By Richard Grainger

WITH TWO-thirds of the pool stage games now completed, four Championship clubs look certain to progress to the knock-out stages, while it looks very much like the end of the road for a further four.

With this being the phase of the competition where clubs temper their ambitions according to their success, or lack of it, and rotate players to rest them for league action, a few freak results were recorded this weekend.

None more so than at Kingston Park where the Falcons finally put a smile on Head Coach Dean Richards’ face, running in 15 tries to trounce an understrength Newport 93-0.  With a deficit of 57-0 at the break, the visitors would have hoped Newcastle would have shown a similar ‘match-won lethargy’ that had frustrated Richards in their previous 14 consecutive victories this season. Not so — the Falcons added a further six tries after the break to inflict the heaviest defeat on Newport in the Welsh club’s history.

“We were clinical in our performance and that was the pleasing thing for me,” Richards told the Newcastle website, adding: “The cup competition has given us the opportunity to try different things and I’m happy with the way things have been going.”

Another club to profit from weakened opposition was Bedford, whose opponents, Neath, had a staggering 20 squad players unavailable for the return fixture at Goldington Road on Saturday.

And to make matters worse, Neath, who were in the hunt at 17-11 before referee Mr Mark Patton awarded the home side a penalty try shortly before the break, had two players red-carded in the second half.

The Blues ran in nine tries to the additional two awarded by Mr Patton to win by 69-23 and virtually secure progress from Pool 2.

Bristol lead Pool 1 by a point from the Ulster Ravens by virtue of a 41-3 six-try win over Bridgend at the Memorial Ground on Saturday. Head Coach Liam Middleton, whose side are building some consistency with a run of five wins, told the Bristol website: “We targeted a bonus point on Friday and chased it hard… this win keeps us at the top of the pool and it will all come down to the Ulster game in January now.” He added, “…We held them to no tries and that’s really pleasing for me”.

The Cornish Pirates did the double over Swansea, notching a 10-30 win at a wet St Helen’s on Saturday. They may yet rue not picking up the bonus point but this leaves them seven points clear at the top of Pool 3.

Jersey travelled to Donnybrook more in hope than expectation and proved to be no match for Leinster A’s power and pace, going down 44-13 on Sunday.

The Irish side ran in seven tries, but Jersey managed a late consolation score by Brendan O’Brien, leaving them placed third in the group and unlikely to make the knock-out stages.

Below them in Pool 5 is Leeds who lost to Pontypridd 25-8 in atrocious conditions at Sardis Road on Saturday. Ponty scored four tries to Carnegie’s one, and perhaps unsurprisingly in such difficult playing conditions, all five tries were scored wide out following cross-kicks or overlaps.

Tempers flared regularly and each side had a man yellow carded in addition to one permanently excluded, reducing both teams to 13 for a period of the second half.

This leaves Leeds winless in the Pool and ends any aspirations of further progress in this competition.

Moseley, whose form in the Cup belies their miserable record in the Championship, lead Pool 6 after a hard fought 16-13 win over Gala at Billesley Common on Saturday. Glyn Hughes’ last minute drop goal completed a comeback from a 0-13 interval deficit and gave the Midlanders their first win in any form of competition for almost two months.

Also in Pool 6, fellow Championship strugglers London Scottish slipped to their third defeat in four B&I Cup outings, going down 23-32 to Llanelli at the Athletic ground on Sunday. This reversal of last week’s result against Llanelli leaves them at the foot of the group.

In Pool 7, Plymouth had a handsome nine-try over Aberavon at Brickfields on Friday night to complete the double over the Welsh side. Their 59-8 victory breathes new life into their cup campaign, leaving them four points behind Munster A.

Rotherham did Albion’s aspirations of progress a favour with a 9-9 draw at Musgrave Park on Saturday. It might have been better but for a JJ Hanrahan penalty for Munster three minutes from time.

In Pool 8, Doncaster went down 29-30 to Llandovery in an entertaining encounter at Castle Park on Saturday. A win would have given the hosts the lead in this group, but with only three points separating them from the Drovers, the Knights remain in the hunt.

And finally, despite picking up a bonus point win away to Melrose, Nottingham’s 20-32 win leaves them all but out of the running in Pool 8.

Championship action resumes this weekend and over the Christmas period. Check out the full details here…