With an aggregate century of points from the first leg of the GKIPA play-offs, a mere 10 separate the four sides vying for admission to the Aviva Premiership. With Rotherham wicking up the gas to finish just a Juan Pablo Socino penalty behind Bristol, and Leeds taking a seven-point lead to the Kassam next Sunday, and all Yorkshire final is still a possibility.
Bristol butterflies leaves tie in balance
Bristol 17, Rotherham 14
Bristol have twice gone into the Championship play-offs only to fluff their lines and, on Saturday’s evidence at the Memorial Stadium, third time unlucky could well be on the cards.
A last gasp Jamie Broadley try reduced an eight point deficit to just three points and leaves Bristol with an awkward return leg in Sheffield on Saturday.
“Credit to Rotherham, they’re a well-coached side and the elements helped them on Saturday,” said head coach Sean Holley. “We were forced into a lot of errors. We had all the territory but we weren’t accurate enough.”
Rotherham, who would not be admitted to the top tier under the Premiership’s Minimum Standards Criteria, have had an outstanding season and have nothing to lose.
But if their motivation on Saturday was no more than to put an end to the jibe that they have yet to beat a side above them, it served them well.
The visitors looked by far the better-drilled side, pre-programmed to
nullify Bristol’s high-tempo game plan: a first quarter blitz with which they usually put the game beyond lesser opposition.
Better still, three Socini penalties gave them a deserve d 0-9 interval lead, making good use of the strong wind that the Titans elected to play with.
While, neither side on this evidence resembled a premiership outfit, for most of the game, Bristol looked utterly hapless. Phases of continuity were rarer than an Andy Robinson smile, and body angles near the try line would have left an under-12s coach’s head shaking.
If Bristol’s skills sets are poor under pressure, Nicky Robinson’s goal kicking was dreadful, missing three out of four attempts at goal.
But the turning came after the break when Titans’ lock Josh Thomas-Brown saw yellow for fisty-cuffs with Bristol centre Jack Tovey, who could consider himself lucky not to accompany Thomas-Brown to the bin. But the former Scottish Schools lock’s absence cost the Titans dearly with Gaston Cortes and Luke Eves crossing for the hosts.
When Ed Williamson became the second Titan’s player to trudge to the bin, Mitch Eadie barged over to make it 17-9 to Bristol.
But Rotherham had the last word when Broadley collected a neat dab to touch down and silence Memorial faithful.
Bristol travel to Sheffield RUFC’s Abbeydale Park ground on Saturday, kick off 18:05pm, with a three-point lead and a kicker with one of the worst records in the division to face the division’s top points scorer.
Unless Bristol can produce something special, I know where my money’s going.
Lancaster looks on as Leeds seize initiative
Leeds 38, London Welsh 31
Leeds dominated a high-octane encounter for all but the final quarter, watched by former Leeds Academy and current England head coach Stuart Lancaster, but could never quite put the Exiles away.
Twice they led by 13 points, only for head coach Justin Burnell’s men to scrabble their
way back into contention. For this they had Gordon Ross, the 36 year-old former Scottish international, to thank. Ross’s game management, accuracy of pass and deft breaks belied his years.
But Leeds may well regret squandering three gilt-edged second half chances that would have surely put the tie to bed. The Exiles’ scramble defence was up to the job, but a better final pass on each occasion would have give Carnegie a more significant lead.
“I think we learnt a lot last season about what it takes to win these games over two legs,” commented Carnegie’s outstanding No8 Ryan Burrows, “and we need to put that into practice this week.”
But Carnegie were angered when Mike Myerscough was carded for knocking down a final pass from Welsh on the Leeds line. Welsh were awarded a penalty try and Ross added the simple conversion to cut the gap to 16-10. Earlier, Stevie McColl had been dragged down and illegally prevented from getting the ball away, with no further action from referee Andrew Small being taken.
Sevens’ specialist and Lancaster protégé Rob Vickerman scored Carnegie’s first try after Glyn Hughes had struck two penalties in reply to one from Ross to give the hosts a 13-3 lead.
Fred Burden scored Carnegie’s second and Hughes was metronomic with the boot, converting both tries and all seven attempts at goal.
Although Welsh outscored Leeds with two tries from replacement Alan Awcock to add to the penalty try, Alex Lozowski’s last minute penalty gave Carnegie a significant buffer to take to the Kassam Stadium on Sunday.
If Leeds, who beat Bristol 25-30 at the Memorial Stadium in the British & Irish Cup semi-final, win on Sunday, they will have a trip to Donnybrook to face Leinster A in the Cup final on Friday 23rd May before the first leg of the GKIPA Championship final the following Wednesday.
One would imagine that a return to Premiership rugby would be a priority.