By Richard Grainger

WITH THREE clubs already qualified and two others on the threshold of the last eight, it’s been a good year so far for Championship sides in the British & Irish Cup.

Bristol hung on to an 8-14 lead at a wet and windy Deramore Park on Friday night to beat the Ulster Ravens and now require a single point from their final game against Cardiff on Sunday to make the quarter-finals.

George Watkins collected a neat offload from Jack Tovey to score under the posts early on and Bristol added a penalty try in the second half.

Ravens’ lock James Simpson reduced the deficit to six points when he crashed over from five metres, meaning Bristol had to dig deep in the last few minutes to deny Ulster a home win.

“It’s amazing that we’ve won all the games in our pool and yet we still need another win in our final game,” Head Coach Liam Middleton told the Bristol website. “In my opinion, this is the toughest pool in the competition… we’ll take a lot of confidence into Sunday’s game and we expect a difficult encounter against Cardiff, because it was tough at Arms Park.”

Despite tries from Tom Armes, Chris Locke, James Stephenson and Mark Atkinson, along with two James Pritchard conversions, Bedford were forced to work hard to make it five bonus point wins out of five, and book their place in the quarter-finals.

Stirling County staged a late revival at Brigehaugh on Saturday afternoon, with three tries of their own to push the Blues all the way.

In Pool 3, the Cornish Pirates, who won the Cup two seasons ago, were too strong for Dundee High and ran out comfortable winners at the Mennaye Field on Sunday.

The Cornishmen qualified for the knock-out stages by virtue of a six try 34-14 win over the visitors, and will need to avoid defeat at Carmarthen next week to book home advantage in the next round.

Despite an 18th consecutive win in all competitions, Newcastle Head Coach Dean Richards was less than happy with both his side’s performance and the refereeing.

“It was a scrappy game and there was a lack of control on our part,” Richards told the Newcastle website, adding: “if you don’t control the game then you don’t get the points that you deserve.”

Richards again joined the trend of ref-bashing adding: “The referees’ perception of the scrum was totally not in line with anything else that we’ve come across this season…”

However, despite having two points deducted for fielding the cup-tied James Goode, the Falcons 16-6 victory over the Connacht Eagles at Kingston Park on Saturday was enough to see them through as winners of Pool 4. They need a win at Cross Keys this weekend to guarantee them a home berth in the next round.

The win for Leeds against Jersey at St Peter’s on Saturday can be considered as nothing more than a confidence-booster, as both sides will not be progressing further in the competition. Saying that, Rory Clegg continued his good start with the northern team by converting two of the visitors’ four tries and adding three penalties.

The score line may have been 27-12 in Leeds’ favour, but that was not the full story. In the second half they conceded 10 penalties, two penalty tries, yellow cards for Dominic Barrow and Sam Lockwood, and the sending-off of Chris Walker for foul play. The team may want to work on this.

Even though visitors London Scottish had no further interest in the competition before kick off, they pushed Moseley, who only need a point against Llanelli to top Pool 6, all the way at Billesley Common on Friday.

Four penalties from James Love were not enough to overhaul a try from ex-Scottish centre Charlie Hayter, converted by Glyn Hughes, to add to his two penalties.

In Pool 7, a 3-26 win for Rotherham at Brickfields spelt the end of cup action for Albion and leaves the Titans needing a bonus point win over Aberavon to have any chance of making the last eight. Unfortunately, they also have to rely on Plymouth denying Munster A a point at Temple Hill — a tough ask.

And finally, a bonus point win against Llandovery would be enough for Nottingham to top Pool 8, provided that the visitors leave Meadow Lane empty handed. At least for them their destiny is in their own hands.

The Green and Whites built a 0-16 lead in the second half, aided by David Jackson’s 100th try for the club, before the Knights clawed their way back to 14-16.

This weekend concludes the pool matches, and then it’s back to Championship action.