on Saturday courtesy of 14 points from the boot of Adrian Jarvis and a first half Fautua Otto try.
Newcastle, who were totally outplayed in the first half, managed to keep in touch when Warren Fury crossed in the corner and Jimmy Gopperth converted to reduce the deficit to 7-13 at the break.
But it looked like business as usual at Kingston Park when Ally Hogg sprinted clear after 55 minutes. Gopperth converted to put the Falcons in front.
But two further Jarvis penalties and an immense last quarter rearguard action saw Bristol retain their 14-19 lead.
Despite missing out on a play-off spot, director of rugby Andy Robinson was up beat: “We had to dig deep to win that game,” Robinson told the Bristol website. “I was pleased with our game management and the way we kept pushing on. The defence on the line was courageous and it shows what we can do.”
A reprieve for London Welsh?
Bristol’s win will give hope to the three other Championship semi-finalists, now tasting, and not merely sniffing blood; as Newcastle’s name is still a long way from being engraved on the trophy.
London Welsh, who were thrashed by London Irish on Saturday, are clinging to Premiership rugby by their fingernails in the hope that Bedford may yet win the division. The Blues would not pass the Premiership criteria and are unlikely to challenge the law-makers with the alacrity with which the Exiles did last year.
Third placed Bedford, who beat Doncaster 38-26 on Wednesday, condemning the Yorkshire outfit to National League One next season, meet Nottingham over two legs in the semis.
Both stage one meetings between the clubs resulted in narrow home wins, suggesting that this will be a tough one to forecast.
And should Bedford progress to the final, to meet Newcastle — who the formbook suggests should be too strong for Leeds — it would be a brave man to bet his house on the Falcons winning. Although the Championship front-runners won on both outings, the Blues came within two points at Kingston Park and only lost 20-29 at Goldington Road.
High tension at the top
The Blues secured their play-off place by defeating relegation candidates Moseley 41-29 at Billesley Common on Saturday.
Bedford led 14-34 at the interval, with the bonus point secured before Moseley hit back with tries from Addison Lockley and Oli Robinson to reduce the gap to 26-34. Replacement kicker Oli Thomas added a penalty to bring the hosts to within five points, before a late Scott Spurling try restored order for the Blues.
Leeds, who have won their last five games, were given extra impetus with news from the north-east, when they took on Nottingham at Headingley on Saturday.
Three Joe Ford penalties was just reward for early pressure, but Alex Lewington touched down for the Green and Whites to reduce Carnegie’s lead to 9-5 at the break.
The hosts pulled away courtesy of a penalty try and James Currie’s first try for the club, following Ryan Bower being sent to the bin, to put Carnegie 23-5 ahead.
When Fred Burdon touched down and Ford converted, a home win seemed certain, until Shaun Malton crawled through a gap for a converted try to bring the score to 30-26 and set up a edgy finale for the Yorkshiremen.
Best of the rest
Jersey, who were guaranteed a second season of Championship rugby by virtue of Bedford’s win over Doncaster, lost 28-24 to the Cornish Pirates at the Mennaye on Saturday.
This leaves the Cornishmen, last year’s finalists, in sixth place.
And in two games in which nothing more than pride was at stake, Rotherham beat London Scottish 33-26 at Clifton Lane, and Doncaster bowed out from the Championship with a spirited show, going down 22-26 to Plymouth at Castle Park.
The next Championship action will be the two-legged semis between Nottingham and Bedford on May 4th and May 10th. Sky Sports will show the games between Leeds and Newcastle on Monday May 6th at 3.15pm and Sunday May 12th at 1.15pm. Newcastle are yet to decide whether or not they will play the first or second leg at Kingston Park.
For details of the Championship table after stage one, click here…