- Penultimate play-off round kicks-off this weekend
- Bristol, Bedford, Pirates and Welsh are current top four
Photo: RFU Archive
The RFU Championship reaches its most thrilling point to date this weekend as the penultimate round of the play-off stages gets under way.
While the top four may look clear to some, this season’s Championship has shown that anything can happen and Nottingham Rugby, Leeds Carnegie and Rotherham Titans will all be determined to stage comebacks for a top two finish.
Standing in their way in Pool B are Bedford Blues who, following three wins and a draw, are guaranteed a place in the semi-finals where last season they exited the competition following the narrowest of defeats to Worcester Warriors. Sitting in second are 2010-11 runner-ups Cornish Pirates who need a win against the Blues on Sunday to seal the second semi-final spot and put enough distance to put Leeds Carnegie out of contention.
In Pool A, the game of the weekend – broadcast live on Sky Sports HD – sees Bristol Rugby travel to Old Deer Park. A win for the home side would see them top the group and with recent history on their side – the West Country men not having recorded a win at the Exiles’ ground since February 2010 – it promises to be a fearsome encounter.
Photo: RFU Archive
Semi-final qualifiers will be of equal ability – Jones
Having helped Bristol to their win at Old Deer Park two years ago, hooker Ross Johnson knows what to expect from the Exiles. He said: "We’ve played them three times and it’s always an evenly-matched game. Old Deer Park is a tough place to go, but we’re relishing the opportunity to showcase what we can do.
"The RFU Championship is a really tough competition and we know that we need to be firing on all cylinders on Sunday.
"Everybody is in positive spirits and there is a real excitement about the challenge we face this weekend. We’ve worked incredibly hard to get into this position this season and Sunday will be an indication of how far we have developed as a group."
A win for the Premiership contenders would see them top the group, but with only two points separating first and second, it could all come down to the final round when Nottingham host Welsh, and Bristol welcome Doncaster to The Memorial Stadium.
Speaking ahead of the crunch fixture, Welsh head coach Lynn Jones said he does not believe finishing top of the pool will be of any discernable advantage to Exiles.
"Normally it’s good to finish on top because you avoid the better side in the other pool, but I think the four teams that qualify for the semi-finals will be of equal ability and can beat each other on the day.
"What’s important to us now is building on the performances we’ve put in so far by looking at our consistency, realising our potential as individuals to reflect our team performance and if we can do that then league positions look after themselves," he said.
In Pool C, Moseley and Plymouth have secured their stay in the RFU Championship, while a loss for Esher this weekend would see them drop to SSE National League 1. London Scottish need only a point to guarantee their survival following their debut season in the competition.