Previews of both 1st Leg Semi-Finals
All the teams plus news and comment from around the clubs
Bedford Blues v London Welsh
Friday May 4th 2012 - 7:45pm
Cornish Pirates v Bristol Rugby
Sunday May 7th 2012
Live On SKY Sports HD
Another thrilling season of Championship rugby reaches the knockout stages this weekend with the top four sides from Stages 1 and 2 all competing in the semi- finals.
By common consensus the games between Bedford and London Welsh and Cornish Pirates and Bristol are too close to call, with previous league meetings this season all settled by fine margins.
Bedford have opted to play the first leg of their semi- final against old rivals London Welsh at home, with the return game at Old Deer Park coming some nine days later on May 13th. The Blues beat Welsh 22-18 in the corresponding fixture at Goldington Road on September 17th, 2011, although the visitors did outscore them on the try count, two to one.
London Welsh exacted revenge with a 25-24 win on December 3rd, the sides sharing six tries in another game of high drama. The sides also met in the British & Irish Cup: a 33-30 victory for Bedford at Sunbury- on- Thames.
Bristol have gone down the more conventional route of choosing to play the second leg of their semi- final against Cornish Pirates at the Memorial Stadium where they have yet to be beaten in the league this season.
First up, though, is a trip to the Mennaye Field, the scene of two defeats during the 2011/12 campaign: 22-50 in the British & Irish Cup and 17-18 in the Championship. Bristol won 37-33 at the Memorial Stadium on November 20th.
Friday May 4th 2012 - 7:45pm
Bedford Blues - Having topped Pool B, the Blues chose to play the first leg under the floodlights at Goldington Road
With no fresh injury worries, Bedford Blues Director of Rugby makes five changes to the team which beat Rotherham 27-0 in the final game of Pool B with Luke Baldwin and Jake Sharp returning at scrum half and fly half respectively in place of Darryl Veenendaal and Jamie Lennard who both move to the bench.
Chris Locke replaces Neil Cochrane at hooker while Mike Howard returns to the second row and Alex Rae moves to blindside flanker with Jon Fisher taking a spot in the replacements.
15. James Pritchard (c) 14. Ollie Dodge 13. Brendan Burke 12. Henry Staff
11. Josh Bassett 10. Jake Sharp 9. Luke Baldwin
1. Ricky Reeves 2. Chris Locke 3. Ben Cooper 4. Paul Tupai
5. Mike Howard 6. Alex Rae 7. Darren Fox 8. Don Barrell
16. Neil Cochrane, 17. Sam Walsh, 18. Phil Boulton, 19. Jon Fisher
20. Sacha Harding, 21. Darryl Veenendaal, 22. Jamie Lennard.
London Welsh will be looking to reach the final for the first time, having tasted semi-final defeat to Bristol in 2010 and at the hands of the Cornish Pirates last year.
Bedford, though, edge the head-to-head between the sides this season, with two wins to the Exiles' one, although all three games have been desperately close.
Welsh lost 22-18 at Goldington Road in September, before the following month losing a thriller, 33-30, to Josh Bassett's try from the last play of the game in the sides' British & Irish Cup meeting at Sunbury.
The Exiles got some measure of revenge in the reverse Championship meeting at Old Deer Park, when the home side ran out 25-24 winners in December. The Blues, though, nearly snatched victory with the last kick of the game, only for Jamie Lennard's drop goal to slip wide.
In all, Welsh have lost on their last four visits Goldington Road in the league and cup. The Exiles have to January 2009 for the last time they tasted victory on Bedford soil when Mark Harris' late touchline conversion gave Welsh a 33-32 win.
15. Alex Davies, 14. Joe Ajuwa, 13. James Lewis, 12. Hudson Tonga'uiha
11. Nick Scott, 10. Gordon Ross (c), 9. Rob Lewis
1. Tom French, 2. Vili Ma'asi, 3. James Tideswell, 4. Adam Brown
5. Matt Corker, 6. Lee Beach, 7. Michael Hills, 8. Ed Jackson.
16. Dan George, 17. Shawn Pittman, 18. Greg Bateman
19. Gary Johnson, 20. Jon Mills, 21. Jack Moates, 22. Seb Jewell.
Welsh must earn final place, says Corker.
The Exiles must earn the right to contest this year’s Championship final, according to Matt Corker.
The second row was part of the Welsh side which lost out to Bristol in 2010 and the Cornish Pirates last year, but Corker says such near misses will count for nothing against Bedford.
“You don’t get anything by rights - it’s got to be a complete performance from 1-22 for us to make the final,” said Corker, who’ll make his 149th appearance for the Exiles in Friday’s 1st leg.
“You can enjoy the play-offs, but this is where it gets really serious - I’m desperate to play in a final."
Bristol proved too good at the Memorial Stadium two years ago, winning 28-15, but the passing of time hasn’t altered Corker’s view of last year’s defeat to the Pirates at Mennaye Field. For Corker, it remains an opportunity missed.
The Exiles led 10-3 at half-time thanks to a rare Corker try, only to lose their way in the second half. From the moment Gavin Cattle ghosted down the blindside to score it was just a matter of time, and they duly ran out 18-10 winners.
Friday’s meeting will be fourth between the two sides this season, with the Blues edging it two wins to one.
“Bedford are a real attacking force - it’s going to be a real test for our defence,” said Corker.
“They’ve got some great backs and on the counter attack they’re definitely one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
When Corker runs out at Goldington Road on Friday it will be a year and three days since his try at Mennaye Field, which for a time seemed destined to take Welsh to a Championship final.
He’s still waiting for his first try since. Goldington Road on Friday night wouldn’t be a bad place to end that barren run, but only if it comes with a Championship final appearance in tow.
Full Story www.london-welsh.co.uk
Sunday May 7th 2012
Live On SKY Sports HD
Cornish Pirates - Tension is mounting ahead of Monday's encounter between the Cornish Pirates and Bristol which has been labelled as rugby's very own version of 'High Noon' in the far south-west!
After the inimitable Falmouth Marine Band have entertained the crowd pre-match, both teams will go all out to get the upper hand in this first of a twin-legged semi-final and a likely full house at the Mennaye Field should see the old ground bursting with a mix of commitment, tension and human emotion.
R. Cook, G. Pointer, S. Hill, A. Suniula, D. Doherty
C. Thomas, G. Cattle (capt), B. Maidment, P. Burgess, C. Morgan
I. Nimmo, L. McGlone, A. Paver, D. Ward, C. Rimmer
R. Storer, R. Elloway, R. Brits, D. Ewers
K. Marriott, T. Kessell, M. Evans.
Bristol Rugby - Liam Middleton makes seven changes to the side that beat Doncaster Knights to confirm top spot in Pool A.
Jack Tovey and Ruki Tipuna return to the backline, while Will Helu - who scored three times in the pool stages - moves to centre to accommodate George Watkins who is named on the wing.
Henry Vanderglas earns his first start since the 19-18 defeat to Pirates in the regular season, alongside Marco Mama and skipper Iain Grieve in the back row.
Championship Dream Team duo Roy Winters and Mark Irish are also included in the pack.
Middleton opts for a four forwards and three backs split on the replacements bench.
Jon Goodridge; Jack Tovey, Will Helu, Luke Eves, George Watkins
Matthew Jones, Ruki Tipuna; Mark Irish, Ross Johnston, Wayne Thompson,
Glen Townson, Roy Winters, Henry Vanderglas, Marco Mama, Iain Grieve (c).
Jason Harris-Wright, Mark Lilley, Ben Glynn, Redford Pennycook
Tom Slater, Matty James, Sean Marsden.
Mark Irish has seen just about everything in his eight years with Bristol - but the 30-year-old prop believes the whole club has been given 'a new lease of life' under Liam Middleton this season - and, as a result, is confident heading into Monday's Championship semi-final first leg against Cornish Pirates.
While the temptation at this stage may be to start thinking about the prize that is up for grabs, Irish and his team-mates are simply focusing on replicating what has served them so well throughout the season.
"It's important now that we keep doing what we've been doing all year," said Irish.
"That has worked for us and has got us this far - and we realise it's going to take another monumental effort to get past the Pirates.”
"They've been in this situation before and they understand the situation and the competition - as do we.“
Full Story www.thisisbristol.co.uk
Paul Andrew, Matt Evans, Ben Maidment, Kyle Marriott, Chris Morgan, Ian Nimmo and Aaron Penberthy have all re-signed
This follows the recent news that full-back Rob Cook, wing Wes Davies, hooker Rob Elloway, scrum-half Tom Kessell, lock Laurie McGlone, and props Alan Paver and Ryan Storer had put pen to paper.
Full Story www.cornish-pirates.com
IT will be a much-changed Doncaster Knights team which takes to the field in the Championship next season following one of the biggest turnover of players at the end of a campaign for several years.
Among 19 players the club confirmed yesterday had departed Castle Park, are last season’s Player of the Year Zack Farivarz, fellow flanker Latu Makaafi and another crowd favourite, centre PJ Gidlow.
“The players have left for a variety of reasons - with two joining Premiership clubs - but mainly because they have been offered more money elsewhere,” said director of rugby Brett Davey.
Full Story www.thestar.co.uk
James Brown, London Scottish player/backs coach, has announced his retirement from the game.
Brown has been part of both the coaching and playing set up at London Scottish for the past four years after spells with Coventry, London Irish and Worcester Warriors.
He won the Powergen Cup with London Irish in 2002, and also represented England at ‘A’ level and England 7s. He also appeared for the Barbarians in the annual Mobbs Memorial Match in 2010.
An integral part of the team both on and off the pitch that brought London Scottish up to the Championship, ‘Brownie’ now feels the time is right to take the next step in his career.
Brown: “I've had an amazing 4 years playing and coaching at London Scottish and have memories I will never forget; two promotions in 3 years, the last minute try at Barking and the last game of the season decider v Esher to name a few.
After fulfilling my promise to Rod Lynch and Malcolm Gillespie when I first joined to get Scottish to the Championship in 4 years, I feel it’s time to work out what's next for me.”
Full Story www.londonscottish.com
Moseley have once again had their squad cherry-picked by Championship rivals London Scottish, who have moved for outstanding back-rower Chevvy Pennycook.
He follows ex-captain Andy Reay, lock Paul Spivey and prop Colin Quigley in the latest blow to Kevin Maggs's summer squad building.
Add the departure of Michael Maltman and Michael Ellery to the mix and Moseley have lost six important first-team players.
Full Story www.birminghammail.net
Plymouth Albion head coach Nat Saumi is expected to name the first players who have put pen to paper on new deals at the club this week.
Saumi has been in discussions with all the out-of-contract players at Brickfields. A number have agreed new deals, and he is waiting for all the paperwork to be completed before announcing them.
"The recruitment is going well," Saumi said. "I'm trying to retain most of the squad from this season.
"The biggest difficulty is that everyone wants to stay but, according to budget, we can't employ all of them.”
Full Story www.thisisplymouth.co.uk
Albion chairman Graham Stirling has said the club hope to be challenging at top of the Championship next season.
Stirling's statement came after Albion revealed they would be significantly increasing ticket prices for the 2012-13 campaign.
It is the first time Albion have increased pre-match tickets sales for three years and matchday tickets for two years.
Most match-day ticket prices have risen by 14 per cent, but ground tickets for 12-16 year olds have gone up a staggering 500 per cent.
Stirling said that because of the club's cash-flow problem last season, that saw them need to raise £250,000 in a matter of weeks to survive, they had to re-evaluate their pricing structure.
Full Story www.thisisplymouth.co.uk
Three players from last year’s squad have made the commitment to stay at Clifton Lane for the 2012-13 Championship season.
Loosehead prop Jamie Kilbane, Hooker Ted Stagg and lock forward Neale Patrick have all penned deals to ensure they are part of the clubs push for a top-end finish to next season’s Championship.
Kilbane’s extension will see him enter his 8th season with the South Yorkshire side, having made his debut during the 2005-06 season. At just under six foot and approaching 18 stone, the amiable Irishman packs a huge punch and is considered by many to be one of the best technical scrummagers in the Championship.
Titans have also announced the arrival of the Mulchrone brothers from Macclesfield
Twenty two years old Charlie Mulchrone plays scrum half and is both qualified for England and Ireland. As is older brother Fergus, who is a 25 years-old utility back, where outside centre of full back could be where he gets his first opportunity in a Titans shirt.
Titans coach Andre Bester commented on his new recruits saying, “The Mulchrone brothers are two outstanding prospects who have the potential to go a long way within the game. Fergus was at Sale Sharks but left there to pursue a career, now he’s fully focussed on making his name in Rugby.
Further Arrivals at Clifton Lane are Lock forward Dan Sanderson from Moseley and number 8 Michael Noone from local rivals Doncaster Knights.
Man-mountain Dan Sanderson stands at 6’ 8” and weighs in at 18 stone plus and is sure to add power and physicality to the Titans pack. The 27 years-old lock spent the 2010-11 season as a duel registered player with Birmingham & Solihull and Northampton Saints and is expected to be a major force at Clifton Lane next season.
Michael Noone arrives as a number 8 with a reputation of an aggressive, physical type of performer.