- Relegation decider to take place at Richmond Athletic Ground
- Bristol, London Welsh, Bedford and Pirates confirmed as semi finalists
Photo: James Jordan
Bristol leapfrogged London Welsh to go top of Pool A after a 26-20 victory at Old Deer Park in a match televised live by Sky Sports. The visitors scored two penalty tries to return home to the West Country with the points, although the Exiles fought back from a 17-point deficit midway through the second half to set up a nervy finale.
First, Vili Ma’asi rumbled over from close range before Hudson Tonga’uiha crashed through two defenders for a converted try late on. But two penalties – one from Matthew Jones and one from replacement fly half Matty James – confirmed a nail-biting victory and put Bristol in pole position to progress through to the last four as pool winners.
Bristol will bid to make it four wins over Doncaster this season in Saturday’s final fixture at the Memorial Stadium. Liam Middleton’s men average over half a century of points per game against the Knights this season.
The result of the Old Deer Park match also ended Nottingham faint hopes of making the semi finals. The Green & Whites had done all that was asked of them 24 hours earlier with a bonus-point victory at Doncaster, but they now face an insurmountable six-point gap going into the final weekend.
Glenn Delaney’s men conclude their campaign at home to London Welsh and will be looking for a repeat of the 26-10 win they enjoyed against the Exiles at Meadow Lane back in December.
Photo: Brian Tempest
Bedford and Cornish Pirates are through to the Championship semi finals but it is yet to be decided which of the teams will progress as pool winners. The Blues remain top of the pool by two points going into this weekend’s home clash against Rotherham despite losing by the narrowest of margins at the Pirates in their last outing.
Pirates ensured High Performance Director Chris Stirling heads back to New Zealand this week on a winning note with a 21-20 win over the Blues. Rob Cook had a mixed day on his 100th appearance for the Pirates, kicking two penalties and a conversion but also picking up a yellow card. Prop Carl Rimmer and US Eagles centre Andrew Suniula each scored a try and Ceiron Thomas supplied an additional three-pointer.
The final Pool B play-off fixtures are a repeat of those in Round 14 of the regular Championship season. On that occasion Bedford and Leeds edged the tightest of games: 24-23 and 14-13 respectively. Leeds are resigned to a second successive season in the Championship despite winning their first game in the play-offs 21-18 at Rotherham.
Ryan Burrows scored a try against his former club and Andy Titterrell also dotted down, with the boots of Joe Ford and Tommy Bell supplying the rest of their points in a victory that means Leeds at least have the consolation of finishing as the highest ranked Yorkshire side in the division.
Esher kept their battle for survival going until the final weekend of play-off action after recording a bonus point victory at home to a Plymouth side already safe from the drop into the SSE National Leagues. Esher threw themselves a lifeline with a seven-try demolition of Albion, with seven different names making it onto the scoresheet in the process. They could even afford the luxury of five of their conversion attempts being off target.
The Surrey outfit now faces a relegation shoot-out against London Scottish at the Athletic Ground on Saturday. But the Exiles still hold a five-point cushion, meaning they are overwhelming favourites to retain their Championship status at the first time of asking.
Dan Mugford, already so influential in the relegation play-off pool stages, could prove to be Scottish’s saviour. His last-minute penalty in a 26-20 defeat away to Moseley earned them what could be a vital losing bonus point. Esher must now score four tries and beat London Scottish in their own backyard by a margin of eight points or more to stay up.
Mugford’s strike was the second of two penalties for him on the day and he also converted both Charlie Hayter tries. Pool C leaders Moseley attracted their biggest crowd of the season to Billesley Common for their final home game of the season, with 1,349 spectators coming through the gate. They conclude their successful play-off campaign away to Plymouth.