- Ulster and Bristol set to decide Pool 1
- Pirates looking to secure spot in final eight
Photo: Michael Paler
Ulster Ravens and Bristol go head-to-head at Deramore Park, Belfast on Friday night in a match that is likely to decide the winner of Pool 1. Bristol have won all four of their games to date, including a 34-28 victory over the Ravens in Round 2. But Ulster’s tally of five bonus points means they are just one point behind the West Country side at the top of the table. A win for Bridgend over Cardiff at the Arms Park would guarantee the capital club finish bottom of the pool.
Bedford Blues need just a single point from their remaining two games to be mathematically certain of finishing top of Pool 2. The 2011 finalists boast the only perfect record left in the competition, with four straight bonus-point victories. The Blues travel north to play Stirling on Saturday and will do well to emulate their scintillating performance against the Scots back in October, when they ran out winners by 87 points to 10. Bedford scored 13 tries that day, 11 of them converted by captain James Pritchard, who crossed the line twice for a personal haul of 32 points. Stirling have lost their last four league games at Bridgehaugh Park. Bedwas and Neath only have local pride to play for in the other Pool 2 fixture.
Victory for Cornish Pirates over Dundee in the Pool 3 tie at the Mennaye Field would seal a place in the last eight for the Duchy outfit. The inaugural British & Irish Cup champions go into Round 5 seven points clear of Carmarthen who play Swansea away in one of four Welsh derbies taking place this weekend. Pirates beat Dundee 32-6 in their first match-up, while Carmarthen recorded 41-17 win over Swansea when the sides met in October – a scoreline they repeated a week later in the league.
Newcastle’s two-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player means they still need a single point to be certain of topping Pool 4. They should complete the formalities with ease this weekend having beaten Connacht Eagles, their opponents at Kingston Park on Saturday, by 34 points to 3 when the sides clashed in Ireland. Newport, 10 points behind Newcastle in second, take on last year’s surprise finalists Cross Keys at Rodney Parade. The first Gwent derby ended in a 24-20 win for the Black & Ambers.
Pool 5 sees Leinster A and Pontypridd meet in what appears to be a winner-takes-all clash at Donnybrook. The sides are tied on 15 points apiece at the top of the table – eight points clear of third-placed Jersey who host Leeds. A last-gasp try by centre Dafydd Lockyer secured the Valleys outfit a dramatic 25-23 victory when the sides met at Sardis Road.
It is top versus bottom in Pool 6 with leaders Moseley up against Championship rivals London Scottish at Billesley Common. The game in Richmond in Round 2 ended in a 78-point thriller, with Moseley claiming maximum points from a 41-37 victory. The win was particularly sweet as they came from 20-0 down to beat an Exiles side that contained five former Moseley players. Scottish gained revenge just over a month later with a 23-18 win in the league.
Pool 7 leaders Munster A travel to Aberavon, who prop up the table, knowing that a win would almost certainly put them through to the last eight. Munster defeated the Wizards 19-11 first time out. Second-placed Plymouth will look to keep the pressure on the reigning champions with victory over Rotherham. Revenge will be on their minds, too, after a 59-26 thrashing at the hands of the Titans at Clifton Lane in Round 2.
It is still all to play for in Pool 8 with three teams still having realistic claims on a quarter-final spot. Llandovery lead the way by three points from Doncaster with Nottingham a further point back in third. Llandovery are at home to Melrose, who they beat 29-14 at The Greenyards, while Doncaster entertain fierce rivals Nottingham at Castle Park. Both previous clashes this season came at Meadow Lane, with the Knights winning the B&I Cup tie, 27-13, and Nottingham running out winners by 52 points to 7 in the Championship fixture less than a month later.